Saturday, February 28, 2015
'“The truth will set you free” is a common saying in academic circles that want to promote academic freedom and the power of learning. Many universities have this statement emblazoned on a sign near the entrance of a building. But “the truth will set you free” did not originate in academia; Jesus said it in John 8:32. In context, Jesus’ statement has nothing to do with classroom learning. In fact, John 8:32 speaks of a higher form of knowledge than is capable of being learned in a classroom.' [http://www.gotquestions.org/the-truth-will-set-you-free.html]
In this Inquisition about truth I will leave the 'higher forms of knowledge' to others and try to address the temporal world.
More specifically I want to address the question of the difference between what one person perceives as 'the truth' and that another may see as false or not see at all.
If we grant that there is an objective reality of physical objects that we see every day, then we can set aside for now the discussion of the atomic structure of the matter we perceive as solid and simply accept those things as real objects.
When looking at any physical object such as a chair, my perception of the object is affected by the memory I have about how that object looks and acts.
If my interaction with a particular chair has convinced me that the chair has dark brown leather upholstery, then when I see a chair of a similar design and shape I may 'see' a brown chair whereas the chair actually has black leather upholstery. Perhaps my mind is taking a shortcut by 'autocorrecting' my perceptions.
My mind has convinced me that I saw a brown chair instead of the real black chair in front of me. And, if I describe the 'truth' about that chair to you, namely that it is brown, then you will disagree about the 'truth'.
Probably I will take a second look at the actual chair and see the black color and acknowledge that I was mistaken.
That is all well and good for simple truths about tangible objects, but the real difficulties arise when we consider intangible issues.
One intangible issue we face daily is a memory of past events.
Well, science has pretty much proven that our memories are not reliable:
'Now, scientists have an idea of just how unreliable it actually can be. New research released this week has found that even people with phenomenal memory are susceptible to having “false memories,” suggesting that “memory distortions are basic and widespread in humans, and it may be unlikely that anyone is immune,” according to the authors of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).' [Atlantic Monthly, Erika Hayasaki Nov 18 2013, 3:00 PM]
If you tell me that I had scrambled eggs for breakfast yesterday but I remember having eaten toast and peanut better, we expect a disagreement about the 'truth' will ensue.
Most likely you can insist that I ate scrambled eggs yesterday until you are 'blue in the face' but I will reject your version of 'truth' because my mind is made up.
It has been said by many that 'A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still'. [This phrase may have begun with Samuel Butler in his 17th-century poem Hudibras. Part III, Canto iii, lines 547-550.]
The practical implication of this concept is that a person who is attempting to get others to agree to a 'truth' or a more abstract concept first has to understand the 'truth' that the audience holds already.
If the preconceptions of the audience disagree with the speaker's message, then it is likely that the message will simply be ignored.
That means that if I want an audience to agree with my 'truth' I have to secure agreement on each of the pre-existing concepts of the audience in order to have them accept my change in their ideas. The audience will simply not accept any 'truth' that conflicts with their existing mindset.
All of this means that it is a very hard task indeed to simply 'tell the truth' so the audience can hear the 'truth'.
And, if the audience is one person, then the speaker must navigate all the preconceptions of that person in order to be heard. If the audience is 100 people, then the same thing applies, but multiplied by 100.