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Saturday, July 16, 2022

What is Truth?


“To tell you the truth” and “As a matter of fact” are common sentences all of us use to make our point. But what is “fact” and what is “truth”? Ray Jeannotte Langley of British Columbia points out in a letter to the Editor of Scientific American (July, 2022, page 6) that “The word ‘truth’ is elemental, and its misuse (unintentional or intentional) promotes division”.

We know that the words “facts” and “truth” do not mean the same thing. Facts are objective, impersonal and can be verified. Truth is personal and a subjective assertion.

In religious and spiritual texts, we read about truth with a small t and Truth with a big T. When someone says, “The truth is…..”, the listeners need to be extra careful.

What does that word “truth” mean when it is preceded by “the” or when the word begins with a capital T? Whether the word is used by saints or by ordinary folks, I get the feeling that the user knows what it means. It has a personal meaning for that individual. But the way the word is used, with a big T, or with preceding “the”, one gets the feeling the writer really knows what that word should mean. If you and I did not get it, it is our problem.

The point is that truth is a word which categorizes a set of thoughts. But the way it is used, it sounds as if there is a “higher” truth and a “lower” truth and if you do not get what the writer is defining, you are thinking about the “lower” truth. We are caught in words and categories which often ends in arguments and differing “camps”.

I hope what “wisdom-people” and Saints use the word Truth with the capital T to stimulate us to look at nature deeply and think on our own. I hope they did not intend it to call our thinking as lower, or as a dogma to follow or to proselytize.

Besides, the truth of any statement should align with verifiable facts and its usefulness and not with “absolute certainty”. Our mind functions in this world with incomplete information and best available evidence. Facts provide that information and someone’s professed truth.

In this era of “alternative truth” and “truthiness” (of Stephen Colbert), Ray Jeannotte Langley’s advice is timely: “Communicating facts instead of truth is a good place to start”.

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