Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Truth: Post 3

What is Truth and how much does it matter?

When I was an inexperienced resident physician learning the ropes of eye surgery I encountered a patient I will never forget. She was under the age of fifty and quite healthy—other than the ticking time-bomb in her head. Directly behind her eye socket a major blood vessel that courses to the brain had sprung a small leak. The fear was that it might rupture completely and cause instant death. The hope was that it would spontaneously close without intervention, because the surgery to fix it could result in a major stroke or even death. The neurosurgeons wanted me to tell them if the leak was getting better or worse by monitoring changes in her eye. They were depending on me to find evidence for what was really going on. If I thought things were improving, they weren’t going to operate. If I said things were getting worse, they would decide to risk the surgery. They wanted me to discover the truth about what was going on. For this patient, the truth really did matter. I’ll tell you the rest of her story in a bit.
What is Truth? Truth is what is. Truth is the answer to questions. Truth holds the ultimate authority. Truth commands reality. If we have Truth, we can find meaning. This is why we seek Truth so desperately. This is why we cherish it, why we protect it, why we share it, why we question it, why we defend it, why we worship it, why we may even lay down our lives for it.
That may all be true, you might say, but you can’t ever really know Truth. You can’t ever truly be completely certain you have Truth—the real Truth--so what does it matter?
I maintain Truth can be known. It may not be completely knowable all at once, but it is discoverable. Learnable. Discernable. We may not be able to know all Truth, but why should that detract from what we can know?
Let us return to my patient with the ticking bomb in her head. We knew she had a leaking blood vessel, but we did not know the whole truth about that vessel. How bad was the leak? Would it get better on its own? Or worse? The neurosurgeons wanted me to look for evidence in her eyes. They reasoned that if the leak was getting worse it would cause increased pressure in the blood vessels in her eyes. They were partially correct, but I saw a problem with this method for discovering the truth. I happened to know that it was possible for the leak to be getting worse while her eye symptoms might actually be improving. It all depended on which direction the leak was transmitting its pressure. Sure, we might find some evidence in her eyes, but not enough evidence on which to base this life or death decision on whether or not to operate. Her eyes might point us toward the truth, or they might mislead us. I explained this as clearly as I could to the neurosurgeons. I told them they should not base their decision on my exam findings. But they chose to disregard my opinion. They chose to hold off on any intervention unless I documented worsening eye findings. Her eyes did not change. Two days later the vessel ruptured and she died.
Truth matters.
There is a Truth about whether or not God exists. If God exists, there is a Truth about whether or not God loves us. These Truths matter. These Truths help us find meaning. We must discover these Truths.
Stay tuned as I continue to explore these questions.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

My encounter with a WW II P-47 Thunderbolt pilot

This past week a 90 year old World War II veteran found his way to my exam chair. I don’t know what it was—the way he carried himself, the deep wrinkles in his forehead, the twinkle in his eye—but I just knew he had some stories to tell. Not just any stories. True stories.
His flight jacket helped, but I would’ve guessed he was a pilot. He had it written all over. If you’ve ever met a World War II fighter pilot, you know what I mean.
“What did you fly?”
“Thunderbolt. P-47. In Europe. From D-day all the way through the Battle of the Bulge. You know what the P-47 Thunderbolt is?”
I nodded. “How many missions?”
“Fifty. Got shot down seven times but only lost two planes.”
Wow. A real life fighter-bomber pilot. These guys were in the thick of it. They weren’t at high altitudes escorting bombers and dogfighting the Luftwaffe; they were down low, dive-bombing German artillery, strafing railroads, taking on German tanks, and generally wreaking havoc behind enemy lines. I’m not certain, but I think something like only half of them made it home from the war.
“I bet you’ve got some stories to tell,” I said.  
“You bet. Took me a long time to decide to do it, but I wrote a book.”
“Yeah. It was hard. Hard to go back there. But I felt like the stories needed to be told. I only agreed to do it on one condition. I wanted to tell it like it really was. None of that edited crap. When the Smithsonian found out about my book, they said they wanted it, but then after they read it they wanted me to take out a lot of the stuff. Screw them! I refused to edit out anything.”
“So did it get published?”
“Yeah. MBI agreed to publish it. They only made me change one word.”
“Where can I find it?”
“On Amazon. But I’m warning you. I told it just like it was. It was war you know. Things happened. That’s just how it was.”
And so I whisked out my iphone and downloaded it on the spot. “Did you ever imagine you would see this day?” I said. “Here we are, talking about your past, and in less than twenty seconds I was able to download your stories onto a little computer/phone/electronic-book/GPS device that fits in my pocket.”
“It’s the damnedest thing ever.”
I read his stories that night. If you want to read them, you can find his book here. I must warn you, the writing is a bit crude, the narrative choppy, and some parts are quite disturbing, but it is one of the most important books I have read in some time. It is important because it is history. Raw history from the perspective of the man who lived it. And I am grateful he decided to share it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Truth: Post 2

