eXTReMe Tracker WARNING: The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine (anymore).

My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, June 6

Truth

My most fundamental belief since I was ... oh, age 8 or so, is in the extreme importance of seeking and finding truth.

I decided, that in order to know the right thing to do, I'd first have to find out truth. Once I understood truth, I'd then set about figuring out what to do about it.

The alternative, in my mind, was to "do" a bunch of things someone says is good only to find out it was actually a bunch of BS and have been doing the wrong things all along.

Early on, I had the notion of truth entwined with honesty. Not only did I pursue truth but I was convinced that everyone had an obligation to do so as well. It wasn't just about obligation, either. I had no doubt that everyone would be better off, the more they pursued and understood truth.

The truth could seem to bring hurt and pain, sometimes, but to my mind even the pain and hurt would be far greater in the long run due to all the wrong that would continue to be done and spread.

I couldn't always live up to that, but I tried pretty hard. Avoiding lying was important, of course, but so was honesty and openness about the truth.

I'm sure part of this belief came about through my religious upbringing where the commandment about bearing false witness was mistakenly taught as "thou shalt not lie". I turned it into something like, 'Always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'. (or, at least my best understanding of it so that my understanding could be corrected).

Maybe if I'd really lived up to that, I'd have figured out even more. I can see now how there were a lot of things I hid from people - sometimes intentionally. Sometimes, what I hid were good things about myself - or what I thought were good things.

I would be so offended by wrong accusations that I would refuse to even defend myself. I didn't think I should have to defend myself and I think, in a sense, it was a way of hurting my attacker - by refusing to allow them more intimate knowledge of me.

Anyhow, I learned to explicitly separate truth seeking from honesty through Objectivism. Ayn Rand and others made the case that revealing the truth to someone of poor character might result in real harm to generally good people.

One example might be a person robbing your house and demanding to know whether you have children. It might not be a moral obligation to tell the robber where all your valuables or your children are. It may be practical depending on the situation. In some cases, being completely honest may work out in helping you to form enough a connection with the attacker to cause them to refrain from harming you as much. In other cases, a connection may be difficult or impossible to make and trying to establish one puts you and your family at further risk.

Some highly religious folks would consider honesty obligatory even in that situation.

Up until the last year or so, I had never seriously questioned my belief in the fundamental importance of truth.

I questioned how to pursue the truth.
I questioned whether I should share my understanding of the truth.
I questioned whether I should try to force people to my understanding of the truth.

Piece by piece, the truth seemed to be something that wasn't found and wasn't easily shared by following a straight path. People are afraid of truth. It prompts change and change isn't always something one is prepared for.

Sometimes, the way to take on a new understanding of truth is to play with it for a while, try it on here and there, and over time take it on. Sometimes finding the truth involves plunging in and acting as if something were true. It may not turn out to be true, but you'll find the holes in it pretty fast that way. It's a dangerous and sometimes painful way to find truth, but also thrilling and exciting sometimes. Sometimes, it's best to ignore a potential truth for a while and work on pursuing other truths.

So, now, here I am questioning truth again. Is truth really fundamental to goodness? Is there some other way to look at this?
Religious folks have an answer for this. The truth is revealed through a book that was handed down by God.

I can't verify God one way or the other, and I'm not going to get into that right now. It's an essay or a book unto itself.

However, thinking about it prompts another question. Could the truth be found better by "living" a particular belief to its fullest and finding the holes?
Maybe so. Dangerous and risky but possibly useful.

My best guess would be that some variety of approaches is idea. Some folks plunging into the deep end, some folks splashing around on the shore, some folks swimming strong and sure, others floating along, and still others doing some combination of them all. If I were a scientist, trying to find the best answer, I think I'd set up something like that. Lots of people doing different combinations of things and seeing what happens. Of course, that means there are a few important experiments that aren't possible (like what would happen if everyone fell in and pursued the same set of beliefs - if that were even possible).

