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Discovering Truth in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure World

Beliefs are meant to be tested, not clung to blindly

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Jack Nicholson holding a globe in his hands

You can’t handle the truth! - Midjourney

This is a slightly updated version of my first post ever when I began my project of writing on Medium.com, in July 2023. I’ve been overcome by events a bit the past couple of weeks and my writing has taken a back seat to family responsibilities and staying financially solvent. I’ll have lots of stories to tell eventually, stay tuned.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you may pick up on the evolution of my writing style. I hope I’ve gotten better, but you can be the judge. If you hate it, trust me, you’ll love my next post, especially if you think dogs are superior to cats.

We live in a world where these days it is commonly believed that truth is relative, that you can choose the facts you like and that you’re entitled to your own version of the truth. There’s something to that, but let me suggest a couple of concepts that might help you better understand what’s going on, and maybe make your next dinner party conversation a little more entertaining.

First, it is completely possible for two people to disagree and yet both be right. You can get from point A to B by turning left then right, or by turning right then left. Maybe one way is faster than another or passes by your favourite drive-thru, but fundamentally, they’ll both get you where you want to go. So next time you’re in disagreement with someone, open your mind to the possibility that they are ALSO right.

The enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance, it is certainty.

Once you believe that your way of thinking is the only way of thinking, that is the end of learning.

The purpose of beliefs is to continuously challenge them and refine them, not to cling to them desperately regardless of what data is presented to you. Next time you’re in a friendly disagreement and you’re tempted to walk away because the other person is annoying, maybe ask them, “Why do you believe this to be true?” and I guarantee you’ll learn something. You can always walk away later.

I’m not personally a fan of Donald Trump, and on several occasions, I’ve found myself asking someone, “Why do you support him, despite all his character flaws?”

To my surprise, the answer is always related to some specific Trump policy, for example, his unstinting support of Israel, or India. Trump’s detractors tend to focus on character. By not blindly believing I’m right in my opinion, I learned something.

The second concept is that truth isn’t relative.

Truth is the ability of a belief to predict something.

If a belief can’t be tested then it is useless to try to determine whether it is true.

For example, “there is an all-powerful being who created the world and controls everything” isn’t a useful belief because there is no way to use that information to predict anything. ‘Believing in God makes you happier’ CAN be tested, and is true. It turns out believing in anything (including complete rubbish) makes you happier as long as you surround yourself with people who have the same belief and the belief isn’t obviously wrong. For example, “Next year the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup.”

Navigating the universe of knowledge is less like a graceful ballet and more like a toddler’s first steps — a little clumsy, lots of falling and getting back up, and often covered in unknown stains. Our collective quest for truth is an endless comedy of errors filled with plot twists, silly misunderstandings, and occasional “a-ha” moments.

Keep learning, and be kind to others, they’re learning too.

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