17. Truth – Seeming and Reality
by Culture and Anti Culture
(For context see Post 1)
How do you actually experience anything as being true? How do you know a judgment, an opinion, an insight, an assumption is valid? What is the difference between truth and falsehood? Guessing and knowing? What is the difference between scientific-mathematical certainty, simply feeling something is true, or mere aggressive assertion (it’s true because I say so!)?
This goes to the heart of the questions raised on this site. We claim that aesthetic and moral judgments are real. In what sense can this be the case?
The sense of truth, of validity associated with personal feeling is the most common source of conviction and is experienced as obvious, as self-evident. Judgments arising from personal feeling are powerfully reinforced when repeated over and over again, that is, by habituation. Habit is a mighty force in human life, all the more so because its presence almost always goes unrecognized. The hypnotic effects of repeated advertising illustrate this phenomenon. Advertising relies on repetitive reinforcement of the sense that something is true.
Subjective feeling is not a reliable means of ascertaining validity. Feeling pertains to our inner life, to our likes and dislikes, but tells us little or nothing of the real state of affairs outside ourselves. Feeling leaves us vulnerable to manipulation.
Willing is a second claim to truth. It determines something to be true as a demand that it be so. This is the will to power, which issues claims to knowledge for its own, usually hidden, purposes. It is the driving force behind all rationalizations and lies of psychopaths and narcissists.
“On to Baghdad!”
“Today, what have we to do with destiny? Policy (my will) is destiny.” Napoleon
This kind of willfulness tries to impose inevitability on the world.
The best established forms of knowledge, of real certainty, are proven propositions of mathematics. A number of thought-forms are assumed, called axioms (taken as given, without evidence or need of proof). Through a series of logical inferences (steps linking one thought to another in series) ideas are woven together, leading to the proof of some statement (a hypothesis-which when proven is called a theorem). Anyone who has followed an elementary proof to its conclusion knows the experience of proof. This experience is a kind of feeling-knowing–often described with words like “elegant” or “beautiful.”
The rules of logic are not commandments–they are like laws of nature in that they are a description of how things actually work and interact; in the case of logic the “things” are those invisible entities we refer to as thoughts, ideas, concepts. Logic describes what it is like to experience the truth or falsity of thoughts, independent of personal feeling or preference, but consistent with a ‘feeling’ for truth and fact.
Although it can be subtle, the feeling associated with recognizing logical-mathematical truth is a satisfying harmony; that of error or untruth, dissonance.
None of this is to denigrate feeling and willing in life, but to portray their relation to thoughtful judgment. Feeling is the center of human life, without which nothing is worthwhile. Without will, we would not act.
But thinking is the truth faculty, the basis for sound judgment. A bridge built by an idiot with a kind heart and a strong will collapses; one engineered with clear thinking stands.
This may be made clearer with a brief fable.
Cast of Characters:
Thinking: Old Farmer
Feeling: Rocket Scientist Grandson
Willing: Realtor (villain)
It is 2005. A young rocket scientist casually tells his ancient grandfather, a retired farmer, of his desire to buy a house. The young man has little money and no financial experience, and has heard over and over that “real estate always goes up” and that he is missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime. He is both normally greedy for money and fearful of poverty and failure. A charming, predatory realtor has aggressively groomed him to lever up and buy the biggest house with the least down payment and as large a mortgage as he can get.
The old farmer has little formal schooling but a lifetime of experience and reflection, that is, wisdom. He has lived through the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and many other events besides. He warns his grandson that real estate can and does go bust as well as boom, and of the folly of speculation. This deal, he tells him, is a bad idea and could be ruinous. He tries to walk him through historical facts, the nature of money and property, and, with clear logic, warns him to go against the herd. His grandson politely spurns his advice, again led by fear and greed.
It is now 2012. Much has occurred in the last 7 years. In particular, the value of houses in the scientist’s subdivision has collapsed by at least 50%. He is now quite thoroughly miserable as he surveys the neighborhood, now dotted with ‘for sale’ signs and more than occasional foreclosed homes.
“A sadder and a wiser man, he rose the morrow morn” – ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’
“Where there is no vision the people perish” Proverbs
Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer’ – Rembrandt
“Contemporary humanity is in the midst of many crises. At the heart of them all is the crisis in the inner life of the human being. We are writing for the consciously distressed.”