January 05, 2007

Truth is stranger than fiction

I gave up sleeping this morning at 2:20 and probably should not be allowed near a keyboard, but, hey, no one is up to stop me.

I've been reading this interesting memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz, an Israeli writer, inter alia. One thing he wrote (p. 32) was: "Sometimes, facts threaten truth". I've been thinking about that, off and on, as I've tried to decipher the meaning of it all. Four simple words. Four very difficult concepts.

Sometimes. Temporal issues. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. It is not at all clear to me when it does and when it doesn't. No way to tell. But, clearly, its use means that what follows is not an absolute rule but a mutable rule, to the extent that a rule can even be mutable. I guess, if it is mutable, maybe it cannot be a rule at all.

Facts. I think facts are clear. Facts are verifiable and concrete things. Things you can look up, things you can measure, things you can rely on to always be correct, that is, until the tools you use to measure and verify improve.

Threaten. This is a scary word. And it implies that the word that it modifies can feel emotion and can discern and analyze situations, not a word that normally applies to an inanimate thing, such as the word truth.

Truth. Well, I used to think that I knew what truth was, but I am much less certain. I used to think that truth and facts were if not the same, at least living in the same apartment building and maybe on the same floor. You know, sharing the same elevator every day. For more, you can see the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. An interesting read, more or less. I no longer, anyway, think that there necessarily is one immutable truth anymore. Truth is probably more of an instinct, more of a sense as to what feels right when you measure any given set of circumstances against your accumulated storehouse of experiences from which, generally speaking, you derive your ability to form judgments -- both moral and perceptual.

So, if you take that wishy-washy sort of truth is whatever feels right approach as a definition, and I am not at all convinced you should, then the statement that truth can be made to be less true by a fact is correct. Any fact that causes you to change your judgment will have to cause you to change your perception of a truth.

Maybe, also, a fact is just a truth that is all grown up.

Not all truths are capable of being shook so easily, some of them being premised on terrifically firm foundations. But some truths are nothing more than unexamined beliefs received in the form of generally accepted wisdom and thus can easily be threatened by a fact or two. I decline to give examples right now, although they certainly exist.

And so, I suppose, the word threaten makes sense as well since, according to the above, truth is both variable and experiential, emotional and logical, filtered through a set of experiences and prejudices and pre-existing beliefs. Although, cognitive dissonance is the mind's way of dealing with this "threat" since it allows you to reconcile contradictory beliefs and facts and truths and allows you to hold both comfortably in your mind at the same time when really doing so should drive you to total distraction. So the threat is, while compelling, not critical.

Since I am not sure where I was going with all this, I cannot be certain I have arrived at my destination. If you, gentle reader, got this far, you can let me know if I should pick my pen up once more.

In any event, it sure as heck beat watching that Amanda Peet and Ashton what's his name horrible movie on HBO at 3:00 this morning.

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