Words have evolved from our earliest, primitive days and many of them have become so outmoded as to interfere with clear thinking. “Truth” in my opinion, is one of these words. I see “Truth” as a mirage that lures those thirsty for knowledge away from the very evidence that could empower them.
Understandably our ancestors looked for a secret code, a holy grail, a final answer to all things — some kind of explanation for the demon haunted world they lived in.
But surely, with better than four thousand years of acquired knowledge under our belt we should know better today.
First off, we now know that we are limited to a mammal’s comprehension of this universe. Our eyes have evolved over millions of years for specific purpose – – to find prey and avoid predators. Our brains have evolved over millions of years for similar purpose. We are probably no more able to comprehend certain aspects of this universe than can a horse save its foal from drowning by lifting it up out of the creek.
Further, our brains limit how much data we can process. For instance, if TV twenty stations were beaming into our TV set at once, all we would see is a blurry mess. Only by reducing the amount of stations hitting on our set could we begin to make sense of things and then most clearly only when we were down to just one station. Similarly, the kaleidoscope of universal knowledge is too much for us to take in all at once, and we are forced to abstract (falsify) information from the universe in order to make sense of things.
It should be apparent, therefore, that the ancients’ concept of truth as representative as ideal or fundamental reality is limited to the simple world they knew – -a flat earth beneath a star studded canopy or heaven, in which everything could be explained as the whim of a deity.
In place of using Truth as a criterion, I think we would find better answers to our problems by following Korzybski’s suggestion to look on the real world as the “territory” and our understanding or perception of that territory as our “map” of that real world or “territory.”
And when we approach a problem from this point of view, it soon becomes clear that whether a given map is useful to us will depend not only on how accurately it may represent that territory, but also on whether we can easily comprehend, and therefore use, the information it supplies.
For instance, if we are driving cross country, we use a road map, which we know is not an accurate copy of the territory, but if we used a more accurate map, say an aerial photograph, we would find it difficult to discern our route. Our maps need to be limited to the type of information needed for that specific task.
In other words, our map is primarily evaluated by its usefulness, not by its “truth”. While we want it to be representative of the territory, we must also be able to understand it, so we must reject the “true” map — a map that is identical to the territory– because too much information would obstruct our view.
We appear mentally unable to contemplate all things at one time: our method is to wade into the information, sifting for relevant facts that, when combined, will give us an orderly, cohesive picture of our subject. As we said, if a road map were made from aerial photographs, and thus to scale, it would be difficult to find our way to the next city.. “Truth,” in this case, obstructs.
And, since we need to make our maps functionally useful, it follows that truth is not what we are really after when we look for answers. “Functional” would be a far better criterion of the information we seek than is “truth”.
One instance: Newton’s laws were considered to represent the truth until Einstein and his lads came along with their new, revised, version, yet engineers continue to build bridges and buildings in accordance with Newtonian laws. Why? Because they work.
So I suggest that, if we can’t dump the word entirely, the least we can do – – since the word is most often used to steer us away from further investigation – – is to be alert to that danger whenever it is so used. When people say they are seeking the Truth, they most probably are trying to avoid current evidence.
agm Andy Mulcahy
“Pity the poor philosopher who fervently, desperately seeks the “Truth” in order to avert his gaze from the world about him” agm