Truth vs. Reality

Truth is a label, its opposite label is falsehood. Truth and falsehood are the products of language and the intent with which it is deployed. A falsehood is one thing, in the minds of many of those who search for ‘truth’, but a falsehood is achieved in a number of ways. A falsehood can either be a mistaken depiction of reality, or an intentional mischaracterisation of reality, and even these can be drilled down to yet more basic levels, at times indistinguishable from each other (more on that later).

A mistaken depiction of reality is not a lie, it is a mistaken depiction of reality – for it to be a lie it must be intentionally misleading. But even mistaken depictions of reality have potential value, even as claims to ‘the truth’ may have no value whatsoever, in a given circumstance. This is utilitarianism of a sort. At issue is the admixture of elements in a given statement, and where those elements come from. The provenance, if you will. Let’s start with a certain type of provenance, one that, more often than not, leads individuals to falsehoods of the ‘mischaracterisation of reality’ variety.

An individual that uncritically takes on the opinions of another individual, usually some kind of authority figure (no comment, here, as to the basis of that authority), may well hold the given statement as true. The most obvious example is the child that takes on the opinion of the parent – all children do this, at least for a time. It is necessary. Such opinions make up the environment in which the child lives, so it has truth-value, albeit that it may not be true. The child takes that truth out into the world, and if it maintains its value, then it becomes ‘a truth’ (even though it may be different from reality).

To be clear, ‘world’ is a comparative term – ‘society’ might be more correct, even though the world is made up of both society, and societies, cultures and sub-cultures. This is somewhat the point. A hand-me-down ‘truth’ maintains value depending on how far the holder of that ‘truth’ strays from the culture in which that ‘truth’ is ‘true.’ A home-schooled child in a gated community is not going to crash-test such a ‘truth’ as rigorously as a child in a multi-cultural community with ready access to the Internet.

There are adults that maintain ‘truths’ in this manner; indeed most adults still have ‘truths’ handed down from their parents that have not had the opportunity to be crash-tested in the ‘real’ world (more on that shortly). But there are adults that, like lost children, move from authority figure to authority figure harvesting ‘truths.’ (It would be right to call these ‘truths’ opinions in most contexts, but as a ‘truth’ is ‘true’ by virtue of its ‘truth value’ let us maintain this nomenclature.) The issue with such ‘truths’ is that they are handed down without an audit-trail of constituent and contributory ‘truths’. They are encapsulated pearls of ‘wisdom,’ ‘impervious bubbles of truth’. Impervious because, with no foundation, they can float above any foundational beliefs, and they contain no support in the individual’s thinking processes that would crumble under concerted attacks thereon. They can harmlessly bounce off each other, even (and maybe especially) when these bubbles are contradictory, as their deployment is often situationally specific, and as such, these ‘truths’ seldom come into contact with each other.

It would be easy to mock such an individual for such shallowness, and seemingly catastrophic stupidity. Now, where do your reactions and intuitions come from? There is a large part of the brain that we seldom have direct access to, but from which ‘truths’ bubble up. These are everything from the positive-sounding ‘intuition’ to the negative-sounding ‘stereotype,’ though there is no major difference between these two names for approximately the same thing. These are ‘truths’ that bubble up from our sub-conscious (not ‘the’ subconscious, but our sub-conscious, everything beneath the level of consciousness), and these ‘truths’ come to us without an audit-trail of constituent and contributory ‘truths’.

Of course, some of us are more inclined than others to subject such ‘truths’ to scrutiny. We may apologise for words reactively said in anger (‘our truth’), but that doesn’t mean that we won’t say exactly the same thing the next time the right combination of buttons is pushed. Then again, we may consciously fail to tell ‘the truth’ because of the embarrassing position we’ve been put in by ‘a truth.’ They are ‘our truths’, our prejudices, one might even say, ‘our reality.’

No one can lay claim to ‘the truth.’ Everyone can lay claim to ‘a truth.’ The value of these ‘truths’ is in their utility – but only in the first instance – and it is the first instance that a great many people remain focused on. Much more importantly, the value of these ‘truths’ lies in one’s relationship with the source of such ‘truths,’ and how many degrees of separation there are between oneself and reality, whatever that may be, in truth.


About COEXISTential

I'm a psychology graduate, about to undertake a Masters. I did my first degree at 36 for various reasons, and am contunuing in my education for better reasons. The focus of my research is the psychology of morality, and thus also religion and politics. The focus of this blog is to apply my learnings from this research to the tricky problem of fixing the world. I am a progressive liberal, humanist, and agnostic-atheist, but the individuality of my principles is more important than the labels under which they broadly fall. So let's talk about life, the universe, and everything, and how best for us humans to exist within it.
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