Truth Ache

jonflan-shadowWe do not need to read the philosophy of Wittgenstein or Socrates to know what is true or false.

But perhaps we need to review what goes awry in human psychology when a person with a seemingly right functioning mind defies what is known to be transparently true and argues instead for what is patently false.

Some clearly suffer an impaired cognitive function when their operative principle is that they wouldn’t see it — if they didn’t already believe it.

Plato devised an allegory of citizens in a cave, locked in position, looking forward, seeing only the reflected shadows before them on a wall projected by unseen actors behind them; shadows were their reality.

Others know very well what is true but they lie as a means to an unworthy end.

Daily, more of our family, friends and neighbors indulge a vacation from what’s true in order to persuade others that something is true that they know to be false.

When I was young, I read a book, titled, “You can trust the communists to be communists.”

This meant that “truth,” as defined for the communists, was whatever was necessary to manipulate the public.

The study of rhetoric to deceive and manipulate a people originated with the sophists of ancient Greece.  Socrates spoke against their machinations, insisting they caused social instability.  We are presently challenged with instability in our government and our policies because of these same rhetorical pirouettes, and we must succeed where Socrates failed lest our nation sip the deadly hemlock that took Socrates.

George Orwell said, “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

We are not yet “in [that] time of universal deceit” but deceit has intrusively implicated itself in our public dialogue and its disabling effects are manifest.

Some optimists say our nation has survived worse.

Sir Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us and we should “[b]eware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall” for these fallacies are “the real distorting prisms of human nature” and the worst may be the assumption that there is “more order than exists in chaotic nature.”

The fallacy of inductive thinking is the notion that because something happened in the past that it will happen in the future; this fallacy is explored exhaustively in a marvelous book, “the Black Swan,” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The premise is simple – if you have only seen and experienced White Swans in a life spent in North America, you might wrongly conclude you will only see White Swans in the future.  But, should you visit New Zealand, you’d learn that there are Black Swans as well.

A black swan

A black swan

Albert Einstein was fond of what he called “thought experiments.”

Let’s try out a few such experiments.

If a polar ice cap depends on temperature and it melts when it had not done so before, then, at the very least, it is growing warmer in the atmosphere where once ice did exist and persist.  Still, we have those who say the planet is not warming.

There are also those who think wrongly that the earth is six thousand years old, when it is 4.5 billion years old.

Information science says that if the information we begin with is not true, then the conclusions that we may draw cannot be without flaw.

Some may rightly scoff that a sucker is born every minute; these days they are aborning every nano-second.

In our time, as some treat truth as an arbitrary matter, to paraphrase Kipling, you must grow accustomed “to hear the truth you’ve spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.”

When a politician declares a “truth” you know to be a lie, and especially any source in the West Wing, you must stand up and defy the liar, who disregards the truth, to advance some con that undermines the common good.

We can only expect a dystopic world, unstable and chaotic, if we don’t challenge the growing public discourse that is neither grounded in fact or truth.