‘Truth’ is one of those words that we use so frequently that we never really stop to think about what it means. We talk about ‘the truth’ as though there is this fixed thing that exists in an observable state that we can all agree on. It would be nice if we could agree on some truths, but if you look at the sweep of human history you’ll see that people have been fighting about ‘truths’ for centuries. Is there a God? Who are the ‘chosen people’? The list goes on and on.
Okay, so we’re not so good with discovering spiritual truth
(assuming there is such a thing). What about scientific truth? The
fable of science that we tell ourselves is this: A bunch of smart
people who like to measure things very precisely conduct experiments
and then they determine what conditions lead to certain outcomes. If
the same conditions always lead to the same outcome then we have
discovered ‘causation.’ In real life isolating conditions that lead to
other conditions is hard. So what happens with these really smart guys
is that they write lots of obtuse papers and attend conferences where
they speak in a language that is incomprehensible to local news
reporters. But that doesn’t stop the poofy-haired anchorman from
trying to explain that scientists have now discovered that, say, coffee
is actually good for you. Oh, but we all know that caffeine research
isn’t where the action is.
Stem-cell research is a fascinating field of study, as is everything
in the field of genomics. The notion that life has a blueprint that is
encoded into cellular structures, or even smaller structures, is
mind-boggling. If there is agreement among scientists about what is
possible we have to remember that it isn’t really ‘truth.’ At least
not a ‘commonly perceivable truth.’ Why not? Well, because we usually
perceive the world we live in through certain filters. The political
realm is one strong filter. But let’s not forget about religious
filters. A lot of people in this country rely heavily on so-called
‘religious leaders’ to help them make sense of the world that they live
in, which leads to some very interesting notions of what might be
‘true.’ (See e.g. Pat Robertson explaining what caused the recent ice storms).
I used to watch the local news to find out ‘what happened’ what
happened in my community. And I used to believe in Santa Clause. More
recently, I have decided that it’s better for me to decide for myself
what is true. I have great respect for scientists and anyone who tries
to suppress prejudice and bias in making estimates about what is true.
But, frankly, we’re all human and those are hard tendencies to
suppress. One thing I am pretty sure of, though: the chances that
groups of humans will be able to identify ‘the truth’ is zilch.
Assuming that ‘the truth’ is something that can be manifest in the
three-dimensional world that we all think of as a receptacle for