What is Truth?
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28-01-2012, 12:12 PM
What is Truth?
Recent discussions regarding the truth or falseness of a statement prompted me to start this thread.

Truth, by (my own) definition, is an observation or theory that has not been contradicted yet by the accumulated knowledge available to us. The very instant an irrefutable contradiction is demonstrated, the theory becomes false and needs to be modified or discarded.

So Newton’s equation: “force equals mass times acceleration, where mass is an unchangeable constant attribute of material bodies”, was a truth until Einstein, by his special theory of relativity, suggested experiments that produced results contradicting Newton. At that point Newton’s ‘truth’ became ‘false’ and required modification.

Truth applies to either physical observation (directly with our senses or indirectly with our instruments) or to a theory (which is usually a statement about cause-and-effect relationships). Physical observations have to be repeatable and consistent at ever increasing accuracy, to be considered true; theories have to produce verifiable (by observation) predictions.

The only intolerable state is ‘contradiction’.

Life is not different from science, only a lot more complicated. Basic principles still apply. A while ago, telling someone how to find truth, I used the example of Hercule Poirot. Imagine that you are a detective. A murder has been committed and you have to find out the truth. You question suspects and witnesses; some tell the truth, some lie. You have no idea which. You collect all the evidence, all the statements from those interviewed and build a model in your head. At that point “the little grey cells” ought to do their job.

You arrange the known facts and statements in such a way that you have minimum number of contradictions in the model. You discard those that can not be used without contradicting most of the other facts. Then you try come up with a theory that agrees with the largest number of ‘facts’ and is supported by your personal experience, the experience of those you trust most, and discard as ‘untrue’, all the rest. Then you think you know what the truth is.

Then you draw logical conclusions and test these in real life. If they check out, you can be reasonably sure. You will never be absolutely sure -- truth is still only those theories that have not yet been contradicted.

Applying this method to our understanding of the ‘human condition’ is no different. The key to a reasonable confidence in knowing truth are:

· have extensive personal life experience (needs observation)
· learn as many facts as you can (needs a lot of reading)
· keep all of these facts in mind most of the time (needs a good memory)
· try to form a theoretical model (needs pattern recognition ability)
· be completely open minded (needs intellectual integrity)

Then you can be reasonably sure, in the relative sense. In the absolute sense you can be only 50% sure. Either you are right, or you are wrong.

However, we can only do the best we can do. For all practical purposes, I can call it truth: 'my truth'. And it stays true until someone proves it false.

Unfortunately, when the topic of truth comes up, most people assume we are talking about metaphysics or quantum theory and the conversation becomes highly philosophical and highly unpractical.

So, in view of the above, what is your method of determining truth?

Should be an interesting collection of techniques.

I am looking forward to something new to learn, as always. Smile
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28-01-2012, 12:52 PM (This post was last modified: 28-01-2012 03:19 PM by Lilith Pride.)
RE: What is Truth?
Well obviously as you have already separated there is a huge difference between sentient and non-sentient truths. I felt that would be the easiest definition. Through accidents the human animal has stumbled upon the world of non-sentient truths through the implication of tools, and ever since then the entire idea of truth has become excessively complex. There is no way for a sentient form to truly comprehend a non-sentient truth they simply observe and patternize. Slowly agree to lose sight of their own views. A non-sentient truth is a truth which has an answer to be found.

Sentient truths though are fluid in form. It's the end of a school day and the teacher is called over to stop a fight. They pull the kids away from each other. after being separated each is asked how it started, both say it was the others' fault. Often enough neither are lying. If the start of the physical encounter was the important part then yes you could find the answer to who first touched the other in an inappropriate manner. The issue though is that generally the one who first punches does it for a reason.

There is no amount of research that can determine a sentient truth. Sentient truths exist as brain waves firing into actions and thoughts. There is no retracing events perfectly as there is with non-sentient truths, as many pieces will always be missing. Study the world and it's many people's and you will find how irrelevant a sentient truth can be. An entire civilization can be built on the truth of something, yet another civilization can see it as completely false and still exist perfectly well. The desire to not fail drives the mind to seek a balance, something that can be understood as acceptable, but that is not really what would be called a truth. This equalizing theory that calms the doubts and confusions is useful but not definite.

After discovering non-sentient truths the human animal sought a way to imitate these amazing facts that can be so easily definite. Birthing the desire to turn sentient thought into a linear action known as logic. But while it makes sense in a linear form, it has an extremely difficult time making sense in a world which is not linear. How does your conclusion which is agreed by many as a truth stand up when you hand it to someone who contradicts your proof with their own truths?

Not everyone reaches a conclusion by the same path. Sentience allow for a multitude of divergences. These divergences then alter the truths of each individual sentient life. You said so yourself by discussing the importance of past experiences. In this way sentient truths become a conundrum that can be answered in any multitude of ways. Your example was a concrete example of hard non-sentient facts. "Who killed this person"? Since the entire question revolves around an act committed and displayed there is a set truth that can possibly be found. But had you asked, "why was this person murdered?". there would be numerous possibilities leading to an impossible truth which would contradict itself in the interactions of the many sentient beings involved.

I'm not trying to be impractical, I'm trying to point out the way things are. Anthropologists have often been "proven" wrong in their assessments of how a people they observe is doing something wrong. They find that no matter how contradictory to their own truths an action may be, other groups may have succeeded in incorporating it into their lives acceptably. The equalizing factors which ease the minds of the group are not always the same. It is simply true that all groups have equalizing factors set for themselves, which make their group more cohesive.