I'm still thinking about other ways of looking at the belief about truth. Perhaps, in itself, it was a sort of thing where I plunged into following a belief full throttle and learned a lot about it, right or wrong. Even now, I am questioning whether I didn't have it right in the first place.

I'm also wondering. Which sort of person do I want to be or have I already decided?
There were a lot of questionable aspects to what I was taught about God and the Bible.

I didn't know for sure whether there was a God or what was good, but I thought that if I pursued truth, I'd eventually figure it out.

Otherwise I could "do" a bunch of things someone says is good only to find out it was actually a bunch of BS and have been doing the wrong things all along.

Along with that belief, I seem to have tied in honesty. I thought that not only should I pursue truth but that everyone had an obligation to do so as well. I had an obligation to tell them truths (or my best understanding of it) even if it "hurt" because the pain caused by being wrong would be far greater, in the long run, than facing the truth. I couldn't always live up to that, but I tried pretty damn hard. Avoiding lying was important, of course, but so was honesty and openness about the truth.

I'm sure part of this belief came about through my religious upbringing where the commandment about bearing false witness was mistakenly taught as "thou shalt not lie". I turned it into something like, 'Always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth'. (or, at least my best understanding of it so that my understanding could be corrected).

Maybe if I'd really lived up to that, I'd have figured even more out. I can see now how there were a lot of things I hid from people - sometimes intentionally. Sometimes, what I hid were good things about myself - or what I thought were good things.

I would be so offended by wrong accusations that I would refuse to even defend myself. I didn't think I should have to defend myself and I think, in a sense, it was a way of hurting my attacker - by refusing to allow them more intimate knowledge of me.

Anyhow, I learned to explicitly separate truth seeking from honesty through Objectivism. Ayn Rand and others made the case that revealing the truth to someone of poor character might result in real harm to generally good people.

One example might be a person robbing your house and demanding to know whether you have children. It might not be a moral obligation to tell the robber where all your valuables or your children are. It may be practical depending on the situation. In some cases, being completely honest may work out in helping you to form enough a connection with the attacker to cause them to refrain from harming you as much. In other cases, a connection may be difficult or impossible to make and trying to establish one puts you and your family at further risk.

Some highly religious folks would consider honesty obligatory even in that situation.

Up until the last year or so, I had never seriously questioned my belief in the fundamental importance of truth.

I questioned how to pursue the truth.
I questioned whether I should share my understanding of the truth.
I questioned whether I should try to force people to my understanding of the truth.

Piece by piece, the truth seemed to be something that wasn't found and wasn't easily shared by following a straight path. People are afraid of truth. It prompts change and change isn't always something one is prepared for.

Sometimes, the way to take on a new understanding of truth is to play with it for a while, try it on here and there, and over time take it on. Sometimes finding the truth involves plunging in and acting as if something were true. It may not turn out to be true, but you'll find the holes in it pretty fast that way. It's a dangerous and sometimes painful way to find truth, but also thrilling and exciting sometimes. Sometimes, it's best to ignore a potential truth for a while and work on pursuing other truths.

So, now, here I am questioning truth again. Is truth really fundamental to goodness? Is there some other way to look at this?
Religious folks have an answer for this. The truth is revealed through a book that was handed down to people by God.

I can't verify the God theory one way or the other.

However, thinking about it prompts another question. Could the truth be found better by "living" a particular belief to its fullest and finding the holes? Maybe so. Dangerous and risky but possibly useful. My best guess would be that some variety of approaches is idea. Some folks plunging into the deep end, some folks splashing around on the shore, some folks swimming strong and sure, others floating along, and still others doing some combination of them all. If I were a scientist, trying to find the best answer, I think I'd set up something like that. Lots of people doing different combinations of things and seeing what happens. Of course, that means there are a few important experiments that aren't possible (like what would happen if everyone fell in and pursued the same set of beliefs - if that were even possible).

I'm still thinking about other ways of looking at the belief about truth. Perhaps, in itself, it was a sort of thing where I plunged into it full throttle and learned a lot about it, right or wrong.

No comments: