The Disheartening Truth about Truth
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 


 

I care about what is actually true.

 

Truth is the thing that I value most. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible. I want my internal “map” of reality to match the actual reality I live in as best as possible.

 

“Truth”, however, appears to be relative in our human society.

I’m not talking about real truth here. I’m talking about “truth”.

One is the actual thing; the other is the idea of the thing.

One is real; the other is the mental construct of our evolved, primate selves.

 

There seem to be many versions of “truth”. These are the many subjective, individual interpretations of reality that people seem to arbitrarily concoct, accept and embrace. These “truths” can be discovered in all their varying degrees and forms within the very many social platforms and utilities we rely upon in everyday society to create and/or maintain our fundamental beliefs of life; (friends, newspapers, schooling, television, internet, email, commercial adverts, family, strangers, social events, signs stapled on poles, word-of-mouth, etc.).

 

Today’s “mediascape” does not provide much guidance. It only subliminally encourages us to create personal, solipsistic filters over information, making it easier than ever before in human history to gorge ourselves on the beliefs and views of favorite celebrities, TV shows/movies, sports people, political pundits, pseudo-sages, and the screens of our tech toys. This deluge leaves little time and attention for much else and the great risk is that it may be making us meta-ignorant -- less cognizant of what we don’t know.

 

There have been many psychological studies that tell us that what we choose to see and hear is shaped by our preferences, wishes, fears, desires and so forth. We literally see the world the way we want to see it and dangerously not like it may actually be. This creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information begins to not matter. All that matters is whether the information fits in your personal narrative and with your bias.

  

I’m no longer alarmed by the saturation of these versions of “truth” around us; I don’t lose sleep over them. I mostly don’t care anymore, because there is very little I can do about it. It’s all way bigger than I. Yet I can’t help muse quietly about it, from time-to-time, or occasionally “out-loud” within a forum like this because it interests me and I wonder about it. I even pine, once in a while, for a better existence than what I’ve come to realize existence gives. I sometimes catch myself saying, “Is this as good as it gets? Is this as deep as it is? Is this as challenging as it ever becomes? What’s it all mean?”

 

To me, it’s like the difference between having an interaction with a sane, grounded person who understands dirt, water, life, the earth —— reality, as it really is, and an interaction with someone who believes weird, crazy, unsubstantiated things and who constantly makes comments about life, reality and existence that are just plainly wrong, illogical, fantasy, unsubstantiated, uninformed, un-researched or ignorant?

These interactions with the latter can be amusing at first but they soon become frustrating to experience time and time again and it aggravates to have to quietly tolerate them. It’s a situation reflected by an old saying, “It’s not that they don’t know; it’s that they don’t even know that they don’t know.” It’s similar to a recently recognized cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect — our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.

 

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to discover truth around them, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices due to that, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to even realize it. A version of “ignorance is bliss”, I suppose.

 

It appears to me that the beliefs that the majority of society holds are probably held simply because it is the easiest path to traverse within the mental world. It requires little self-analysis and offers forgiveness against self-correction or requiring research for real facts, evidence and information. It’s an easy stance, it’s comfortable and a person can continue to live at a level of functionality that is accepted and colluded with by society at large. Truths arrived at in this way aren’t all necessarily wrong of course but their ease and comfort of discovery, and if they agree with us, shouldn’t be the primary basis to accept and hold them.

 

We are swiftly creating a world in which we increasingly have more and more ultimate control to focus our beliefs in any way that pleases us -- if you see something you don’t like or care to understand, you can easily tap away to something more pleasing or bias confirming. We are increasingly sharing what we believe with our own like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles of conformity while villainizing or denigrating anyone who doesn’t see things our way. It's becoming easier and easier for a person to live an entire life inside a protected bubble. It’s a dangerous trend of focusing more and more narrowly rather than broadly.

 

Easy, uncomplicated and simple – following the path of least resistance. This is a general accounting of our evolutionary state, I suppose. What feels 'good' is generally considered good, true or not; what is uncomfortable (even though it may be true) feels difficult to sustain and so is generally shunned or avoided because it induces extra effort or pain.

 

Critical thinking skills, applied to your own beliefs and discoveries, as well as everything else, are most vital. More importantly, if you don't continue to exercise critical thinking skills, they will fade, eventually leaving you with a false impression of your own abilities to discern truth and with a skewed map of reality.

 

Sometimes I wonder if it may simply be a problem of hubris, not epistemology; if it is just some variant of plain self-deception -- thinking that you know something that you do not and too proud to even think you don’t. Are we simply more emotionally based beings than intellectually based ones?

 

I’ve come to realize that any advances toward the discovery of real truth that I’ve managed to make in my lifetime of mulling things over, dwelling on them, and the countless hours of musing I've done is, in the end, basically a personal exercise with value to me only. My little discoveries, however wonderful I may think they are, influence hardly anyone close to me much less anyone outside of that circle. Usually, I find people simply don’t care to think on those levels; it’s too difficult and lonely.

 

Anosognosia is an interesting and unusual condition I recently read about. It’s a condition in which a person who suffers from a disability seems unaware of, or denies the existence of, their disability. I can’t help but think that the way many people deal with truth is like the “anosognosia of everyday life”. A big concern I have is that people tend to act according to what they believe in life and of course ignore that which they have no conception of, so in that way, ignorance profoundly channels the course we take in life. The “unknown unknowns” constitute a grand swath of everybody’s field of ignorance compared to what they infact believe and know.