My answer to you is that I use the same method as you do to find non-sentient truths, because there are hard answers. I'll probe and question and seek. But when we come to sentient truths, I accept most on the basis that the mind is calmed. There are too many variations of sentient truth to truly seek out the one definite example. This is why many cultures adapted the opinion that there are multiple truths, and others simply have a different one. The Europeans were one of the groups who decided there must be a truth, and it has cost numerous lives and plentiful atrocities. Is an indefinite article worth all of that?

I say the answer to sentient truths is simply found in the definition. If the truths themselves are living then they are also constantly changing and adapting. The best answer to how to find them is to determine your own. the only problem with this answer is that you can't find a definite truth. But fluidity defies definition.

I can seek answers with anything that exists within the physical non-sentient reality, those things that if moved are moved by something else. But that's where I depart, because I've already agreed that I know some who have truths I could never have, and there is no way that I could falsify them.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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28-01-2012, 04:05 PM (This post was last modified: 28-01-2012 04:18 PM by Zat.)
RE: What is Truth?
Truth is often hard to nail down.

The usual dangers are:

- Overcomplicatiing what is simple.
- Oversimplifying what is complex.

People fall into one or other (or both) of these traps all the time.

Every system is extremely complicated in its details.

Just look at the Titanic.

All the complexities of the furnishings and the decoration and the different systems: navigation, steering, engineering, etc. were all marvels of the top of their lines.
Yet, one structural element's failure destroyed the whole ship: the bulkheads did not go all the way to the ceiling, so the water filled ALL the compartments and sank the ship.

On the other hand, look at the attack on 9/11. Bush's explanation was an idiotic oversimplification. He said: "they hate our freedom"! Only an idiot would expect that as an explanation. The entire history of American and Western foreign policy for centuries was behind that attack.

That is the way with truth.

It is sometimes extremely simple if you consider the structural elements of a system and ignore the milliards of superficial and confusing details.

On the other hand, when something is a complex interplay of history, technology, psychology, religion, personal motivations and individual tragedies -- don't try to trivialize it by platitudes.

Nothing will replace the power of a penetrating, intelligent human mind that can separate the deciding factors from the multitude of irrelevanceis.

Ant that is also part of what Truth is.
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28-01-2012, 04:13 PM
RE: What is Truth?
(28-01-2012 04:05 PM)Zat Wrote:  On the other hand, when something is a complex interplay of history, technology, psychology, religion, personal motivations and individual tragedies -- don't try to trivialize it by platitudes.

Like blaming one group for the mess we're in. Dodgy

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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28-01-2012, 04:15 PM
RE: What is Truth?
Give it a break, Chas, or you will give yourself a hernia! Big Grin
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28-01-2012, 04:21 PM
RE: What is Truth?
(28-01-2012 04:15 PM)Zat Wrote:  Give it a break, Chas, or you will give yourself a hernia! Big Grin

Some of us are capable of doing the heavy lifting.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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28-01-2012, 04:23 PM
RE: What is Truth?
(28-01-2012 04:21 PM)Chas Wrote:  
(28-01-2012 04:15 PM)Zat Wrote:  Give it a break, Chas, or you will give yourself a hernia! Big Grin
Some of us are capable of doing the heavy lifting.

Is there a 'yawn smiley' somewhere on this forum? I seem to need one.

Best one I could find: Rolleyes

Anyway, back to you guys, until someone says something interesting, I am gone for R&R. Smile
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28-01-2012, 04:25 PM
RE: What is Truth?
I definitely agree that asking who to blame was a silly act, though this is a different thread. I chose not to reply on that thread because scapegoating is one of the worst offenders of problems people get themselves into. Shifting blame has been pretty bad since in the end no one is willing to just accept what happened as having happened and move on with solutions. But that exhaustive mental exercise isn't going to get this topic anywhere so I'll leave it there.

We have a completely different exhaustive mental exercise =p

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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28-01-2012, 04:26 PM
RE: What is Truth?
(28-01-2012 04:23 PM)Zat Wrote:  
(28-01-2012 04:21 PM)Chas Wrote:  
(28-01-2012 04:15 PM)Zat Wrote:  Give it a break, Chas, or you will give yourself a hernia! Big Grin
Some of us are capable of doing the heavy lifting.

Is there a 'yawn smiley' somewhere on this forum? I seem to need one.

Best one I could find: Rolleyes

That's fine. You don't appear willing or capable of supporting your theses after a couple of rounds. I will ignore you.

Skepticism is not a position; it is an approach to claims.
Science is not a subject, but a method.
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28-01-2012, 04:31 PM (This post was last modified: 28-01-2012 04:48 PM by Zat.)
RE: What is Truth?
'blame' may have been a misleading word as I explained many times.

Every doctor needs a diagnosis before he can think of treatment.

Is the doctor playing a 'blame-game' when he is trying to pin down the primary cause of cancer, or is he trying to establish a cause-and-effect logical chain, so then he can remove the primary cause in order to remove the symptoms?

Santayana is known for the saying: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" -- food for thought for those who do not want to find out how things happened.

Semantics is sometime very confusing, I understand, and we do get hung up on words, instead of concepts.

That is also part of problems at arriving truths.

But I am sure, you all know this, since it is so obvious that no intelligent person can fail to see it. Tongue
(28-01-2012 04:26 PM)Chas Wrote:  I will ignore you.

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart! Big Grin
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