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How to Tell Truth From Falsehood

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Posted 24 April 2014 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

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More on how to tell truth from falsehood - Part Two

On 22nd April 2014 I posted a blog where I suggested that the practice of "keeping an open mind" is not a good practice. Since there is only one reality, there is, and there can only be, one true idea about any aspect that would correspond to that reality.

So, rather than endlessly trying ideas, in order to discover if there is anything in them, (which is the policy of keeping an open mind), I suggested that one should develop an Active mind.

An active mind is one that is not open to suggestion but is, rather, a mind that is more discerning.
An active mind is not an open mind.
An active mind is forever sifting, deciding, and rejecting most ideas. It is endlessly searching for the one idea in the many, the one idea that most properly corresponds to reality.
An active mind, as Sherlock Holmes said, is attempting to "eliminate the impossible, since whatever is left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth".

That is the essence of the blog of 22nd April.

Since that time I received some valid criticism from a reader who wrote:
"(This blog is) Incomplete. Does not identify how one can separate truth from falsehood e.g. by testing against a given criterion etc. Also the beginning is too long, more should have been written about the ways truth can be recognized rather than on the need to separate truth."

This is good criticism, since it is true!
The piece does need more content on the ways truth can be recognised from falsehood.

Thank you for the criticism.

Here is my attempt at fixing my error.

How to recognise truth

The method by which truth is distinguished from falsehood is logic.

Logic is defined as "the art of non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality".

Logic is the means and the standard by which truth can be discovered.

Logic, not faith, not intuition, not mystic revelation, not gut feel, not majority opinion or tradition, provides the basis of all tests of truth.

The first rule of logic is the need for definitions

So in order to discern truth we must first define TRUTH.

"Truth", like the word "power" or "freedom", has more than one meaning.

I want to suggest that there are five main meanings for the word "truth", and each one gives us clues as to how to discover it. The five main aspects of truth are:

  1. Truth as Existence
  2. Truth as Identification
  3. Truth as Induction
  4. Truth as Deduction
  5. Truth as Honesty

Let us examine these five aspects and each one will give us some pointers as to how to discern truth from falsehood.

Truth 1

Truth Level one is existence as such. Existence "as is". Truth is Existence. Existence without any reference to a mind, knowledge or judgement. Truth1 is "that which is".

Truth 1, Existence, cannot be "false". It cannot be wrong. It is not an opinion. It is a brute fact. Truth 1 is that which logic strives to identify without contradiction. Truth one is Existence.

Truth 2

Is Identification. This is the ability of a mind to correctly identify the existence and nature of an object.

For example, with your various sense organs you may perceive a cat, as a blob of colour, a certain smell, a purring sound, and a warn soft touch. After a certain age, you integrate your sense impressions to the point where you perceive more than a blob of colour, and a smell, you perceive the cat. You identify the cat.

Truth 2. is Identification

But Identification is not automatic. Identification is an intellectual process that can, and does go wrong. You have the capacity to correctly identify the facts, (That is a cat on the mat.). But you also have the capacity to misidentify the facts. You may misread your sense impressions and come up with a wrong identification.

  • To the degree to which you make true identifications of the facts, as revealed to you by direct sense perception, is the degree to which you are likely to make correct decisions and survive another day.
  • But to the degree to which you fail to make true identifications is the degree to which you are in danger of not making it through to the end of the day.

For example, if you think you have seen a pussy cat, but it is, in reality, a tiger, then you are in deep trouble. You have made a false identification. And false identifications are dangerous.

If you think that drink is pure water, but it is, in fact, pure bleach, and you swig it down, then you are in deep trouble.

Here is the first breach between truth and falsehood

Have you correctly identified the true nature of that which you have perceived?

Your first brush with truth verses falsehood is the degree to which you make true identifications of the facts, as revealed to you by direct sense perception.

How can you verify the truth of your identifications?

A true identification will contain no contradictions.

The first and major test for truth is no contradiction.

If there is a contradiction in your thinking then there is something wrong. If the "cat" feels ice cold and as hard as steel, then is not a cat.
If the "water" smells like bleach, then it is not water.

  • Since truth level 1 (reality) is an integrated whole, all true ideas must be non-contradictory.
  • All true ideas do not Contradict your observations and
  • All true ideas must not contradict themselves, (true ideas must be self-consistent) and
  • All true ideas must not contradict your broader knowledge base, meaning they must be capable of being integrated with the rest of your knowledge.

If your ideas break any one of these rules then you should begin to check your thinking.

Ask yourself:

  1. Is my idea self-consistent? Or does it have internal contradiction? (It looks like water, but smells like bleach).
  2. Does my idea contradict observation?
  3. Is this idea capable of being integrated with other established fields of knowledge, or not?

Truth level 3

Truth level three is inductive logic.
Truth is obtained by Logic.

But you need to know that logic has two main branches: inductive and deductive.

  1. Inductive logic is the act of taking instances and deriving valid general principles, based on the observations.
  2. Deductive logic is the act of applying the general principles and applying them to a new observation.

Inductive logic gives us truth level 3.

