Key Thought for this session:

“Without a compass, the journey is futile.”

This example about asking the architect about the purpose of the building is a simple one. It works well for objects that physically exist and are designed by a person. But what about abstract objects, like love, or aspects of our material world, like the oceans, that have existed for so long we only have ancient accounts of its origination.

We may often think, what is “true love”? What is it about love that we would want to know more about from whoever came up with the whole idea of love?

You may not have ever thought about love in that way. You may think that one person creates love for another, but do they really? They may have love for another, but are they the author of “love”? Does “love” itself have an originator and a willful design?

Let’s stop here for a minute. You are beginning to see how difficult this whole topic of truth is. And you may even be thinking, “How do we know that any particular meaning of ‘truth’ is the correct meaning?” That’s a very good question. This gets us back to core assumptions. Remember, there are things we believe to be true, but we do not question them or try to prove them.

This definition of truth (“The accurate disclosure of the object’s original purpose”) has been given to us across time and agreed to by many people who have studied it. But why are THEY right about truth? After all, we can’t prove with science what the true meaning or “truth” is. So, to discuss the topic of “truth” we must have the same core assumption about what truth means.

For example, suppose you are a student in a course on truth and your professor gives you a reading assignment that represents his or her position on the impact of technology on finding truth about oneself. Here is a brief excerpt from a typical article. Let me read it and then you’ll have a chance to respond about your thoughts on how to find the truth about yourself:

“For thousands of years humans believed that authority came from the gods. Then, during the modern era, humanism gradually shifted authority from deities to people. Humanist thinkers convinced us that our own feelings and desires were the ultimate source of meaning, and that our free will was, therefore, the highest authority of all. For the past few centuries humanism has seen the human heart as the supreme source of authority. If you had to choose between listening to the Bible and listening to your feelings, it was much better to listen to your feelings. The Bible represented the opinions and biases of a few priests in ancient Jerusalem. Your feelings, in contrast, represented the accumulated wisdom of millions of years of evolution that have passed the most rigorous quality-control tests of natural selection. Now, a fresh shift is taking place. Just as divine authority was legitimized by religious mythologies, and human authority was legitimized by humanist ideologies, so high-tech gurus and Silicon Valley prophets are creating a new universal narrative that legitimizes the authority of algorithms and Big Data. “Dataism” promises to provide the scientific Holy Grail that has eluded us for centuries: a single overarching theory that unifies all the scientific disciplines from musicology through economics, all the way to biology. If you don’t like this, and you want to stay beyond the reach of the algorithms, there is probably just one piece of advice to give you, the oldest in the book: know thyself. In the end, it’s a simple empirical question. As long as you have greater insight and self-knowledge than the algorithms, your choices will still be superior and you will keep at least some authority in your hands. If the algorithms nevertheless seem poised to take over, it is mainly because most human beings hardly know themselves at all.”
From “Big data, Google and the end of free will” by Yuval Noah Harari
Published in FT Magazine, August 26, 2016

This is a potentially compelling article based on what we see going on in our world now - the explosion of technology, social media, and the data associated with it. But is this article talking about truth properly? This course is preparing you to engage ideas like this that other people throw at you. You should be able to recognize when false ideas are being advanced and to defend the ideas you believe to be true.

Logisticians have mathematically proven that the words in the dictionary are all defined by circular reasoning. Therefore, even the dictionary is full of words for which we cannot prove their definition. We just accept them to be true. But people are often making words mean what they want them to. So, we get many different meanings for important words. The more ambiguous the definition of a word is, then the less value it holds. So it is with the idea of truth. But, instead of being deceived by others or just throwing up our hands in futility, which is what many eventually do, let’s highlight the different core assumptions about what is truth so you can decide for yourself where you stand and you can judge for yourself whether articles like these represent “true north” or not.