What is truth?
Here is a question for you - how do you know when the information in front of you is the truth? How can you tell whether what you have been told, is an accurate representation of reality? I mean I sense that even asking the question seems to drag us deeper into uncertainty, as we notice that the words we use to ask the question now appear more pliable and difficult to wield.
For instance, truth with a small “t” or a capital “T”? Will it be subjective, or Universal? Does it change with the addition of new and heretofore unknown facts? If the facts can change reality, was it even truth in the first place? Does this apply to what we know now, in which case what we know might not be real if it can change with new information tomorrow? What the heck is happening right now?
This, is the world we live in!
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know as well as the next person what is real and therefore true, and this is anchored on the bedrock of obviousness. I mean it’s obvious that, for instance, my house walls are hard, and the floor is down, I mean let's not go nuts about everyday things being themselves, and having the same properties that they always have. The thing is, despite me being used to my common experience, no matter what I do, there is still the element of surprise present in all I do, and in everything around me. Just the other day, I walked into the kitchen, and all the chairs were neatly stacked on top of the table! What!? Oh my gosh, we have a poltergeist! Surprising right? Also, we don’t have a poltergeist, my wife was just cleaning the floors. Two worlds, one real, and one the ravings of an idiot!
I know where I prefer to live, but it’s a harsh and brutal environment, where I’m constantly derided and scorned by my wife’s rationality. So no, it’s not a poltergeist. Part of me says it is, despite all available information to the contrary such as the cleaning materials and my wife constantly insisting it was her that put the chairs up. I had come across, not for the first time in my life, an opportunity to consider the Schrodinger cat theory. In one version of the world, my wife was responsible for the chairs, in the other, poltergeist! We look to supporting evidence to determine the correct outcome, but how do we know the evidence we rely on is correct? What do we do if that evidence isn’t available to us? Well, we guess. I’m not even kidding with you, that is the strategy that people rely on, when they haven’t got a clue what they are experiencing.
My son Ouiji, makes art when he is bored…
Whilst this probably isn’t the greatest strategy for determining what you should do next in any given situation, I have found myself applying it on several occasions. Ah, the strategy of the Guesstimate. This handy tool uses a collection of buttons that need to be pressed before I will buy into the belief. These, for want of a better description are like prover buttons. They are the things that have to be there in order for the experience to be true or real. For instance, a skeletal horse running down Oxford Street causing cars and passers by to scream and take cover throws up questions as to how a skeletal horse can run without muscles. If another person swore that they had seen such a thing, there would be so much room for my buttons to not be pressed, that it may not even make it to the point where it was considered as a real event. Don’t get me wrong, I could easily understand how the witness could believe what they saw, but I would frame their experience as one that was probably true for them, but not for me. The thing is…how do I know? What makes my reality more valid than a witness, who can recall in vivid detail the events that transpired and affected them so deeply? Is it of benefit for me to find a way of deliberately pressing my prover buttons, to enable me to regard their experience as real, even though I wasn’t there?
I think there is. Not only do I think it is possible, I suggest that we all do this in order to create a shared world of possibility, that we collaboratively elevate to the status of reality, even though it would not stand up to close logical scrutiny.
You are wrong! Wait, you are right! Wait…
So I got to thinking, can repeating an experience influence my prover buttons over a period of time? Do my buttons get used to being pressed, just because lots of other people accept something as real, even though I have no evidence that categorically proves beyond any doubt that what they believe is true? Could my world be so fragile? Turns out that sometimes…this is exactly the case. I even, and this was a real wow moment for me, contribute to this situation through my hilarious, and often poignant selective memory. I mean, it seems to be the way on so many occasions, that I don’t even bother to check if those memories of the experience I have heard about are always, unquestionably true. I act like they are though. I make decisions, and offer advice on, take steps to avoid or gravitate towards all sorts of things, places and people based on nothing more sometimes, than the cloud of possibility that may or may not be true about the world. Am I alone in thinking like this? Nah, I’m not that original, but that is a scary prospect.
Whilst using this method to navigate the complex and baffling cacophony of information we are surrounded by, the truth resembles one of those eye floaters that you know is on your eyeball, but active attempts to look at it, change its very location. Its right there, but the act of looking, changes not what it is, but where it can be experienced. So is the truth more like the eye floater, remaining itself whilst shifting location, or more like Schrodinger’s Cat, the same location, but a very different thing once observed?
Wrong symbol, or wrong words?
Welcome, to the twilight zone, where fuzzy logic is a thing, and nothing is as it appears to be, I mean, if it was, would you even believe it in the first place? Here, we find ourselves staring in awe at the twin monoliths that are the acceptance of truth as we think it to be, and the notion of belief.
In the first instance, I accept that whatever we are dealing with is what it is, I don’t really want to check. Prover buttons are definitely pushed down, but more from being pressed by the experiences of others.
In the second instance I don’t really need to check, because I believe it to be true. I pushed the buttons, and I have no desire to check them because I believe them to be correctly pressed.
Now, are these the same thing? I believe A. to be true. I accept that other people believe A. to be true as well, although I may not know if they have seen the same things that make it true for me. The same. Right? Or…
Let’s look at some examples; the sun is hot. I believe that. Others too. We’re off to a great start! Water, can be wet. Wait, what? Water is wet isn’t it? Turns out no, water isn’t wet. Water, makes things wet. Oh come come, surely we are just arguing semantics now? Well, yes, if you want to be able to accurately reference the same thing. You can see how quickly our quest collapses into uncertainty. Undeterred, we venture onward, the Earth is round. I believe that, so does everyone else. Everyone? No, of course not, that would be too easy.
