What is truth?

A lot of people (and a lot of philosophers throughout history) have been confused about the subject of truth.

Some people believe that if somebody has done “a study” that means that the data produced by that “study” is true. Others believe that if something is written in a book by an authority, then that is true. Some believe that only the scientific method can produce truth. And some have completely given up and decided that nothing is true and nothing can be known.

None of these are accurate.

I have a suggestion on this subject. First off, what is true is what is true for you. But what does “true” even mean?

The dictionary says that “true” means that something agrees with facts or reality. That sounds very black and white to me, as though things could be absolutely true or absolutely false. Also, it’s not very helpful if you’re attempting to deal with a lot of metaphysical or philosophical concepts about your own life, your own ideas, people’s opinions, or anything where there might be shades of gray (which is everything).

First off, it’s important to understand that there is a scale of truth–things can be more or less true. There’s no absolute truth, that’s nonsense. But there is truth. (This is the error that people who believe in “relative truth” make–they tend to take the concept of “relative” as meaning “nothing is really true or false and we all just make it up as we go.” Perhaps this helps them feel better about something bad they did once upon a time.)

So now, let me tell you an idea I have, and you can tell me if it works or not:

In order to understand truth, one must understand the purpose one wishes to accomplish. Any data is true to the degree that it helps you effectively accomplish that purpose.

Let’s look at some examples.

One that I thought of was “pick-up artists.” These are boys who coach other boys on how to “pick up” girls, usually through some weird psychological manipulation techniques. (I’m excluding people who teach others how to actually communicate, and focusing on the dudes who teach other dudes “tricks” to pick up girls.)

So first off, let’s look at the purpose. If your purpose is, “No matter how many tries it takes, I would eventually like to get one girl somewhere to sleep with me,” then the advice provided is true enough for your purposes. If your purpose is, “I would like to get into better communication with women,” then the data provided by pick-up artists is very false. If your purpose is, “I would like to understand the human mind so that I can better understand women,” then you will fail completely because the data does not work for that purpose.

It is important to take an impartial view to truth. I picked a subject there that I find repulsive, but pointed out that depending on your purpose, the data are more or less true.

The danger with this is taking data that is true for one purpose and shifting it over into another purpose. For example, I recall a study published on the keto diet that said that it causes heart problems. However, when you look at the study, essentially what they did was feed rats a diet primarily consisting of cocoa butter. It is true that the rats who were fed this way developed heart disease at a rate higher than the rats who were not fed this way. There’s no argument there–that part of the study was done well.

But there are two problems with that study. The first is that if you fed anybody a diet consisting of cocoa butter for that long, they would almost certainly be doing poorly. The second is that rats don’t have gall bladders, and gall bladders are one of the most important parts of digesting fats in human beings. (And the cocoa butter is mostly fat.) So what they did here was take a fact that they proved true for one purpose (“feeding rats a lot of cocoa butter will cause heart problems”) and shift it over into a domain where it doesn’t apply (“feeding humans the keto diet will cause heart problems”).

All of this also gives us an idea of which data are more important than other data. Some data can be used for many purposes, or for purposes of greater scope. For example, the data I’m sharing in this post (the concept of truth) is pretty important, as it has a very broad scope where it can be applied. There might be a domain where it doesn’t apply, such as when you’re not trying to do anything and are just making stuff up. I don’t really know about that. I do know that I’ve found it very useful to think about truth in this way, and it’s stopped me from arguing with a lot of people about what they believe to be true. It’s also given me clarity on what really isn’t true, or at least, what data isn’t valuable.

It also might interest you to think about how true people’s data is by looking at how much they have accomplished. Not how much wealth or fame they have, but what have they, personally, actually accomplished in the world? Even then, it might only mean that they have data which is very true for the field in which they operate. Plus there are some people who have data but don’t act on it, so it’s not just data that determines success. But if there is successful accomplishment of some constructive purpose, something in there must have been true.

Anyhow, I wanted to write an article about what is science vs. what is the scientific method, but I realized first that I needed to talk a bit about what does “truth” actually mean, because otherwise it would be hard to explain what a science is or how one goes about discovering truth.

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