The following article is NOT sarcasm, nor is it an early April Fool’s joke. I am very serious about everything here.
As we approach April Fool’s, it seems natural to talk about truth and Truth. I use the cases to distinguish the simple definition (lowercase) from people’s attachment to the concept (uppercase).
Something is true if it corresponds to reality. Sometimes people put a premium on this correspondence. When they do, something ceases to be the truth and becomes the Truth. This is odd. So what if something corresponds to reality? Why seek it? This isn’t to say that seeking the truth in some instances is unimportant; sometimes it’s very important. But when it is important, it’s not because it’s Truth that matters but what it enables. In short, truth is a means to an end and not an end itself.
For instance, if there is an ongoing atrocity then knowing the truth about it can enable us to stop it. What is valuable here is not Truth, but the stopping of an atrocity. The truth gets its value only because it can help end it. Or take the desire to find the truth about God. This is valuable because it can tell people how to live to achieve lasting happiness (in heaven) or even whether they should just favor this life instead. In this case it isn’t Truth that matters, but happiness. Even a case of “detached” interest, like knowing how a particle behaves is valuable not because knowing it would give us Truth, but because the subject is interesting to those involved (eg: intrinsic interest, grant money, fame, support for a pet theory, …).
Truth is a tool like a hammer. A hammer is not good or bad, it can simply be put to good or bad uses. A hammer can build a house or break knee caps. (Most) people do not value hammers for their own sakes. (Most) people do not consider hammers intrinsically good and use them at every opportunity. In fact, there’s a saying: if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Yet, this is how many people treat Truth. Rather than ask if truth is going to help or hurt, they regard Truth as intrinsically good and use it regardless of consequences.
Imagine someone with a belief that gives them comfort. Now imagine that this belief is not True, and revealing the Truth would end the belief and the person’s happiness. Why would anyone reveal the Truth in this case? Such an act seems pointless and cruel. Yet there are people out there who would do this out of good intentions. They would even do it knowing the suffering it would cause, yet still think they are doing the person a favor. These people consider Truth more important than happiness.
Look at the people who speak patronizingly of “comforting delusions” and who try to “enlighten” those they consider deluded. Look at people who hurt themselves because of Truth. Look at people who put themselves in harm’s way because of Truth. Look at people who adopt pain-causing worldviews because of Truth. All this to support a claim that is in line with reality?
Why does a correspondence with reality matter? Why is it worth striving for, dying for, becoming miserable for? So what if something is not true? To even value Truth for its own sake is to hold some abstraction (what “really” is) over what really matters (how things feel). Maybe it’s this valuing abstraction over life that’s the root of our problems.
How many people suffer from grudges because they value the abstraction that a person is wrong over the reality that this feels bad? How many people question their spiritual practice because they value the abstraction that their practice is a placebo over the experience that when they practice, they feel better?
Unfortunately, we live in a world in which Truth has taken such a prominent role that people with happiness producing beliefs are often under assault and need to protect themselves. How does one find protection from Truth?
One can meet the problem head on. When Truth comes knocking, fight it. Of course this may lead to undesirable consequences, but with enough energy and tenacity one might be able to keep Truth at bay.
One can take inspiration from Star Trek’s Borg. Rather than fight Truth, alter one’s belief so it can absorb competing information and make it it’s own. Not only would this prevent Truth from assailing happiness, but it can even be called in service of it.
If that is not possible, one can try to isolate from the unwelcome information. Turning off the TV, cancelling one’s internet service and spending time with like minded people (or alone) may do the trick. But how isolated can one get?
All these strategies have a problem however; they are still enslaved to Truth. They use the Truth as a tool for their own ends and in doing so, they give it implicit authority over themselves. The knife cuts both ways. A safer solution is to be free of Truth. How is that done?
Avoid ontological commitments — claims about how things really are — for they are the door through which Truth enters. What is the one place free from ontological commitments? Experience. Experience isn’t this or that, it simply IS.
I will now assume that Science is the main challenger to comforting Truths both because it tends to tackle these Truths and because it carries the weight of authority. However, I believe this argument can be adapted to other sources of competing Truths…
Science has never (to my knowledge) challenged experience itself, it simply challenged the things said to underlie experience (the ontological commitments).
Science cannot deny that I am happy now; it can only explain the happiness as biochemistry or challenge any ontological commitments regarding the source of my happiness.
Science cannot deny that I experience a sun moving across the sky. It however can explain that what’s really happening is that the Earth is moving around the sun and then explain why my experience is the way it is.
As long as I stay firmly in experience I am fine. It’s when I make ontological commitments — even ones supported by Science (or any other source of Truth) — that I run into problems. These problems can be challenges or even worries about challenges.
I don’t need to make ontological commitments, for the things I value are experiences. Happiness is an experience. Misery is an experience. It’s the experience itself and nothing beyond it that I find intrinsically desirable or un-desirable. So why posit anything beyond experience?
1. If you knew someone with untrue beliefs that brought them joy, would you reveal the truth knowing it would hurt them and would never give them anything positive in return? If so, why?
2. Would you want to know if someone you care about betrayed you, assuming the betrayal itself would have no bearing on your well-being? For instance, maybe it’s a cheating spouse, back-biting friend, etc… If so, why?
3. Take a belief that is important to you: would you want this belief challenged? If so, why?
4. How do you feel about Truth? If someone called you deluded (in the sense that what you believe is not True), how would that make you feel? Would you willingly delude yourself if you knew it would bring you happiness?