A self-evident truth is the most deceiving of all truths. A self-revealed truth, however, is the least truthful of all truths.
As we march into an era where human decisions will impact an exponentially larger number of conscious entities’ (human and not) well-beings, the threshold for the burden of proof to accurately describe how the world really works will become increasingly critical. Of course, this is the traditional definition of truth – how the world (universe, etc.,) really is.
Proclamations of truth can, by definition, be tested. Devising such a test for a particular truth claim may be out of the realm of current human understanding and capability, but it must be testable nonetheless. If the nature of that statement prevents any sort of verification of its accuracy, then it cannot, by definition, be true.
A self-evident truth is the most deceiving of all truths because that which is self-evident does not urge the holder of that truth to pursue additional investigation of it. Despite Thomas Jefferson’s eternally resonant introduction to the United States’ Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”), the fact is that this declaration could only be made after enlightenment thinkers spent a good deal of time critically evaluating the worth of an individual and his or her rights. History, even U.S. history, shows us that the “self-evident truth that all men are created equal” was, for millenia, not so self-evident at all.
A self-revealed truth is the least truthful of all truths because it cannot, by definition, be verified by anyone other than the individual proclaiming its unique revelation. It is, in other words, not truth at all.
Why care so much about the meaning of truth so specifically? Because an incredible amount of people use the phrase “my truths” or “different truths” or “individual truths” in place of “my beliefs” “different opinions” and “individual subjective experiences.” This distinction matters. Truths that can only accurately describe reality when seen through the perspective of one individual’s personal experience cannot be the basis for how we attempt to discover how the universe (or our minds, for that matter) actually functions. Instead, they must accurately describe reality when seen through the collective perspective of all mankind’s experience. Even then these collective interpretations of reality must be constantly checked and rechecked for collective experience too can interpret the intricacies of reality wholly inaccurately.
Belief, of course, don’t require the same critical scrutiny as does accuracy because it is, by definition, a type of opinion. Beliefs are one person’s, or a group of people’s, personal interpretations and explanations of why their subjective experiences are the way they are. “I believe the sky is blue because it looks blue to me and everyone else says that that color is blue.” Or “I believe that when I think about moving my leg it will move” or “I believe that democracy is a worthwhile form of government.” These beliefs, when evaluated with scrutiny, can move closer to becoming a truth when they are repeatedly shown to be accurate representations of reality throughout repeated and careful observation.
The problem is that many people (I’m sure myself included) have a tendency to absorb their beliefs into the fabric of their consciousness. What do I mean by this? Beliefs that may or may not be entirely justified become familiar and comfortable explanations for how people experience reality. The problem is that sometimes these beliefs are incorrect. The result is that causation becomes reversed and peoples’ beliefs influence how they observe proof or disproof for those very beliefs. Because all observable evidence becomes clouded by the belief before the belief can be evaluated objectively, these beliefs self re-affirm themselves, and the personal interpretations of reality that they engender can be extremely difficult to abandon.
And herein lies the bait-and-switch. Just because a particular mental construct is a familiar explanation for how an individual interprets the world does not make it a truth. It makes it a belief – possibly a justified belief, but also possibly an unjustified one. It is only a truth if it has been tested rigorously and proven to have real explanatory power in describing the world around us.
Why take an entire blog post to discuss this distinction? Because, as I mentioned earlier, I have observed an increasing number of people that I know personally (as well as people I don’t know personally who I have read in public forums) have used the phrase “individual truths” or “personal truths” to describe “individual beliefs” and “personal opinion” that have great meaning to them personally but that have not been vetted with careful scrutiny. Why, then, do these folks use the word “truth” instead of “belief” or “opinion”? I’m not entirely sure, but my guess would be that by using the word truth they are, in their minds, falsely attributing explanatory power to these beliefs that they don’t actually have because those beliefs are closely held and intimately familiar. They are beliefs are are so comfortable to the individual that they must, in their minds, be true.
This is a dangerous trend. It allows, perhaps even encourages, folks to develop beliefs and opinions based on one-off anecdotal experiences as absolute, albeit “personal”, truths and use them to interpret the world as if they were universally true. If these unverified truths become so meaningful to an individual, they will likely feel encouraged to spread these “personal truths” to others, without encouraging them to think critically before adopting them.
I strongly discourage my readers (and my friends and family) from using phrases such as “personal truths” and “individual truths” not because they are meaningless phrases, but because they are worse than meaningless. There is no real truth that cannot stand the light of rigorous testing or critical reasoning, and describing a belief that cannot stand up to such scrutiny a “personal truth” and expecting others to accept it as such without further inquiry because it “feels true” to one individual is deceptive and misleading (to both the listener and thinker!).
Instead, I encourage you to question all of your own personally held beliefs, be they recent insights or deeply held convictions. Question them frequently, and question them seriously. Fear of such skepticism is likely a sign that you doubt the veracity of your own beliefs, and that they really should be questioned more seriously. However, if they do hold strong, then there’s a greater likelihood that they are actually accurate.
And if you really want to question your beliefs, write them down and put them on the internet for others to critique. Public scrutiny is much more likely to reveal the harsh illogic of certain beliefs that without would keep those beliefs swimming around in your consciousness. I know this personally because it’s happened to me several times. It’s not always a great feeling, but sometimes learning, while almost always rewarding, is sometimes uncomfortable. Would we instead choose to remain ignorant in order to feel good about ourselves all the time?
Ultimately, public scrutiny is what I seek to receive by writing this blog. No doubt my ego has and will continue to take a bashing, and no doubt the way I look at the world will change, but I’d rather walk away with a bruised ego than continuing to propagate false information. So – thank you to those who have read my written thoughts so far. And, most of all, thank you to those who have critiqued them.