The facts of life are everywhere surrounding us, immersing us in ever new media streams. Radio and TV are already becoming the slow media, even blogs are making way to a bombardment of 140 character factoids wrapped in status updates and riddled with abbreviations and code. If we are not consciously managing our media diet, we can easily get swallowed up in a never-ending barrage of expert opinions, evidence, “truths” created by this or that individual with the apparent proper credentials or endorsements.
But what is a fact?
The Latin root of fact is facere, which simply means doing. A fact is an event that has occurred, the deed has been done. Interestingly, the original use of the word was primarily concerned with “evil” deeds – deeds that require punishment…
The dictionary of current use defines fact as:
- Something known to exist or to have happened
- Something known to be true
Now… there are some curious issues with either definition…
Who knows what really happened?
Experiments have indicated again and again that human memory appears more fallible than reliable. Multiple observers of the same event will have sometimes drastically different accounts of it, and it has further been shown that those accounts change over time and depending on situational context. So then whose imagination can you trust? Really.
But the event occurred… there is a “Truth”, right? Something that can be proven… Maybe… The core issue here is a materialistic assumption about an objective material universe that exists independent of the observer. That this does not seem to be the case is something that quantum physicists have postulated repeatedly over the course of the last century (does a falling tree in the forest make a sound if nobody listens?). Some even went so far as to suggest that we might be able to affect past events…
One of the oddest studies in that regard that I have come across was an experiment where a random number generator produced strings of ones and zeroes which were carefully sealed in envelopes without anybody observing them. Then, several weeks later, supposed psychics were asked to focus on creating either more ones or more zeroes in the outputs before the envelopes were opened. The curious thing was that they were indeed able to influence the outcomes with statistical significance.
So who can actually without a doubt prove that something did indeed occur?
This question – among other things – gave rise to the theory of Phenomenology in psychology. One of its main tenets being that therapy is a partnership aimed to create better functioning and experience within a social context rather than a doctor (the one who has the facts) and patient (who apparently has the “wrong” facts) relationship in which the patient has to be cured of errant beliefs.
But what about the “Truth”?
“Believe those seeking truth; doubt those who find it.” – Andre Gide
We want to know. We need some level of stability for our experience, crave safety on a fundamental level (after basic physical needs, the need for safety ranks next in Maslow’s pyramid of needs). And we want to know the “Truth”.
So you want to know the “Truth”? You can’t handle the truth!
Just kidding 😉
True and False
True and false are primary tools of logic. Logic is a coherent closed and abstract system. Within logic, statements can be evaluated as true, false, currently or ultimately indeterminable. Logic is not reality. In reality, there is no “Truth” – especially not one with a capital T. From a logical perspective most claims of “Truth” are nonsense as they fall into the ultimately indeterminablecategory. As such “God is love” is equally non-sensical as “God loves pepperoni pizza.”
Science, properly conducted, is a process of evaluating probabilities. The scientific method knows no “Truth” – only it’s aberrant cousin materialism who sometimes cloaks itself in science’ name. Apparently something even prominent scientists and thinkers fall prey to at times when they drink enough of their own kool-aid.
Philosophy also knows no “Truth”, only interesting problems – at the very latest, the early sophists figured that one out – which is probably why their reputation was destroyed by those who peddled “Truth” at the time, and why their wisdom inspired name has since become synonymous with opportunism.
Any belief system that claims “Truth” – whether materialistic or spiritualistic – sooner or later will require you to suspend your disbelief. At some point you will be required to accept some basic axiom on which the entire tower of theory and lore is built.
How to live without “Truth”
We do need some stable sense of self and reality in order to function. Each of us holds our own truths. Our values and beliefs make up that which we hold dear, in addition to a collection of probabilities and abstraction systems like logic or mathematics, which together allow us to function in this reality as individuals and in the collective.
Humans need “certainty ” to function. We cannot question everything all the time. If we did… well, you imagine it 😉
And it’s great. If I had to e.g. revisit gravity every day, I might find myself a bit challenged. It’s a well functioning hypothesis, a good stable platform to work with.
What I do practice is to leave a circuit open in case there is an invitation to revise my understanding of reality. Rely on what I know to be “true”, but be open in case there is new information that might affect its probabilities. Things do change. Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur – times are changing and so are we. And, on top of that, I do not simply accept change, but demand it, challenge myself to transform by engaging with change consciously and creatively.
The idea of growth
The idea of continuous growth has been applied to human systems, and mostly to externals such as wealth and what is commonly referred to as progress.
Growing up as a child I was still reeling in the echoes of the constant progress (and infinite consumption) ideology that had been installed in my parents and the whole post WW2 generation. While ideas of sustainability and the need for holistic closed circuit resource loops have replaced my notions of economic progress, and while I carefully embrace the progress of technology, I primarily hold on to growth as it relates to human evolution (especially as I believe it is crucial if we wish to not find our own demise in uncontrolled technical evolution).
While I find solace and stability in what I do know so far, I have fun challenging myself to ever new visions of self: who I know – and sometimes don’t know – I can become. Within that, I take great care to balance love of, forgiveness for and trust in who I have already become.
Who you can be tomorrow
Yoga can be seen as a tool set and a collection of means to allow you to do something tomorrow that you are not able to do today – whether this relates to your physical, emotional or mental experience of self. One of the wonderful stories my yoga teacher shared with me at some point was the idea of yoga as a bird:
- The head faces forward and looks at ever new expanding horizons coming into view.
- The wings represent your ability to adopt new helpful habits (including habits of emotion or thought) and your ability to let go of that which no longer serves you. In their interplay, they allow for continuous course correction.
- The tail stands for our human tendency to form habits in the first place – it is what provides us with stability.
I have always enjoyed this story of the bird. I treat “facts” that way. I can see what I can see now, but I know I am in flight and new ideas, new notions will soon show themselves in the distance. While I base myself on things I know to be “true”, I also constantly adopt and let go to reach that which I am setting out to attain.
So…here is an invitation: as you go through your days, ask yourself, what is fact to you? How attached are you to ideas or concepts that others might find ludicrous and vice versa? What new things have you learned lately? How have you shifted your perception of reality?
`Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Now that’s a fact! 😉