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What Is True?
I caught a little of the PBS special about the human brain yesterday. The brain is a big topic for any TV program, so it left a lot of questions unanswered. In fact, I’m still sorting through the ramifications of one claim that was made on the show. It concerned the nature of reality. What is real, brain scientists suggest, is strictly a product of our own minds.

What they meant was that we digest what our senses take in and reconstruct it later to form our own personal version of what happened. To do that, we use our memory of events coupled with some kind of subconscious, base-level analysis. That’s the straightforward scientific take on this phenomenon, and it wasn’t intended to have any larger philosophical implications. Even so, I find it a little unsettling that each of us is cooking up his own distinct version of reality…second to second, day to day, year in and year out. It raises the possibility that there is no objective truth at all — only billions of these separate, very personal concoctions made up of wishful thinking and emotional imperatives.

There must be something real out there, though. We manage to function and survive within the world outside our minds (or so it appears), so we must have some kind of handle on that world and how it works. We get up, we go to our jobs, we eat, we continue to exist. We don’t die. Whatever version of reality we have constructed seems to be working on some level. That tells me that we have a hold on some kind of truth.

And maybe that’s all we can hope for…some kind of truth. You might even argue that that is enough. As long as we can stumble along using trial-and-error and the advice of others, why worry? Does it really matter if we get a few things wrong? The all-star professional basketballer Kyrie Irving, for instance, believes that the earth is flat. He is absolutely convinced that this truth — his truth — is the true truth. Kyrie’s a multimillionaire. He’s famous, he’s admired (at least up until now). What’s the diff if his truth is actually false?

It’s certainly easier not to care. The truth is simply what you overheard on the bus. Or what somebody said on TV. No need to check it or think about it or question it at all. Just swallow it whole and move on. The alternative is to remain constantly on guard, trusting no one, fact-checking everything. You might spend all kinds of time digging for an answer — with no guarantee of actually finding it. It’s a complete hassle.

And what is true, anyway? If reality is being pieced together in our separate subconsciouses, as those brain scientists say, maybe we can never be sure.

Even so, I’m going to take the controversial position of being pro-truth. In the long run it’s just more reliable than untruth. And as my ultimate success story, I will point to science itself. It built our modern world based on the tested, verifiable truths gleaned through the scientific method (Kyrie Irving notwithstanding). And all of that came from asking the simple question, What is true?

If it’s good enough for science and engineering, it’s good enough for every other field, including politics. So I say keep asking that question. Over and over again. And trust no one, including me.

Please Note: Tim Eagan will read your comments but he is currently not publishing them.

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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee