How Can We Find the Truth?

Let us all agree with the universal bit of wisdom that the truth will set us free.  If we accept this axiom, then the problem becomes how do we find the truth?  What is the process or road or path or algorithm or method that we can use to find this elusive ineffable quality of life?  Anyone who has searched for the truth knows that there are many obstacles to finding it.  If you think Odysseus had a rough journey on his voyage home, it is nothing compared to the voyage you will take if you seek to find the truth.  The route to the truth is strewn with more pitfalls, dangers, villains, liars, thieves, and hazards than any other path in the entire universe.  If you take up this journey, you will find mirage after mirage of illusions, hallucinations, phantasmagoria, apparitions, fantasy, and chimeras all screaming that they are the truth.  The truth if it exists at all will be cloaked in a web of deceit and pretense.  The Internet will have ten million sites where you can find the truth.  Religious experts, psychologists, economists, historians, forensic scientists and lawyers will all tell you that they know the truth.  Every huckster and expert and authority will offer to sell you the truth for no money down.  You can buy the truth with cash, labor or your soul.  All you have to do is believe.  Believe in someone.  Who to believe in is the real question?

“The internet is full of crap.  For every piece of reputable information you’ll find countless rumors, misinformation, and downright falsehoods.  Separating truth from fiction is equal parts a mental battle and diligent research.”  — Thorin Klosowski

Most of us want a simple solution to a simple problem.  Unfortunately, most of our problems are not simple and most solutions end up being quite complex.  When we start looking for the truth (I am not talking about inner truths here. That is another process.), we soon find that our truth has more facets than the Hope Diamond.  Most truths are like a kaleidoscope.  They are not only quite multifaceted but they keep changing.  Depending on when, where and how we look at a truth, it will seem to be very different.  Let me give you an example.

I have always been fascinated with Lawrence of Arabia ever since seeing the movie with Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif.  When I was young, he represented a perfect example of a shining hero.  T. E. Lawrence was ethical, brave, intelligent, charismatic and someone who would stand up for the underdog.  He was everything I could ever hope or aspire to be.  As I became older and read more about Lawrence, I found that many other people did not share my opinion of him.  I found some who called the movie version of his life, a complete fantasy.  To others, he was a closet homosexual who exaggerated his exploits and his role in the Arab revolt.

“Lawrence suffered greatly as a result of the conflicts and contradictions in his nature. He craved fame, yet he hid himself and hated public ‘lights’; he was timid and feared his fame, fearing above all that others would realize his desire for it. This and his love of self-aggrandizement made him write things which had little to do with the reality of Revolt. I think, he was by nature inclined to exaggeration too; and as far as I could understand from John Mack’ s psycho-analysis, this was due to the inferiority complex which Lawrence always felt since he was a young boy, and which started when he learned that he was an illegitimate son and that his parents had never married.” —- T. E. Lawrence: true and false (an Arab view) — Lucy Ladikoff

So now I had a dilemma?  Who was the real Lawrence of Arabia?  Was he a hero or a charlatan?  I decided to read as much as I could about him in order to answer this question and to find the truth.  I found over a dozen books about Lawrence written by an assortment of writers.  Some of these authors did not think much of Lawrence.  Some idolized him.  One or two tried to present the Arab perspective.  I read through each of these books searching for the truth about Lawrence.

I highly recommend this process for anyone who is searching for the truth.  I used this same process about two years ago when I was researching the issue of immigration in the United States.  I read over a dozen books on immigration.  Some were pro, some were con and some tried to be factual.  I have written three blogs summarizing my findings on this issue.

I must warn you though that if you want to replicate my process for finding the truth you will encounter the following problems.  First, the number of books or papers on any given subject is beyond most of our abilities to read in a lifetime.  Second, the veracity and credibility of any particular expert is difficult to determine.  Third, every expert will have his/her own set of biases.  For example, relatives of Lawrence loved him.  His superiors were more skeptical about him and Arab authors wanted to tone down his role and build up their own role in the revolt.  How do you know who to believe or even if belief is the real issue?  Perhaps, truth is like the kaleidoscope and all perspectives have some value.  Truth may simply be a matter of perspective and where you are standing in the universe.

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”  — Friedrich Nietzsche

My friend Dick says “what is the point.”  It seems that no truth can be found in history or science or anywhere else.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it is “all futile, nothing but futile.”  Why bother?  Furthermore, our search for the truth is complicated by the fact that new evidence and concepts and theories will continually emerge.  Each new concept will change our idea of the truth.  Given this logic, you have the foundation for little but skepticism concerning the value or ideal of truth.  Why bother?

I can only answer this latter question with the same reply that Mallory gave when asked why he bothered to climb a mountain.  “Because it is there!”  Perhaps this response seems like a cheap trick or an evasion.  No doubt anyone of a logical nature would like a more profound or at least erudite answer.  I promised a method for searching for the truth.  I have suggested a method.  The problem is that I cannot guarantee that my method will help you to find the truth.  I wish I knew of some other method that would render a better result with less effort.

There are other strategies for finding the truth that are much simpler but they are also much more dangerous.  You can trust an authority.  You can rely on someone else’s opinion.  You can try to find a simple answer in a book.  Each of these methods is problematic and to some extent irresponsible.  Too many of us have been taught to trust the experts or that simple answers to complex problems actually exist.  No doubt, there are times when it is necessary to trust others.  However, there are many times when you must think for yourself and make up your own mind.

I find the best solution is to regard each expert as a single data point in a universe of data points.  I try to look at as many data points as I have time to.  If a pattern starts to emerge from my perusal of a number of data points, I might suspect that I am looking at some version of the truth.  An inquiring mind should always regard such truths with a high degree of skepticism.  The truth you find today may turn out to be tomorrow’s lie.  Remember the unsinkable Titanic.  “The ship that even God could not sink.”  Truth is a lot like the Titanic.  It only takes one iceberg to send it to the bottom of the sea.

Time for Questions:

How do you find the truth?  How effective has your method been?  How do you know when you are being conned?  Who do you trust to tell you the truth?  Why?  What truths are you still searching for?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with.”  — Anais Nin






2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vic Ward
    Sep 07, 2016 @ 19:12:28

    Our era seldom checks to find the truth about someone. Thanks for your post.

    According to Mortimer Adler, before Kant the “word ‘reality’ signified not only that which exists in complete independence of the human mind, but also that which is knowable by and intelligible to us.”

    Based on the ideas behind studying the great books, the reason such questions come up era after era — the issue is not resolvable.

    Thinking about the questions is the valuable contribution each person, each era gives us.



  2. johnpersico
    Sep 07, 2016 @ 20:25:55

    Thanks Vic, I appreciate your comments. Who needs the truth when you can have an illusion?



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