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Distinguish Truth From Falsehood

Distinguish Truth From Falsehood

Distinguish Truth From Falsehood

The first function of the human mind is to identify the truth from everything else.

As Tom Cruise said to Jack Nicholson (Colonel Jessup in a Few Good Men).

  • Cruise: "I want the truth!
  • Nicholson: "You can't handle the truth!!"

Let us try to define what the word TRUTH means.

The TRUTH has been argued about since the dawn of time.

  • Is there a GOD in the sky?
  • If yes, which of all the many religions has the one true GOD?
  • Who is telling the truth?
  • How do you know what is true?
  • Is it even possible to know the truth?
  • Are we doomed to uncertainty and self-doubt?

Some say, "Yes. I am certain, we can never be certain".

The first thing to do is to define what we mean by truth.

Here is my favourite definition: "A true statement is one that can be verified by direct sensory evidence, or by logical induction from the evidence provided by the senses".

This means if you count the number of people sitting in your chair, then that number is a fact. In my case, there is one person sitting in my chair. Me. That is a true statement. This is a statement that is verifiable by direct sense perception.

These types of statements are classed as self-evident facts.

Self-evident facts are easy to see.

But there are many more complicated and weightier questions that go beyond the self-evident facts.

The more complicated types are those statements that cannot be proven by reference to direct sensory evidence, because they are matters of political, ethical or scientific judgement, FROM the facts.

An example of this type of more controversial statement is, "Human activities that produce CO2 are the cause of global climate change".

In these more complicated cases, the truth is harder to discern.

The method I use to test such a statement is to ask the "contradictory case" question. In this example, I might ask the contradictory case questions, as follows:

  • Does climate change occur in the absence of human CO2 producing activity?
  • Did climate change occur before 1850 when humans began emitting CO2 in large quantities?
  • If human activity stopped completely, then would the climate settle down to an unchanging condition?

Whenever you hear a statement of science or politics, or ethics, then ask the contradictory case question and see if it reveals anything interesting.

Here is another example:

"Walking under a ladder brings bad luck".

Contradictory case questions would be:

  • Do good things sometimes happen to people who have walked under ladders. YES.
  • Do bad things happen to people who have not walked under ladders. YES.

So, we can probably discount the "ladder theory of bad things happening".

Let us try a third example. Here is an example of a so-called law of science.

"All human beings need oxygen to live".

Let us try the contrary case questions to test this hypothesis.

  • Are there any humans ever found who are able to live in the absence of oxygen? No.
  • Are there any gases other than oxygen, that could sustain human life? For example, can pure nitrogen support human life? No.

Then we can be more confident of the human life and oxygen theory.

If true statements can be defined as "Statements which can be verified by direct sensory evidence, or by logical induction from evidence provided by the senses." And they can be checked by asking the contrary case questions. Then it is possible to inch towards finding true statements.

It is important to know what truth is.

And it is equally important to know what truth is NOT.

Truth is NOT:

  • Whatever the majority says it is.
  • Whatever a person or pressure group WANTS it to be.
  • Whatever the Media claims it to be.

Let us say a few words on each of the above.

1. The truth is NOT whatever the majority says it is.

Just because a lot of people believe something, does not make it likely to be true! This is an astounding fact that most people just don't "get".

Many people fall into the trap of assuming if a lot of people believe something, then it must have at least some validity.

This is the biggest and most common mistake people make and it is one to guard against in your own thinking.

2. Truth is NOT whatever a person WANTS it to be.

Facts do not respect desires.

Facts are facts, irrespective of what you want them to be. Many people believe statements, because the statements are attractive.

This is another common error and it is called, 'Wishful thinking'.

Many people fall into the trap of believing what they are told, simply because it would be nice if it were so.

3. Truth is NOT necessarily whatever the Media claims it to be.

The media has a message and they promote their message by selectively reporting facts, which correspond to their world view, and by NOT reporting facts, that do not correspond to their world view.

This is a case of selective perception. Selective perception is done sometimes maliciously and sometimes unconsciously.

Selective perception is the act of looking only for evidence that supports your view; and to NEVER ask the contradictory case questions.

It is always important to ask the contradictory case.

Whatever you believe to be true, test it by asking the contradictory case questions.

I recently read the following wonderful text

"I find there is a great pleasure in listening to ideas with which one agrees.

But after a short time, such a practice dulls the mental faculties.

On the other hand, listening to a person whose avowals disturb my mental equilibrium, ruffles my feathers and upsets my sensibilities, is much more likely to energise my mind.

It is therefore through Contradiction rather than acquiescence that mental stimulation and progress may be found".


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