What is this PodCast?
First and foremost, it is an exploration of The Truth, with two capital T’s. This will take place on the surface level of things discussed, but also as a kind of performance art in which some of the things we say will be checked against the future. In other words, we treat our quest like scientists, with an eye towards verifiable results, a subject that occupies the next two podcasts.
This endeavor is also a kind of apologia, the Latin term that comes from the Greek, which means to “speak in defense of” someone or something. John Henry Newman, who began life as an anti-Catholic Anglican, is one of the more famous (English) authors for his Apologia pro Vita Sua, a “Defense of One’s Own Life,” published in 1864. That work was an explanation of Newman’s life journey as a Christian, which took him from Anglicanism and Calvinism to eventually being a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. (I make no claims about the correctness of Newman’s religious positions in this or elsewhere, it should be noted).
The res, or body/subject of the podcast covers the range of my interests, from ice hockey to poetry, politics to piano, health to God, and everywhere in between. With regard to the ever-present critique of Ethos, the “who are you?” to make such claims that lurks on the fringes of any such undertaking, I will fall back on Henry David Thoreau’s excellent points on the subject.
We commonly do not remember that it is, after all, always the first person that is speaking. I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience. Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.“Walden”
The podcast will be tied to this website, where one can fact check me, find links to articles, and other source materials – as well as interact, should there be enough folks who want to engage in a discussion or disputation about anything posted here. In fact, it is to be hoped for and welcomed.
Over two millenia ago, Aristotle have us the ‘rhetorical triangle’ of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. He didn’t give us this nice powerpoint slide, of course, but it’s a nice tight way of visualizing how arguments, ideas, and yes, even ‘facts,’ fight for traction inside of us. We are all subject to the pulls of these three strings, in greater or lesser degrees, based upon a variety of factors beyond the scope of this introduction, but suffice it to say that I intend to rely upon all of them in convincing you, the listener and reader, of the Truth.
Which leads us to the big question of What is Truth? And what does it mean to say that something is ‘true’? It’s not nearly as neat and obvious as it sounds. For something to be true, doe sit mean that it is ‘real’ – or corresponds to something real? Not necessarily.
For example, what about mathematics? Are numbers ‘true?’ How hard is it to prove 1+1=2? See Russell/Whitehead in Principia Mathematica. But then Godel looked at it and said, “Naahhh.”
Does ‘true’ mean something that is observed? Not solely. See, for example, logical deduction, which – in conjunction with mathematics – can lead us to tremendous “Truths” = Socrates is a man, all men are mortal, therefore, Socrates is mortal – and is this even as straightforward as we think it is?
Is ‘non-falsifiability’ the only way to define truth? i.e. The Popper-ian view of the world. David Stove takes Popper and his disciples apart in his brilliant book, “Popper and After,” beginning with the problem of Hume’s inductive skepticism.
The post-modernists of the 1930’s, which includes Popper, had their equivalents in law and science, as well. The legal positivists said that law was “what we say it is.” Is stating historical fact the only “truth” there is? (e.g. The Red Sox won the WS in 2019.)
Even memory isn’t nearly as fixed as would like to think. Confabulation and other experiments on memory suggest that we really don’t fully understand how those processes work. We can, to some extent, describe them, but we can’t explain the why or the wherefore at all.
Does it help to think of Truth/truth as a process, rather than a fixed point or unchanging object? The Legalistic view of the “truth” suggests that there are multiple processes that might yield “good enough,” be it the American adversarial model or the British inquisitorial – and in practice does one work better than the other?
Quora has a decent answer on truth: “all the definitions have in common the sense of being consistent with reality and in agreement with the facts.” Which isn’t bad, but makes truth sound like a property or characteristic of something else, not something independently existing.
Plato suggested Truth only arose in discussion/debate/ understanding between two people; it’s part of why he came to argue that writing was a bad thing: dulled the memory and attempted to fix (make immutable) what is entirely mutable.
It is worth looking at areas of our lives where Truth is claimed. Mathematics, Philosophy, Law, Science, Poetry/Religion, Psychology, Literature, and many other disciplines claim to possess some “truth” that is worth learning. Language itself, and it study, has some truth-claims embedded in it, by which people try to express themselves to others.
When old age shall this generation waste,“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” John Keats
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
What About Metaphor? Generalizations? Stereotypes? Humor? What makes humor work is the underlying Truth in it, even when we don’t necessarily have the exact experience. What makes metaphor powerful is the essence of Truth that lies within it. Stereotypes (generalizations about people, animals, and things or classes of them) are useful heuristic systems that can be useful or hurtful, depending upon what we do with them. See, for example, “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Kahneman and Tversky, or Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.”
But they all bring us back to the nature of human beings. We are pattern recognition machines extraordinaire – far beyond what computers can do. While computers are great for giant sets of data, particularly numbers, they don’t contain – nor can they – human heuristic systems. They can’t do what we can – i.e. computers don’t get ‘flashes of insight’. Do we have truth “engines” built into us? If not, then why do we have the FBI’s behavioral unit, lie detectors, and ideas like “deception indicated.”
If you have kids, you’ve wrestled with this far more seriously and pragmatically than you think. You come into a room and the lamp is broken. You have three children standing there all looking anywhere but at you. You ask what happened and you get three claims of complete ignorance.
Of course, all of this supposes that you believe in such an absolute as Truth. If there are no absolutes, then see Dostoyevsky & Nietsche, or Jordan Peterson and the “Idea of God”. Richard Smith’s “Ideas Have Consequences” and the issue of “forms” pinpoints the collapse of western civilization in William of Orange’s denial of absolutes or “transcendents.”
“I am the light and the way and the Truth.”
After all of the above, am I saying there isn’t Truth? No, just the opposite, in fact. Peterson on ‘pain’ as the ultimate truth that can’t be argued with. What if it’s all a dream – Animal House & Donald Sutherland – as up against your hand getting slammed in a car door. Does that feel at all like a dream?