Should we care about the truth?

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In this day and age, musing about this question is considered dangerous, if pursued in a serious way. I would risk being maligned with the so-called “post-truthers”, people who appear to selectively pick and choose evidence in front of them to support this or that conspiracy theory. Too often these days, “free thinking” is really a veiled attempt to support certain political agendas, when the motivation is to not free you to think. Also to cut off access to helpful information, and to cope with this loss. Exactly how free is one to think, really? There is a reason you don’t hear about socialism as often as, say, reducing taxes, is because we need to understand exactly who those people are who benefit from certain thoughts being thinkable and others being supressed.

I am thinking about a whole different kettle of fish. I am wondering about when decision-making in complex situations, does “truth” matter? It is likely that knowing key facts are quite useful, but sometimes that is also in short supply. It is then when you have to resort to a mixture of scant concrete information, advice from others, past experience, and guesswork. In the end the decision is yours, and you have to have faith in it. There is no glorious “the truth is inside you” nonsense, no using “the force” or other movie tag lines that will guide you to victory. In the end you might be wrong as much as you might be right. Either way, you have to own the consequence of your decisions, even in the face of degenerate information.

And tomorrow is another day. You can correct things; plans can change; wrongs can be righted. But sometimes you never know the truth, except for the outcomes of your decisions. That is why, I believe, that others have no right to interfere in your business unless you ask them for their judgement. In my case, there has not been that many cases where I really needed the advice of other people, but I always knew what people I could ask.

I think that is the way of it for most people. We do our own level best most of the time, but others are around for tough decisions. It’s not important to have all of the information, although it is best to gather whatever information you can. If it is about child rearing, then we often rely on instincts, things we read or advice from those we seek help from; most often those who have gone through it. But in the moment, we rely on our instincts, and that is sometimes all we have access to. Maybe even most of the time. I also don’t think that it matters much how much reading or self-education we take upon ourselves. Even if you knew all sides, and all of the details, I don’t think that would help in deciding. When the chips are down, instincts are sometimes all you have.

Truth and Action

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Pontius Pilate answered a life-and-death question with a question: “What is truth?” We recognize his response as a indecisiveness masking avoidance behaviour, since truth is well-defined, requiring evidence. Generally, even the answer to the question “What is truth?” needs argument and evidence.

But truth without evidence is undefinable. It can be anything we want it to be. “What is truth?”, asked as if truth were some abstraction, is a discussion that leads nowhere. Like watching shadows in a cave, we can never be sure what the substance of the shadow is doing if we don’t see it, but we can look to the shadow for evidence. True, we may get the wrong idea, but there’s a pretty good chance of getting most of it right. Our brains are wired to put such things together. And though our perceptions may be wrong sometimes, ignoring those perceptions and assimilations is normally seen as foolish and naive.

We can never see everything there is to see in life, but nevertheless, life expects us to make sense of the world around us given our limited perceptions and world view. And the critical decisions we make affecting our lives are almost never based on perfect information. But we often base decision on the degenerate data available, further informed by past experience, and often are expected to render such judgements, whether it is in our line of work, or our daily lives. More often than not, not deciding is often more damaging to one’s future than deciding. With a decision, at least you have a way to base a future plan for coping with any consequences. In life, there is no fence-sitting. Deciding not to decide is still a decision. And it is a decision with consequences.

 

A Walk Around Harvard Yard

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A couple of days ago at Harvard College was the first day that students had a chance to get settled away to their dorms; freshmen arrived with their parents, and clutches of parents and their young adult kids were clustered around the statue of John Harvard to have photos taken of them touching the shoe of the statue of Pastor John Harvard (1607-1638) for good luck, in particlular the left foot. Both feet however, show evidence of wear when seen up close and personal (the left much more than the right), proving that even some Harvard students can’t tell their left from their right.

The superstition of touching this guy’s shoe is a tad amusing, having heard John Harvard didn’t found the university, he was a benefactor whose contribution of books even got destroyed in a fire some 250 years ago, save for one volume. In fact this isn’t even the likeness of John Harvard. Truth be known, nobody knows what he looked like, and since the sculptor Daniel French had nothing to go on 240 years after Harvard was founded, he used a student as his model. Also, the base of the statue says that Harvard “founded” the university in 1638. But it was founded in 1636, and named after the Oxford University alumnus, but not founded by him.

The founding of Harvard was by a vote of the legislature in the former colony of Massachusetts Bay, changing its name from the former “New College”.

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