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Forms of truth

The most straightforward example of the concept of truth is 1+1 = 2. Numbers are an abstraction: 1 does not refer to anything in particular, but to how many abstract things there are. If we agree on the principle of addition, and we agree to represent real things as numerical abstractions, then 1+1 = 2.

In language: One thing added to another equals two things. This is true. 1+1 = 3 is false.

False, because the result given (3) violates the principle of addition. If we were to claim that the result (3) is correct, we would be either consciously lying, or unaware of how mathematics works. If we were consciously lying, our answer would be dishonest. If we were ignorant we would be incorrect, but when properly informed as to the principle of addition we could self-correct. A refusal to self- correct when addition is understood would again be dishonest.

Because mathematics represents aspects of the complex real world as numerical abstractions, it simplifies the task of being honest. As satisfying as this might be, we don't live in a purely mathematical world. We live and communicate in ways that are almost infinitely complex.


Dogs are good.

Even though this sentence has only three words, its complexity is vast when compared to the statement 1+1 = 2.

There are many breeds of dogs, dogs at different life stages, dogs that are well trained and dogs that are vicious. Goodness can mean a lack of ill will, an ability to effectively defend property, being house- trained, winning dog competitions, and thousands of other standards of goodness.

We cannot know for sure that the statement, "dogs are good" is being offered sincerely or dishonestly, or whether it is true or false. What we do get is a sense of the veracity of the statement by taking into account who is telling us this (pet store clerk making a sale or animal rights advocate?), the tone in which the statement is delivered, and the context in which it is offered. These are just a few cues of many we pick up on that feed into our individual past experiences and general level of trust. The feeling we get - literally a sensation in the body - tells us whether or not we believe the statement and trust who is delivering it. The feeling is an algorithm. It is the way a human system calculates innumerable variables and provides an answer almost immediately that would be impossible to calculate quickly in a linear intellectual fashion. This "intuition" we receive is not always right, of course, but it is useful.

As the historian Yuval Noah Harari points

out, it is what allowed our ancestors to decide which risks to take

in the search for food. The emotion of fear equals, "Don't take the chance in the face of potential danger." The emotion of courage equals, "Take the chance." The intuition whether the speaker of the statement, "Dogs are good" is being honest or dishonest helps us make the next decision or take the next action.

I hope it's clear by this analysis why I think it's better to lean towards more honesty than to look for ultimate truth. There are relatively stable truths in our universe - gravity being one of them. But to seek The Truth is in a sense expressing a desire to be done with the work of being more honest. The Truth is often an ideological construct, immune to falsification. If you are, for instance, a Communist, a Protestant, or a Luddite, you are invested in a set of ideas - a doctrine - that is doing the work of parsing reality for you.

We live mostly in a world of subjective truth. Truth is the value and honesty is the tool we use to move toward it. We can be direct or dishonest about our lack of knowledge of the truth. Belief: “Every attempt at honesty sharpens the tool of discrimination.” This belief is useful, but not necessarily true. If I resist attempts to update my motivating mythology even though I know it’s flawed, I become an obstruction to honesty.

My new book "Honesty" - is available here:

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