On Truth (A Certain Point of View)

The Modern Survival Guide #50

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Our Perception of the “Truth”

Let’s start with what “truth” is. When I say something is “true,” what I mean is that it is an accurate reflection of reality: the thing, as I have told it, is as it is in the real world. Truth is the bedrock of social order and sanity. Knowing what is true allows us to form meaningful relationships and contracts based on mutual trust and expectations. It allows us to form expectations for the future, to forward-plan, and to predict consequences of our actions. It also informs us of what is “real,” which is helpful if you don’t like talking to pink elephants. Although they are lovely conversationalists.

The Reality of Truth: Objective and Perspective

The reality of truth is that some things are true because they exist, and some things are “true” because we agree they are. Atoms exist. We can go back and forth on why, we can go around the bush on whether or not atoms exist in exactly the ways we perceive them, but nonetheless… atoms exist, and we can prove it. An atom’s existence is an objective truth. And the thing about objective truth is that you don’t necessarily have to go to micro scales for a macro object to be “true” — we don’t have to know everything about every part of an atom to confirm that, yes, there are atoms. But to have an objective truth, you usually need to reference something that physically exists.

The Dangers of Truth Delusions

When people get confused about what kind of “truth” they’re talking about, bad things can happen. I call this a truth delusion: you think something is objectively true, but it’s actually only perceptively true and that means it’s a concept that is vulnerable to shifts in interpretation. There are at least three areas where this often happens: politics, religion, and romantic relationships.


Part of the job of politicians is to convince their constituents that objective truth and perceptive truth are interchangeable. Donald Trump is a fucking master at this, which is why about half of the nation is absolutely gobsmacked at the behavior of the other half roughly 100% of the time right now. Politicians generally do this in order to convince people to do things that they might not otherwise want to do. This is broadly termed “ideology,” and it’s a subject of books in its own right.

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Religions are built on perceptive truths, because objective truth doesn’t work in this arena. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific consensus that any one particular religion is correct. There isn’t any scientific consensus that God, a god, or gods exist. The best that anyone has to work with is belief.

Romantic Relationships

It is so hard to think of anything that happens in your relationship from an objective standpoint. There’s too much emotion bound up in it, and when emotions turn on the brain tends to turn off. This leads to an over-reliance on perceptive truths, with some fun examples including:

  • Ignoring obvious problems in the relationship
  • Thinking an issue is your fault when it’s not
  • Thinking an issue is your partner’s problem when it’s not

Reconciling a True Point of View

Forming an objective viewpoint is hard. It takes a degree of mental conditioning, a willingness to accept uncomfortable facts, and frankly enough education and luck to land on reliable facts. It also means that you have to be willing to recognize and internalize the simple fact that we do not know the truth about a wide variety of subjects.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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