 

(The “unknown unknowns”, as famously mentioned by Donald Rumsfeld once during an old interview, is a whole other topic that I may get into at some other time).

 

Anyway…

 

I may believe that I'm an uncommon anomaly in our society but I too am only an 'evolved monkey' like everyone else. Naturally, I occasionally fall prey to the longing that develops in my mind to belong to a tribe, to fit in, to be included in the greater group, to compromise a bit on some of my beliefs, such as they are. Unfortunately the price to that club is usually many times greater than I’m willing to pay, than I wish to give up. I’ve worked too hard, too long.

Thankfully, I can usually override the longing, slap myself in the face when I lose focus, and soon feel compelled to once again revisit and tweak my map of reality to try to line it up with what is real and true. I am indeed seeking the truest of journeys through life. In that mission I remain stalwart in my inclinations in spite of the flagrant abuse of logic and discipline-of-thinking I observe in mostly every person I come into contact with regardless of their stature, age, education, station or inclination in life.

 

It’s a bittersweet existence for me. I wonder why some humans like me, are tortured with this gift/curse of ‘insight’ that largely torments and disturbs us, while mostly everyone else blissfully sails through life without the desire/need to consider larger questions or question deeper issues.

I've come to a point where I can no longer tell myself that widespread irrationality, the belief in god(s), ghosts, fairies, uncharted energy sources or realms, sasquatches, spirits and angels in the beyond, after-life nirvanas, hydrotheraphy, space saucers and little green men, psychic clairvoyants, etc., are all just another lovely part of the tapestry of humanity. Most people, even non-believers due to social pressure, appear to have signed on to the "National Geographic" approach to foolish behaviors. This magazine's editors in particular, I've noticed over the years, seem to have a peculiar mindset; "Oh look! There's another group of strange acting people! Oh how wonderful!" Let's capture them in pretty light, provocative poses, and pretend there's something uplifting, deep and spiritual about this spectacle of people engaging in superstition, twaddle, and irrationality.

It's simply the glorification of bunk. It's all smoke — it's really -nothing-. But it's embarrassing in how it gains legitimacy through bias presentation.

And this type of thing is ultimately harmful, it's just a matter of degree.

Without even going into how irrational beliefs can cause strange, damaging behaviors when interacting with fellow humans and other creatures, this stuff is the ultimate 'time-suck' of mankind! It's diminishing the one thing we all have only a finite amount of. Time wasted on this stuff could be put to profound use in the discovery of innovations, inventions, working in actual soup kitchens, educating unfortunate people on how to improve their lot in life, even simply cleaning up a stretch of highway ditches, or planting gardens, solving social issues, or running errands for the sick and infirm, or even real self-development.

And the scariest part... it continues! Yes, on we go, spending hundreds and thousands of hours 'instructing' and indoctrinating children and the new batches of next generations to make the same stupid choices, think in the same lazy, twisted ways, with our wise guidance — and the wasted minds are perpetuated.

 

From what I see, it seems that if our bodies are clothed well enough, if we reside in a relatively comfortable place, if we have enough food to feed our yap, have our share of material things, and get to participate routinely enough in activities to appease boredom, isolation or social awkwardness, we’ll mostly be satisfied with everything around us and about us. We will probably not think that anything is too wrong, out of place and strange or needs examination and contemplation.

 

It is in this state I find the world I live in.

But, considering the anguish I have and the anguish others don't, who is “winning” after all? Hmmmmm...

 

The mind is like a garden. In the beginning it starts out with potential but is basically a plot of bare, rich black soil and nothing grows there yet. It is ready to be seeded. Obviously it is very important what seeds are planted there and how they’re laid out.

The problem in life occurs when people start planting in their garden without thought or guidance, or when others plant in your garden without concern for how your garden will turn out. Too often we see people doing not much of anything and basically just letting years go by while stray weed seeds and quackgrass blow in and take hold in their garden. No time or effort is put into planting valuable vegetables or planning the garden or noticing and dealing with the weeds. Eventually, what good is that? Sure, they all grow green and start to look full but one style of plant (weeds and quackgrass) is basically useless -- while the other sorts (flowers) may look lovely, easy and appealing but haven't much use beyond looks -- and still other sorts (vegetables) demand effort and thought but in the end provide nourishment and sustainability.

Coercion is something generally avoided by members of society. We prefer getting along without the coercion of others. People tend to be proud and wish to be left to their own devices to reach their own ends and conclusions (even while not wanting to be totally independent or exclusive of the tribe they identify with). It seems to be a love-hate thing within humans. We value earning our place by ourselves, under our own steam, but surely love and even seek the ‘hug’ for doing so, afterwards.

Considering this, it may be better to simply plant small, important seeds in another’s mind then leave these people alone to cultivate their own garden of thoughts and ideas from those seeds — rather than pushing full grown plants on them to adopt, that they won’t have any stake in or take pride in.

Ask yourself...
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?

 

Anyway, does it all feel unbounded and arbitrary? It needn't. It's simply hard work.

I guess I wrote this entire rant because I now realize that I should mostly concede the urge to ‘enlighten’ and try to remain largely silent in my views, thoughts and ambitions. Try to be more humble and be happy with that. In the end, my particular 'mind-junk' doesn’t matter to anyone else anyway.
It's a personal journey that we must care to take...

 

The trouble with the world
is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent are full of doubt.”
— Bertrand Russell

 

 

 

 

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