The truth is an annoyingly slippery thing. It’s hard, perhaps even impossible to achieve, because facts first must pass through human perception.

For example, a prominent political leader is interviewed on the television. Through the responses given are a number of words and turns of phrase that Alice is used to hear from people who are being open and honest.

Bob, on the other hand, primarily has had experiences of the politician’s manner of speaking being used by those people he thinks are being sly, misleading or evasive.

Alice and Bob have just viewed the same interview. Alice feels that the politician is trustworthy. Bob thinks the politician is a crook. For each of them, their view of the event is a true one.

Alice and Bob are visiting Charlie. Charlie is making coffee, and the kettle suddenly fails, cutting power to part of the house. Alice and Bob regretfully eye the device, knowing that there will now be no tea.

Alice sees that the brand of the kettle is an appliance brand she’s always had trouble with, having had multiple failures. She knows that the failure in this case is just “bloody typical of this piece of arse brand.”

Bob has used that brand of appliance for years, and never had a problem with them. This failure, he reasons, is out of character. It’s most unusual.

Alice knows the truth. Bob knows it too. The two truths, however, don’t agree.

Every fact we’re exposed to exists on our personal timelines. Alice has had different experiences (and thus different facts) from Bob. Moreover every new fact is fit into our personal timelines perceived through the lens of past facts. What we know to be true is very different from person to person.

Normally we don’t notice this sort of thing too much – especially if the variations are relatively minor – being bound up with our own particular concerns. When we do notice it, we tend to fight about it.

Surely, you might think, the problem is easily resolved… if your knowledge of the facts is incomplete, just dig further.

Well, it isn’t as easy as that. In general, people do not seek to disprove that which they already believe to be true.

Sure, scientists do this. They figure out something that they believe to be true, and then they try to prove themselves wrong. If they can’t prove themselves wrong, then they might be on the right track. This is basic scientific method.

It also is probably why society doesn’t seem to much care for scientists.

Why should Alice or Bob question their beliefs? They already believe that they know the truth. What would be the point of trying to dig up more information? Life is already very short.

And so, people generally winding up believing all sorts of things, without questioning their knowledge, and without questioning what they believe to be true.

I’m not sure there’s really a cure for this. Saying “Keep an open mind” isn’t much help.

It all certainly makes for some lively debate, until someone picks up an axe.

There’s nobody so misguided as the person who believes that only they know the single truth of a matter.



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