How Can We Know The Truth?
"Winston was beginning to wonder if the state could declare if 2 + 2 = 5"
In the time we are living in it is getting harder and harder to know anything anymore. In some ways it feels like there are two separate worlds people occupy. In each world there is that which is true, but it is not the complete truth. Parsing these half truths and figuring out what is real is becoming a full time job.
And yet, I press on. For me getting to the bottom of things and understanding the whole truth is not just important, but it actually lends cohesiveness and continuity to life. It ends the cognitive dissonance.
But how do we know what we know? How can I be sure that what I know in my bones is not merely an artifact of what I want to see?
I can look at my hand and drawing on my senses and my direct experience of "handedness" I can definitively say "this is a hand" THIS IS MY HAND! Now it is possible that I am having a hallucination and through some fluke of biology my "knowing" is only a collection of neurons firing in my visual cortex such that I see "hand" and think I know "hand" but all things being equal this is mostly how we know what we know.
Our direct experience is something we have come to know and trust.
There is also a priori knowledge which is based on logic and reason (such as a mathematical equation) in which the knowing is the proof itself. 2 + 2 = 4.
And finally we come to consensus reality where the group decides what is real. For a long time many millions believed the world was flat (that ones making a comeback) and there were dragons at the end of the world. We can find many examples of this in today's politics. (I hear the words fake and hoax frequently these days)
I find no particular comfort in the a priori and consensus "realities." I might think differently if I were a mathematician or a physicist, but let's face it Schrodinger's cat was both dead and alive and Eisenberg's electrons can be anywhere at anytime.
So were does that leave us in terms of how we operate in life? In terms of ethics, truth, and actions?
I have no answers, but I do have some queries that might point to a direction:
Bidding Bad Ideas Farewell
"Individuals can denounce and resist a way of life; Only a community can live a way of life into being and then bequeath it to succeeding generations."
-Jim Corbett, Sanctuary for All Life
The marketplace has sent many ideas to the boneyard. We don't drive around Ford Pintos anymore because they blew up when rear-ended. Through both legal means (thank you Ralph Nader) and a lack of public acceptance the Pinto is no longer on the road.
But not all bad ideas make it to the bone yard. We still have xenophobia and racism alive and well in our politics today with entire political parties defending its right to exist. We fought a world war over Nazi's thinking they could exterminate an entire class of people just because of religious and ethnic affiliation and now, 70 years later, we have witnessed the resurgence of the Alt Right.
The question we need to ask ourselves is why?
Why does the Pinto die and racism and xenophobia survive? If we start with the preposition that ideas serve a purpose and play an important role in society then we must (whether we like it or not) accept the fact that people are getting some value out of racism and xenophobia.
Now don't misunderstand ... I am no advocate of these bad ideas ... but to understand this issue and build a more inclusive and equitable society we must provide that same unmet need with a better and more functional idea. The square wheel works, but boy oh boy the round wheel is so much better!!
So what is our round wheel?
What can Quakers offer the world that takes the place of tribalism and circling the wagons?
In this particular question, I think, we Quakers have much to offer. Some very good round wheels!
Queries about bad ideas:
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