Interpretations of Truth

Gavin Victor, Opinion Columnist

Thought experiment: how much of the way you go through your everyday life is really based in cold, hard, scientific fact? How many of your actions are dictated by calculations and complex logical analysis? If you go through your day with this question in mind, chances are you’ll realize you tend to act in unconscious, completely illogical ways. Watching Netflix when you know you should be doing homework only makes sense if you are operating from some illogical paradigm.

In this way there are innate personal truths we adhere to, but do not acknowledge.

David Foster Wallace, in his commencement speech “This is Water,” illuminates exactly how different paradigms can lead to different subjective truths. He describes an atheist man lost in a blizzard who chooses to pray to God and then gets saved. Now, the man may believe in God, or he may just believe he is lucky. This is an example of how we have a choice in the construction of our reality — our personal truths dictate the world we see around us. The atheist doesn’t know it wasn’t God, and the believer doesn’t know it wasn’t coincidence.

The essential point here is that experience, and therefore life, is fundamentally subjective. We choose to major in a specific area of study because we believe that is the best choice. The enjoyment of an academic specialty is not objectively true, there is no “best” major, but there are choices in majors we can identify as truly fulfilling on an individual level. Our interpretation of our experience is true enough to act upon.

As humans, though, we pride ourselves on being fundamentally logical creatures. We think this is an integral trait in our emergence, and therefore separation, from nature. Science and the understanding of physical cause and effect are what we see as truth; we think that objectivity defines truth. We should acknowledge that we are really unable to see the truth — our perceptions ensure that.

Here is my favorite kind of truth: that of poetics and art. We tend to agree that there is some value in art that is greater than just, for example, the capability of an artist to translate visual reality to the page. It is not just accurate visual “copying” that we value in art — not just a craft of physical precision. We see the communication of some greater personal truth. This truth is regarding the deeply personal experience of life, it touches us in a way scientific fact cannot.

Isn’t it funny that top intellectuals today can debate the nature of truth? That is beautifully ironic; we don’t really have consensus on an objective definition of what is true. Truth is not objective.

Society today is faithful to the scientific view that truth is innately objective. Scientific fact may be objective, but this should not have the power to dictate our perception of truth. The truest things in life are deeply personal and exist regardless of logic and science. If we step within ourselves to acknowledge that, we can access a greater level of personhood and act in better accordance with our (truly) true selves.