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The Truth About The Truth

By Rich Van Winkle (01-2010)

Part One:

Let's face it - the truth is overrated. Why else would it be so ignored, maligned, and mistreated? Few people can even tell you what it is, much let describe how it's attained. Most confuse the truth with a collection of facts. Some think it's given divinely. Others have no idea where to even start. The truth about the truth is that we simply don't care about it. We may say we do. We may even believe that we do (if the truth were known). In truth, few people have any idea what the truth is.

Perhaps we should start with a basic truth: if we don't start caring more about the truth, we're all going to perish - as in EXTINCTION. Ouch, no wonder we don't like the truth. If seeking the truth means we have to start every day with such profoundly disturbing ideas, then perhaps we'll go blissfully into the "dark night" in ignorance. The truth is rarely comforting, convenient, or commonplace. It is often disturbing, disrupting and discouraging. Who would invent such a thing?

Despite our best efforts we hardly ever create a truth. Sometimes, if we work at it, we "discover" a truth. For the most part, we're "ahead of the curve" if we merely recognize the truth when it slaps us in the face. That's not to say that the truth isn't obvious; most of the time it is. It lurks around doing its thing in some sort of disguise until we finally open our eyes and go "Wow! Why didn't I see that before?" Strangely, when we finally get around to really looking for it, it seems to be everywhere.

But what is it? We have many ideas and definitions for "truth", but if we're truthful, most of them fall well short of the truth. We might say it's true that the "sky is blue". Is it? Or, we could say that 2+2=4 is a truth. In some cases, it might be. Some might make bold assertions like "God is real" and call that a truth. But then you have to try and figure out the truth about God and what it means to be real. Heck, some might even have trouble with the truth about "is". In our everyday use, truth is a conditional thing: what might be true in one circumstance isn't in another. Or, truth might be "in the eyes of the beholder." That makes it a serious challenge to determine what is true and what isn't. In some circles they talk about "absolute truths" - things that are true everywhere all the time. Just try and come up with one of those!

Just for the sake of this essay, I'm going to offer one definition of truth: a verifiable fact of reality. This concept of truth sets upon a foundation of three words (stable like a tripod). Let's start with the "fact" part. There are plenty of "facts" out there, but few of them support any truth. In part, that's because most of them are not verifiable. They're often not verifiable because they have little to do with reality. Hmmm, do you see that this is going to be a circular definition? It would be easy to take the path of least resistance and say that reality is that which is based upon facts. I won't.

"Reality" is the hinge pin of truth - and the truth is the hinge of life. Give me a few more minutes and I'll explain this allegory. But first, I should clarify what I mean by "reality". "What is he talking about?" your brain must be shouting - "I certainly know what the hell reality is". Do you know what "hell" is? Is it part of reality? Would that be the big "Hell" or the little "hell"? What the hell?

Our experience with reality is as confusing as "hell". Is hell a place or a state of mind? Which would be more real? Which would be worse? Reality is a VERY complex thing because we experience it in several different ways. So, when I suggest that the truth is predicated upon reality that makes it a complex thing. Since "reality" is not the focus here, I'll cut to the quick. The reality is that I'm a "realist". In the jargon of philosophy, that means that I hold it true that there are facts which exist independently of human perception and that those facts form the basis of reality. We can only grasp the truth by discerning facts that are the basis of reality.

"Ah!", you might say, "How does one go about discerning facts that are the basis of reality?"

That is the subject of part two (and that's the truth).


The Truth About The Truth: Part Two:

"You may know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). Free from what? How might we know the truth? What truth are we talking about?

In Part One, the question remained: "how does one go about discerning facts that are the basis of reality?" Now we expand that idea to ask: "How will discerning such facts set us free?" We must start by examining the concept of discernment, and although this may seem a bit off subject, I suggest that discernment and truth are closely related. The definition of discernment might be: the ability to grasp and comprehend the truth. The related concept of "discrimination" adds the ability to distinguish the truth from non-truth. Both suggest that the truth is not obvious and that recognizing and comprehending it require some special skill. (And, in case you forgot, I included the requirement of verification in my definition of truth).

The truth of the matter is that discernment is not one of our more developed skills. We know this because people accept all kinds of crazy things as "true". Even those who would seem to have highly developed discernment skills are often misguided by preconceptions, perceptual limitations, and intellectual narrow-mindedness. Too often, when we think that we've finally grasped some truth we refuse to challenge it. The process of frequent or continuous testing of our beliefs is critical to discernment.

