Where is truth?

Over time, I have been lead to believe, or I have led myself to believe, that truth lies within our own heads, in our minds.

For some questions of truth, this seems to be a good approximation. Ask me what is “6 times 12” and I would mostly likely answer “72”, rather promptly. Ask me “how do you know that is true?” or “where does that truth come from?” and I would probably answer “it’s just in my head”.

The brain though is a flawed instrument. Beautiful? Powerful? The pinnacle of human evolution? Yes. But flawed all the same.

Pose the same question on paper, to a person with dyslexia, and you may get the answer “126”, for the dyslexic brain has a tendency to switch numbers and letters around. One could argue that this is a sensory, or IO problem: it’s not that the dyslexic is unable to multiply 6 by 12, but that his inputs are faulty, and so sometimes he ends up seeing, and multiplying the wrong things.

This simplification may, quite rightly, work for the dyslexic trying to pass a maths exam. “Pose the question verbally, or in a different font, and I will tell you the right answer” would be a valid retort.

We may then start to think that, could we get information into our brains cleanly, and without error, our minds would make the perfect truthful instrument for deducing reality in the world. This path of reasoning may make an interesting thought experiment, but it is of little use in the real word.

We are constantly seeking truth: “Am I a good person?”, “Who is right in this argument?”, “What should we do about X?”. And our inputs are incredibly faulty. There is no way that we can stop the world turning, and request that everything is presented in a way that we can understand perfectly:

Hey honey, can we just stop arguing for a moment, and hook up the MindMelder101™ so that I can get a perfect picture of the state of our world transmitted into my brain, and thus I can decide what is the truth in this argument?

The world and our brains don’t work that way. We are marred by biases, by our pasts, by hormone imbalances, and the food we ate recently, and whether we had a good nights sleep, and whether it is summer or winter, and whether it’s the Monday after a heavy weekend, or the Friday before one, by allergy and disease we don’t know we have, and by allergy and disease we think we have but don’t.

So our brains, the most powerful tool we have to analyze and think and plan and make progress in a world that revolves more and more around us being able to analyze and think and plan and make progress is fundamentally flawed.

What to do? Try and become more rational? More logical? In the hope that perfect logic can overcome our irrational, biased, flawed minds? This seems futile, as the world does not run on logic, other people do not run on logic, and the human brain does not a good computer make.

What else? Give up? Decide that without truth, this world is impossible to live in successfully. Perhaps a little too extreme.

Perhaps the solution in our search for truth is to recognise that it rarely exists in our own heads, nor in other people’s heads, but in the space between them. After all, once we step beyond the realm of physics and mathematics, what is truth? It’s the compromise between what my mind tells me, what your mind tells you, her mind tells her, and the physical reality of the world in which we live.

Only by stopping, taking a step outside our own minds, and looking at ourselves from outside can we start to spot, and breakdown, the flaws in our own reasoning.