Encountering truth

Truth can seem like a very abstract subject – the kind of thing you can only explore with language and thinking. Take away language, and what you have is experience, and what you learn from the experience. Whether that’s right or not can be tested by whether you survive future experiences.

We go all too easily from the idea of truth, to the idea of some sort of fixed and ultimate truth. Then we argue with each other about what this might be, and it all gets messy. How we make sense of things depends on who we are and where we were standing when it all happened. The truth for a fox is very different from the rabbit’s truth when they find themselves in the same situation. My truth is not your truth.

Of course if truth is in the moment, in the perspective and the individual, then we aren’t going to be able to agree on it. If there is such a thing as ultimate truth, then persuading people of it becomes a thing. Ultimate truth has implications of power and control. The person who has the ultimate truth has the right to dictate and control, and so there’s a lot of people out there claiming that they have the one true way, the only truth, the rightyist bit of rightness.

The idea of ultimate truth – be that philosophical, spiritual, lifestyle, political, economic – offers the tantalising possibility of right answers. The scope to take the one true way and apply it – maybe only once – and then have everything be absolutely excellent and reliable and all the things.

What if the truth is that life does not work this way? What if everything is specific, and what works this week may not work the same way next week? What if most of existence cannot be tidied into predictable numbers in the style of the sort of physics they teach you in your teens? What if there is no magic solution to tell us exactly how to get everything right?

What if the people peddling ultimate truths, definite salvation and foolproof solutions are, for the greater part, wrong? What if the truth is that we have to make it up as we go along, based on the best information we’ve got right now? What if the truth is that there are no ultimate answers whatsoever?

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Encountering truth

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I have assumed for a long time that there are as many realities as things to experience it. That alone would suggest that there being one ultimate truth would be rather unlikely.

  • Leeby Geeby

    Indeed. Truth is what you make it! I just made a pickle sandwich with corn-beef. True dat. Reminds me of Bill Hicks when he talks about mass media. “Crack, AIDS, fear, bombings, destruction, disease and death. Where is all this shit happening, I look out my window and I see fucking Bambi on my front lawn.”

  • angharadlois

    It’s my old favourite argument with a philosophy-graduate best friend: does objective truth exist? We’ve been keeping it going for about 12 years now! I find all of these ideas incredibly important in my work, which is all about ‘the record’ – what gets recorded, as evidence of our existence and activities? It’s a question that tends not to get asked, until something goes wrong and we need to refer back (e.g. in the case of historical child abuse). A lot of people’s voices are absent from history, and we are able to work to ensure they are included now – but who are we excluding? Whose voices future generations will wish we had recorded?

    I find it quite strange but also quite grounding to be working with official records, which are about as close as we collectively get to ‘the truth’; for most of my life, the uncertainty and fragility and partiality of my point of view has felt almost paralysing. I was given so many different versions of family events, and had it suggested to me that my own memories were unreliable and even that my grasp of reality was tenuous.In a way, I suppose my work is a way of coming to terms with that.

    • Christopher Blackwell

      Even if there were a objective reality, and a objective truth, could subjective people like us humans ever be aware of it? Our personal reality is about what affects us. What does not affect us, mostly we don’t notice.

      We see this in the media, thousands of people in Nepal are hurt, over a thousand die in an earthquake, but what gets the most news time here in the States is much about wealthy American hikers caught in an avalanche on Mount Everest.

      We see it in history which starts as the story of a people. Which people? Why the people telling the story of course. So archaeologists go study the site of a ancient battle that ended in a great victory according to the records of one of the pharaohs of Egypt, only to discover it was a major defeat of the pharaohs army proven by the the greater number skeletons of the defeated Egyptian army.

      • angharadlois

        All true – but (as you replied to my comment) I wanted to highlight the fact that somebody, somewhere, does have to make a decision about what gets kept as a record, for posterity. Many of the decisions we make now are based on values which future generations may not share; they may find themselves reading between the lines to find out what they want to know, as we do when we try to discern the histories of women, working people and minorities. But at least the records we keep provide those lines, for people to read between.
        A lot of people seem to have a cynical take on history and the recording of agreed truths for posterity, as if it is something that ‘the powers that be’ do to serve their own ends. But a lot of work and thought goes into it, behind the scenes. I don’t believe in objective truth as such, but I do believe in socially agreed and culturally constructed truths – things on which communities have reached a broad consensus, because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to function. These are the truths that archivists are trying to capture.
        Personally I would like to see a lot more pagan archives being kept, because I believe the perspectives of this community are valueable and deserve to be preserved for posterity – especially for the counterpoint they provide to ideas about consumerism and use of resources.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        I would like to see more people doing diaries about day to day, life as that fills in a lot of gaps of official histories, at least making it possible to fill in some of the gaps. History only can be based on what is recorded. I agree that more Pagan archives being kept, and preserved for posterity – especially for the counterpoint they provide to ideas about consumerism and use of resources as you mentioned. If either the benefits, or the damage gets emphasized, we don’t know about the other, and get the idea that some event was all good, or all bad, and nothing is that. We need to hear the minority report as well, unpopular views, the losing sides.

      • angharadlois

        The Mass Observation Archive in Sussex is doing exactly that 🙂

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