Post Truth: What Is Truth?

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“What is Truth?” Was a famous quote of Pontius Pilate. But in this video Derek from Veritasium believes he has it defined. And while this video sounds so nice and reasonable, I think it is actually dangerous and arrogant.

I think, rather than “What is Truth?” it comes down to “Whose Truth?” Philosophically we can postulate that there is one unified truth, objective, but subjectively how do we know and experience this? When one person attempts to make their subjective understanding of truth the objective truth for others, we get into what amounts to religious declarations from the church of science, the church of politics, the church of diversity, etc. etc.

He talks about the wonderful fact of the internet linking people around the world into niche communities. People who were on the fringes, thought they were strange and weird and alone, suddenly find out that, yes, they are still strange and weird, but they are no longer alone. Yet his quest to put his subjective view of truth as objective for others, threatens to marginalize and isolate these people once again. Naturally these people are going to resist the attempt to once more Balkanize them.

Speaking of which, I loved the guy who talked about Balkanization and the “Splinternet”. It was quite revealing that Derek, lobbying for truth, was unaware of the term Balkanization, and all the historical context it brings to the discussion.

He seems to feel these groups need to be approved by some sort of truth committee, or truth algorithm. But who decides who is on the fringe, and when will someone decide Veritasium is no longer “The Truth”. This is shades of 1984 (which really didn’t get the future at all right — thank goodness).

He debated against fake news, and then described things as fake that are based on opinion, and not factual checking. He defines Climate Change as Truth/Fact, when the one thing science never declares is an absolute truth, but only theories to be replaced by better theories. He doesn’t understand the philosophy of science very well (though his specific science videos are very good).

Sure, the Internet allows us to divide ourselves into factions. But the factions existed before the internet, some of them just never had a voice before. He’s working against voiceless people who have finally found a voice that can reach to the mainstream.

One of the comments from the audience talked about how people don’t tell their friends on Facebook they are wrong, but try to talk to them. That person obviously was unaware of the number of people in the U.S. who unfriended anyone who voted for the opposite presidential candidate.

Derek is trying to gain a consensus on Truth. But a lot of truths through the ages, of past eras, have been obviously wrong. Do we want to suppress the development of knowledge by our assurance that we know what is right and true already?

He mentioned that credentials of education support truth. But credentials don’t mean truth: they mean academic achievement and agreement.

Each age has what the commonly educated know to be true, and then it has those people that are pushing the edges of knowledge, who know that the common knowledge isn’t true, and who know what they don’t know about the knowledge they are learning and expanding. (e.g. think Galileo, Copernicus, etc.)

We need to try to not be the arrogant ones who know the knowledge of the ages. For those are the ones who so confidently know the falsehoods. And I think he is dangerously, and benevolently, with good intentions, falling into that camp.

Yes, we must work to erase the divisiveness in our disagreement: To be able to agree to disagree and truly discuss instead of vilify the other side. But that won’t be resolved by a declaration of the internet on what is true.

 

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