Truth level three is inductive truth: meaning have you properly induced correct conclusions from the evidence of the individual instances.

For example, you might see the first cat on the mat. Then you see a different cat on another mat. Then you see a third cat on a third mat. You may, if you are careless, induce the following general principle:

"Based on my experience, I can say, without a doubt, that all cats are to be found sitting on mats."

You have made a faulty induction.

You induce general principles based upon your experiences. But your experiences are limited.
You are constantly making generalisations based upon limited samples.
Many people make firm rules about the world and other people by means of faulty induction.

  • Jon's wife leaves him and Jon comes to the conclusion that "All women are no good"
  • Jayne gets booked by the police for speeding. She concludes that "All coppers are against women drivers"

Hasty generalisation, faulty induction, is the source of many false ideas. Hasty generalisation is caused by taking a sample size that is too small and generalising too soon. (For example, all cats sit on mats).

The cure for Hasty generalisation, faulty induction, is to look at the sample size and to look for counter examples.

If you come to the idea that all "Men cannot multi task" them, the logical thing to do is to look at more men and see if you can find counter examples: can you find men who can multitask. And in addition, see if you can find some women who cannot multitask.

  • Do you know any multitasking men?
  • Do you know any non-multitasking women?

If yes then your original idea is probably wrong.

  • Do not ignore counter examples
  • Think about the sample size
  • Make sure the sample size is sufficient to give a high probability of an accurate inductive generalisation

Level 4 truth

Deductive truth. Deductive truth is the act of properly applying general principles to new concrete examples.

As described above, you arrive at your general truths by induction. By now you have a vast portfolio of general principles that you apply, every day, to new examples, as they arise.

This process of applying principles to new instances; (deductive reasoning) can be done properly without contradiction. This will lead you to true answers. (Answers that correspond to the reality 1).

Or your deductions can be false. Here is an example of a false deduction.

  • All fish live in the sea
  • All whales live in the sea
  • Therefore, all whales are fish

Here is an example of a correct deduction.

  • All life as we know it requires a good supply of water
  • The moon has no good supply of water
  • Therefore, the moon has no life as we know it

Deductive logic is an established science and some people make it a specific study. But most people don't study the laws of logic. Therefore, many people make rookie mistakes in their reasoning and thus come up with illogical and false conclusions.

The contrast on this level of truth seeking is to have valid (true) reasoning or invalid, (untrue) reasoning.

I suggest that you would benefit greatly if you were to study the laws of logic.

Level 5 truth. Moral truth.

The final truth is moral. This is "the truth verses a lie".

A lie is where one person is actively trying to deceive another person, by willfully claiming as true, something he knows to be false.

Again the key to discerning lies is to search for contradictions.

The person who is lying will almost always create contradictions.

  1. Contradictions between his statements and what can be proved factually.
  2. Contradictions between his own statements. Meaning his own statements do not hang together. It is not a self-consistent story.

In addition look for "secondary gain".

People will tend to distort their meaning if there is a personal gain to be had.

  • So the "expert witness" will interpret the evidence in the way that he is paid to do so.
  • The tobacco company will interpret evidence in the way that it would pay them to do so.
  • People tend to interpret their meaning in ways that would pay them to do so.

You should be aware of this tendency to "bend the truth" to whatever would give the speaker a personal gain. We call this personal gain, "secondary gain".

Look for signs of secondary gain. If there is secondary gain, then examine the person's statements carefully.

20 ways to discern the truth

  1. Recognise that "truth" is not one thing. It is five things. Existence. Identification. Induction. Deduction. Honesty.
  2. Recognise that the method of distinguishing truth is logic.
  3. Logic is the act of non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality.
  4. If you want to search for truth look for Non-contradictory identification.
  5. Ask yourself "Have you correctly identified the nature of that which you have perceived?"
  6. All true ideas must not contradict observations.
  7. All true ideas must not contradict themselves, ( true ideas must be self-consistent) and
  8. All true ideas must not contradict your broader knowledge base, meaning they must be capable of being integrated with the rest of your knowledge.
  9. Look out for false inductions: hasty generalisations. "Men cannot multi task".
  10. Look for counter examples.
  11. Look at the sample size.
  12. When trying to induce conclusions from experience, look for the validity of the intellectual leap from the individual instances to the general principle. Ask yourself, "Is there sufficient reason to justify making the leap from particular examples to a general principle?"
  13. Make sure the sample size is sufficient to give a high probability of an accurate inductive generalisation. Don't generalise on the basis of too small a sample or a distorted sample.
  14. Check to see if the key terms are defined, or are there equivocations on the meaning of key terms. Look for tight definitions. No equivocation.
  15. Look for Coherence. No contradiction.
  16. Look for an arguments explanatory power.
  17. When applying a general principle to a particular instance, look for valid deductive reasoning.
    Is the deduction following the laws of deductive logic? (Or does this guy think whales are fish because they live in water?)
  18. Be scrupulous in your application of the laws of logic.
  19. Look for signs of secondary gain. If there is secondary gain, then examine the person's statements carefully.
  20. Look for moral Honesty. No intent to deceive.

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