Oops, I've used another word that requires some discussion: "beliefs". Truthfully now, aren't there things that you choose to believe that have no basis in fact? Isn't that how some define belief (making it equivalent to "faith")? The operative concept that underlies belief is "acceptance".  In other words, we can accept something as true - that is to say that we believe it - even if we have no basis for such. Our beliefs are the result of our discernment; if our discernment is faulty our beliefs will be less than truthful.

Getting back to our pending questions, I believe we can now provide better, more truthful, answers[1]. The ultimate truth we all seek to grasp deals with our role in the greater scheme of things. Until we have developed some personally acceptable answer to this query, we suffer twofold. First we suffer some deeply rooted anxiety and desire that simply can't be put aside. Secondly, we lack the ability to guide ourselves through this thing we call "life". Jesus, according to the author of the Book of John, understood that without a grasp of this truth, we are never really "free".

Regardless of what truths we use to guide our individual lives, other truths have a separate but equally significant role; a role that lies at the very essence of what we are as beings. There are many special and unique attributes of human beings, but none of them are more descriptive than "deciders". Our creation or evolution seems inexplicably directed towards one ability - to make decisions. Our "thinking" or reasoning abilities are only part of the larger mechanism we use for making choices and there is no measure of who or what we are that is more revealing than our choices.

The method by which we make choices is based upon a system of beliefs: beliefs about what we need, what we want, who we are, where we're headed, and what we value. And, our beliefs are generally built upon what truths we accept. Thus, our essence and purpose are both tied to and derived from truth. In turn, the vast majority of our problems are a result of our inability to find and grasp the truth.

I know that some find this offensive - the idea that they lack awareness and understanding of truth. Ironically, that in itself is a truth that we often deny ourselves and it points to the first part of the solution: openness. Our knee-jerk reaction to being told by someone that we aren't grasping important truths is to ask "What makes you so sure that YOU know the truth?" It is not our nature to be "open" to new truth. Instead we tend to protect and defend our beliefs even in the face of clear contradiction. We attain a comfortable degree of certainty and we neither want new challenges to that certainty nor the discomfort that arises from both holding a false belief and knowing that we created it. "Certainty" is one of the worst enemies of truth.

So far, I've proposed that:

    1. The truth is necessary to prevent our extinction.

    2. The truth can set us free from meaninglessness.

    3. We were "designed" for the truth.

    4. Our essence and purpose are both tied to and derived from truth.

The truth is out there. All we have to do is find it and figure it out. In Part Three, we'll delve into some ideas about how we might accomplish that.


The Truth About The Truth: Part Three

If the truth is out there, it is intrinsic to the reality that we experience and create. In this third section, our focus is on methodology - the means by which we seek, find, and understand the truth. In discussing the truth, a good friend asked "How do we make this a part of our lives; describe how one who seeks the truth spends their time." Those are the questions addressed now.

The starting point is almost too obvious to mention: you must honestly value the truth before you'll find it or understand it. A token effort or even an intellectually driven effort will not succeed. The greater your hunger for the truth, the better your hunting will be. One way you'll know how much you value the truth is to assess you own openness.

We all know that the biggest problem with close-minded people is that they're too close-minded to recognize it. This is not just another circumstance of people denying that they're in denial; close-minded people often don't even care that they're close-minded. It is often a choice derived from their belief that they've got it all figured out and that they don't need more truth. Or, for some, it is simply that they choose not to endure the discomfort that is inherent in admitting "I don't know or understand." Those who close their mind to the truth never have to confront it. So, one key starting point is admitting to yourself that you don't have it figured out.

The other key element is caring. In order to find and understand the truth, you have to care. For many, this is the hardest part since they have reduced their lives to trivial pursuits. They care about wealth, power, and pleasure - none of which generally serve the truth. People who fill the emptiness of their lives with distractions are trapped. Even if their distractions seem useful, worthwhile, and desirable, those distractions are merely part of a better trap[2]. Only by caring about the truth more than comforting distractions can you hope to be "free".

The question one must ask and answer for themselves is "Why should I care about the truth?" It is one thing to claim that the truth will set you free, but most people don't really feel trapped in their life of deceit. In part, that's because people dismiss everyday deceptions and perfidy as "normal" or even necessary. They don't see the harm or the restriction created by their lack of truthfulness and they enjoy the appearance of comfort permitted by their fake reality. People who can't find any truthful meaning in their lives need the comfort provided by a false sense of significance. People who lack importance or who fail to create a positive balance in their life can only feel good through self deception - they can't place a high value on the truth because doing such would confront their facade.