Starting this discussion seemed like such a good idea at the time…
What am I to do therefore, when faced with the beliefs of others, that have come about by a number of their prover buttons being pressed, leaving them with a perception of reality that they cannot actually prove, but is as real to them as it clearly may not be for me? Do I look at the unfortunate set of events that led to the pressing of those buttons? Am I to attempt to un-press them? Shall I show them other, yet to be pressed buttons that will prove without a shadow of a doubt that they had pressed the wrong buttons, or, do I, and this is gonna sound crazy, but do I question my own buttons? What can I actually prove? What makes me right and them mad? I mean apart from the word of just about everyone who has been taught the world is round I mean. Oh, and the astronauts, who, to be fair, I haven’t questioned personally, but I’m taking a leap of faith that they actually remember the experience of looking at the Earth from space.
Others, have questioned these astro experiences, pointing out along the way, some of the worlds prover buttons that have been pressed incorrectly. Mountains of information exist to corroborate their view, and it is easier for them to hold the belief, that convincing billions of people over decades that the Earth is round, is easier than letting them know it is actually flat.
Imagine, just for a second, how difficult it would be to shift a person’s acceptance of truth. To alter their belief on a subject that seems so unshakeably real, that every day, because nothing had changed, it’s existence must therefore be validated.
Say for example, that person was a young adult, who through years of negative reinforcement in the education system believed that they had no skills, hope, or anything of worth to offer the world. How could you change a person’s subjective and internalised negative belief about them self in the present, to offer them hope for a brighter future?
There is an art to listening. To navigating the subtle nuances of speech and gesture, to accurately determining the tiniest inflections and shifts in skin temperature and eye dilation. The more information the better, as you build up a deeper and richer understanding of the speakers inner world, a world that contains the locations of all the prover buttons that would need to be released and replaced with others that suggest more advantageous outcomes.
Listening helps to craft a landscape for change, emphasising the negative, unhelpful beliefs to be shifted into more useful and positive self-beliefs. Listening allows for so many opportunities to scrutinize the why. Why does one particular piece of information have the relationship to another in that specific way? Why do these combined pieces relate to other pieces the way they have been arranged? Why did you arrange them that way? Why are you answering these questions? So many possibilities mushroom into existence just by paying attention to the speaker and the way that their thoughts are expressed.
Active listening, Motivational Interviewing, and Transactional Analysis are three excellent sets of tools to understand and help people to process, acknowledge and come to terms with experiences they have lived through. They allow the speaker to find the space, and the materials to create a process of resolution, and once we have a better understanding of the inner workings powering negative self-belief, it is possible to change these to positive states, whilst constructing a support mechanism to initiate positive feelings first, when facing new challenges.
All of which is great, I mean who wouldn’t want to find a way of shifting a persons beliefs from place to place? Gosh, with that kind of power, it’s hard not to see yourself standing atop a skyscraper, basked in moonlight against a city skyline wearing a cape and mask!
I mean, what could go wrong?
Well…as you will recall we originally asked the question what is truth, and it would appear that even an idle glance at that subject leaves us muttering in a dark corner with a whole lot of new questions that we hadn’t even considered. People don’t even have the same systems of measurement, despite living in the same world (Round or flat) so the troubling question is; how do I know that what I am trying to replace their truth with, is even the truth itself?
Can I rip asunder someone’s belief, and just leave them in freefall? If I replace it with a different solid belief system, what makes that new system true at all? Will our older readers even get this Soap reference?
Probably not, to all of that.
It does leave us with an unanswered question though. Well, quite a few actually, but let’s try to focus, we’re looking for truth here, and seeing as it seems to depend on so many different factors that can qualify or disqualify it from other perspectives, the trick is to have one, singular perspective, or none whatsoever. Both can work, either independently or in unison.
Just gonna park that there for a second, in anticipation of the incredulity in your hearts and minds – how in the heck can a singular perspective coexist in unison with no perspective? I mean if it’s there, it can’t be non-existent, because it’s there you idiot!
Ok, let’s dial back on the vodka there, I’m merely making a suggestion, that we each use a combination of these two stances in everything we do in life. Truth, the intangible idea, representing the recall and experience of an event in time and space exists simultaneously as something and nothing. As a brick, and the ghost of a brick. As the idea that a wall of bricks can’t be walked through, but the spaces between the molecules of those bricks make a wide enough hole for anyone to walk through.
Truth, seems as real as your ability to frame the experience. Truth wears time as a cloak, shifting the way you see it dependant on how much the cloak covers. Truth lives, and takes holidays in the quantum realm, where the laws of man hold no sway.
Yet to wield, shape or play with the truth, affects our very notion of belief, and to be a sculptor of belief, is to shape the very world in which we exist.
And that's the triple truth, Ruth!
Shabazz Nelson is a behavioural change consultant and life coach, who helps lots of people ease their way through life, with insightful and helpful behavioural shift patterns and techniques. Occasionally, to exercise and blow off steam he can be seen in his garden spending several minutes shouting at rainclouds.
Find out why at www.shabazzcoaching.co.uk or tweet @shabazznelson to get in touch.