On The Nature of Truth: Q&A 16/06/22
Your questions answered
I've been thinking about ways to provide value to paying subscribers, and I've come up with a few ideas. I'll discuss these in an upcoming post, and give you the opportunity to offer me feedback and suggestions.
In the meantime, one thing I'll be doing from now on is Q&As. You can ask me a question via email—about literally anything—and I'll do my best to give you a satisfactory answer. Standard paying subscribers can ask up to 3 questions per month (so make them good!). Founding Members can ask up to 3 questions per week.
Periodically, I’ll pick the 3 most interesting questions I was asked, and make a post out of them. And that’s what I’ll be doing in this post right now, because today I was asked 3 questions by a Founding Member that I consider interesting enough for all of you. Here they are, along with my answers to them.
1. What is truth?
Questions of the form "What is [abstract concept]?" always have multiple answers, each depending on the purpose of the question.
If you ask, what is a man, you'd get different answers based on context. A biologist would say a man is an adult human male. A social psychologist would say a man is a cultural construct. A Masai tribesperson would say a man is a boy who's successfully killed a lion. And a physicist would say a man is a complex arrangement of atoms. All of these explanations are "true" within the context in which they're being considered.
And so, to answer the question of what is true, I have to guess the reason you're asking the question. I'm going to assume, based on the other questions you've asked, that you're looking for a practical explanation (one that can help you to find truth).
Broadly speaking, I'd define truth as "that which accurately reflects reality." But in practice this isn't a great explanation, because then you have to ask, what is reality*?
As such, when I'm looking to find out what’s true in everyday life, I employ one simple criterion: does it help me to consistently predict the future? If something is true, then it will improve the accuracy of your model of reality. And a more accurate model of reality will allow you to make more accurate predictions about the future. Therefore, in everyday life, truth can be practically defined as "information that makes you better at predicting the future."
*Sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick defined reality as “that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
2. Can truth be impacted by individual beliefs, or does it exist independently of human thought?
Belief alone cannot impact truth, because it cannot impact objective reality. But belief can radically alter your subjective reality, and your subjective reality determines how effectively you can find truth.
While we all require foundational beliefs (e.g. that we exist), the vast majority of beliefs are obstacles to truth, because, as deep-rooted assumptions about the world, they prevent us from considering alternatives, and as elements of an overarching worldview, they distort the information we receive so it fits our existing views.
As such, the best way to find truth is to believe only what you need to in order to function. Anything more than that is just creating unnecessary blindspots for yourself.
3. What opportunities do you see for technology (e.g. blockchain) to provide society with a better understanding / current ledger of what’s true today?
The three biggest obstacles to the pursuit of truth today are:
- Limits to the brain's processing power.
- Ideological attempts to suppress truth.
- Distraction by junk info.
I believe technology can help us with the first two obstacles; limits to the brain's processing power can be raised by outsourcing our cognition to computers (now), or augmenting it through brain implants and genetic engineering (in the future). Ideological attempts to suppress truth can be somewhat foiled by web 3.0, which, through trustless decentralized apps that don't require mediation or moderation, will make it much harder for governments and institutions to punish people for what they say.
However, the third obstacle, distraction by junk info, seems like it won't be remedied by technology, but exacerbated. Jeff Hammerbacher famously said "The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads," and as technology progresses, so will the effectiveness of the techniques used to distract us. Clickbait will only grow—in quantity and quality. And another key distraction in our age, entertainment, will only become more immersive. So I think in the future, we'll probably have the means to find truth, but the question is, will we have the will?
I hope these questions and answers were of value to you. If you have a question of your own, email me at email@example.com and I'll respond at the first opportunity.