Our need for self-delusion is the trap and it is a good one. Comfort is the bait and we are universally drawn to it. Thus, a starting point for our truth seeking is to avoid the bait and the trap. Once we recognize them for what they are, it is easier. It comes down to making a choice between truth and anything less and the balance of that choice lies in how much we value the truth versus how much we want the comfort of delusion, deception, or ignorance.

I already hear the objections: "Certainly I'm not in the trap; I value the truth much more than whatever comfort might be gained by choosing delusion, deception, or ignorance! Besides, I would never make such a choice; I resent the implications!"             OK, whatever.            Let's talk about those other poor trapped people.

I'm not going to spend much time here discussing the wide variety of delusions and deceptions that commonly trap people away from the truth. It's easy to see how others engage in the process while it can be very difficult to perceive it within ourselves. That's part of the reason the trap is so effective - most of those who are in it don't even know it. So, instead of dealing with the matter directly, I will talk about what's outside the trap and let you judge for yourself where you stand.


The Truth About The Truth: Part Four:

The quintessential quality of truth seekers is that of continuous inquiry. Truth seekers value both the process and the result of inquiry - the broad and deep search for meaningful facts, perceptions, ideas, and conclusions. Truth seekers also engage in a process of continuous self-challenge whereby the results of continuous inquiry are tested, analyzed, validated, integrated, and explored. Truth seekers are continuously seeking to improve the process and result so that they perfect the tools of inquiry. They recognize the potential of "mind" as a truth seeking tool and they work consistently to expand and enlighten themselves.

So, how do you measure up? If you are able to offer an honest assessment of yourself, then you're off to a good start. To further assess where you stand, there are both detailed process definitions and objective criteria that we might utilize. The process definitions are largely derived from what is called the "scientific process" - a formalized system of truth-seeking. Its key definitions are:

Within their processes, truth-seekers recognize the significance of language and the necessity for precision in terminology and expression. This has been one of the reasons why scientists favor the language of mathematics and philosophers spend so much time on terminology and definition. Concomitant to their valuing of language skills, truth-seekers are careful to identify and distinguish conditionals, variables, presumptions, and constants during their processes. The truth is in the details.

We all understand that our reality has "layers" generally grouped as physical and non-physical.  Truth-seekers try to avoid limitations on their inquiry, but focus upon reality (as opposed to imagination). The realm of imagination has significance to reality and its understanding, but is also potentially distracting. Similarly, over specialization has proven to limit truth seeking, so truth seekers tend to be generalists with areas of focus or specialization.

Seeking the truth is not an end in itself; the process is only meaningful to the extent that we apply the truth in our lives. This includes sharing it with others and producing actual results from it. This means that truth-seekers will find a balance between the processes of seeking and the processes of sharing and applying the truth. There is a natural and obvious progression and prioritization that truth seekers recognize: to some extent it is necessary to turn the process upon itself ("recursion") whereby the outcome of the seeking is integrated back into the process. Truth seekers are careful to avoid rushing the process.

Along with these general principles and observations focused on the truth seeking process, we may apply objective criteria to assess the results of our truth-seeking. Unfortunately, objective processes have their limitations and therefore cannot be relied upon fully. Thus, we might use the quantity of scientific discoveries as objective criteria, but that wouldn't be an accurate measure since the quality (subjective) is at least as important as the quantity. One proposal for objectifying the truth uses "creativity" as a measure of its application and carefully defines creativity in objectifiable terms[3]. While useful, this approach also requires subjective assessment at some level because of our general inability to measure certain types of outcomes. Due to the complexity of this matter, I'll leave it for another time.

No one can assess another's truth-seeking. Truth seekers don't care about such assessments - they value useful (nonjudgmental) feedback. They seek out others who offer such and share observations and ideas with them. They also value the effort of other truth seekers and seek out their insights and assessments. Ultimately, truth seekers hope to attain a certain level of enlightenment whereby they enjoy the wonder, beauty, and awe that only the truth can provide. At the very least, such enlightenment confirms that they have avoided or escaped the trap.

If you're not experiencing the wonder, beauty, and awe of the truth, then it's time that you take a close look at your choices - and that's the truth about the truth.


[1] Or, at least, more believable answers.

[2] It is my belief that this was the larger truth that Jesus understood but was unable to teach his friends and family - even "religion" can be a trap that only the truth can open.

[3] See John David Garcia - "The Moral Society" for a useful method.




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