Truth, Fact, and Meaning

The things we are most certain of mean the least to us.  The things that mean the most to us, we are least certain of.  The difference is between fact and truth.  We are certain of facts, we believe truths.  A chemical redox equation can be duplicated anywhere, any time, and the results will be the same.  A redox equation is fact.  But does it mean anything to us how may electrons switch valences?  Of course, the batteries that depend on redox equations power our cars and cell phones, and they matter a great deal to us.  But the certainty of the equation itself doesn’t matter much to me.  On the other hand, the fact that there are eternal consequences to the way I live now matters a great deal to me.  The truth that there is a loving Creator watching over me, leading me, guiding me towards eternally lasting happiness matters a great deal to me.  But the existence of God is a belief, not a provable fact.  The reality of eternal life is also a belief, not a provable fact.

I grew up in a family that thought only science was truth.  Even art was devalued.  Math, engineering, chemistry, mechanics–these were the things that mattered.  These were the things they called truth.  The meaning a person finds in a poem, was not considered truth.  In fact, it wasn’t considered at all.  In the Turgenev novel I’m reading, the nihilist Bazarov deprecates belief, the arts, and aristocratic values.  He believes in nothing.  This abandonment of belief thrusts him into science.  He thinks that only science is certain.

But there is much truth in poems, like Robert Frost’s The Mending Wall.  “Something there is that does not love a wall.”  There is a feeling in us that wants connection among fellow humans and doesn’t love walls that come between us.  But Frost is an artist, not a scientist.  I don’t think it can be proven that there is a human antipathy to walls that come between us.  But I agree with Frost.  I believe he is correct.  The Mending Wall means more to me than the existence of quarks.  Quarks can be proved, Frosts truths can’t.  Neither can God’s love for humanity, nor the reality of afterlife.  But even if the things that matter most to me can’t be proven, my life is more fulfilling when I act upon the truths I believe.  I don’t see how science can direct me to a full and fulfilling life, even if the facts it discovers are provable.  The things that matter most to humans are not provable; the things that are provable hold least meaning to us.

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Brokering Truth

Brokering Truth

With Russia’s intentional misinformation campaign through social media, and with news stations becoming mouthpieces for politics, it is now imperative for we, the people, to become intelligent consumers of truth.

These days, anyone, myself included, can post opinion, fact, falsity, or truth on the world wide web, on web pages, on social media—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram.  And readers can go to any site and read what’s on it.  And the credulous will believe anything they read.

I’m olding now, and things were different for a good portion of my adult life.  There was a time before the internet.  There was no Wikipedia, rather, there was the Encyclopedia Britannica; there were no web postings for information, rather, there were books.  There was considerable advantage with these old-fashioned methods of learning.  The articles in Encyclopedia Britannica were written by world authorities on the subjects in it.  The information that one would read in Encyclopedia Britannica was reliable.  Today, anyone can post on Wikipedia, expert or not, informed or not, opinionated or not, vicious or not.  When we needed deeper knowledge, we would need to read books and research.  In order to publish a book, the author needed to go through an editor, or a review process.  Academic books go through a committee of peers, or experts on the subject.  Not just any Joe can publish on university presses, so the information we would obtain was fairly reliable.  When we would discuss ideas or information, often the question, “What’s your source?” would be fired at us.

Now we need to consider the source more carefully than ever before.  The efforts of Russia are not only to spread misinformation in order to favor a given political candidate.  What Russia is trying to do is to destroy the notion of truth itself.  They want us to think that there are no facts out there, that no news is reliable, that all information is only opinion.  News stations are becoming vehicles for partisan politics.  Some networks are putting out lies, and obvious propaganda.  And they are calling it news, which it is not.

But there are facts.  There is truth.  It is now incumbent on we, the people, to care about truth and to sift through the mass of media to discover fact and truth.  We need to consider the source.  We need to be skeptical.

I grew up skeptical of everything.  I thought everyone was trying to sell me a bill of goods. This was a character flaw I needed to overcome.  But doubting until convinced is a good method to employ now when sifting through media.  The fact is, some media sources are indeed trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Skepticism can lead to sincere inquiry and the quest for truth, for fact.  The enemies of truth want us to give up, to believe that everything is opinion and that anyone’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.  When it comes to black holes, the late Stephen Hawking knows more than me or my girlfriend.  When it comes to brokering information, the Encyclopedia Britannica is more reliable than Wikipedia.  When it comes to politics, an actual film of a politician speaking, including the US President, is more reliable than what Fox News, or any other broker of information says he says.  World stability may well depend on we, the people, arming ourselves with sound research techniques.  I’m going to turn religious now.  If we persist in skeptical searching for fact, for truth, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

Fact and Myth

Do scriptures have to be historical fact for them to be meaningful?  Is the Bible scientific fact, or spiritual truth?  Are the 7 days of creation intended to be about science, or about spirituality?  Did David have to actually fight Goliath for the story to have meaning?  Or does it serve spirituality better as an example of trust in God and the power that small ventures can muster against great odds?  Does the dragon in Revelation actually have to sweep a third of the stars out of the sky for the episode to have meaning?  Or is it an example of falsity sweeping away the lights of truth?

I say that sacred scriptures are more meaningful when they are not looked at as historical or scientific fact.  Myth matters more than history and fact.  Poetic metaphor, symbols, and myth speak to the heart, mind, and soul.  There is much more power in symbol than there is in a mathematical equation or scientific theory.  The theory of relativity does nothing for my soul.