Post 2: What is Truth?

Some very intelligent and clever folks (people much smarter than me) have come to the conclusion that truth is a delusion. They say truth is something we create for ourselves so we can feel better. Truth might exist in your mind, but it is only your truth. You might happen to settle on a truth that other people agree with, thereby creating a sort of collective truth, but this truth still might be rejected by others and rightly so. In other words, these smart people say, there is no ultimate Truth with a capital T. There are labels for this sort of thinking, which is quite in vogue in present-day academia.  I don’t fancy throwing around big words, but here they are: postmodernism, deconstructionism, antifoundationalism.
Okay, no more isms. I promise.
This is an important question, though. This is really the ultimate question.  Is there Truth? Either there is, or there isn’t. The answer to this question carries great significance. We must settle on an answer  before we can begin to investigate questions such as whether or not there is a God, whether or not God loves us, whether or not Jesus was who he claimed to be, or any of the hundreds of thousands of truth-claims made by all the world’s religions. When it comes down to it, if there is no Truth, then none of these other questions matter. If there is no Truth then I can believe whatever I want to believe and you can believe whatever you want to believe and we can both be right even if our beliefs directly contradict each other.
However, if Truth does exist, then it commands reality. If there is Truth, and my beliefs happen to contradict it, Truth wins. Even if I choose to reject it completely, it won’t go away because it exists apart from me whether I like it or not. If there is Truth, I can’t create it. I can’t change it. I can’t decide it. It simply is. I can only hope to discover it. And if I do discover it, then I must submit to it if I wish to live in reality. Because if I don’t accept the Truth, I am rejecting reality and am therefor deluded.
So allow me to summarize where we are.
Option #1:  There is no Truth. Therefor if someone believes they have discovered Truth or Truth has been revealed to them, they are delusional.
Option #2: There is Truth. By definition, Truth commands reality, so if the Truth is discovered by or revealed to someone and they choose to reject it, they are delusional.
So is there an Option #3? Do we have to decide between #1 or #2? Can’t we settle on some sort of in-between option? Something like a compromise? Something like: “I don’t know?”  What if I’m willing to follow the evidence? What if I hold to the statement that we can’t ever truly know the Truth, but we can know evidence, therefore I’m willing to follow the evidence and seek Truth with the full knowledge that I’ll never really know the Truth?
Sorry. There is no Option #3. The evidence option is really option #2 in disguise. There is no point in following evidence unless you believe it will lead you somewhere, and that somewhere is the Truth. Truth must exist for evidence to have any meaning, any value.
So which option is correct?
To me, the answer is obvious. There is Truth. Option #1 is totally absurd.
Here's why. Suppose I made the claim that there is no Truth. In making such a claim, I am saying it is true that there is no Truth. Well, if it is true that there is no Truth, then there is Truth. This Truth (that there is no Truth) commands reality. It has very real consequences for the Universe and the beings that populate it. So, as you can see quite plainly, it is absurd to claim there is no Truth.
So now that we have settled the ultimate question beyond any doubt, we can move on. Now that we know there is Truth, we can really begin to explore. Now we can start discovering it.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I think I may start to try to unravel what Truth really means. Where I will attempt to grasp how profoundly important it might be.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Truth Post 1

This past year I’ve been pondering Truth quite a bit. As a writer I’m navigating Truth all the time. Fiction has to be believable for readers to tolerate it. Even the most outlandish science fiction story has to contain some element of Truth. With non-fiction the problem is even trickier. Non-fiction must contain Truth, but the Truth must be fresh or new or otherwise compelling for readers to spend their time on it. So you see, in fiction or non-fiction, Truth is essential.

My musings on Truth have inspired me to develop several posts on the subject. I’m not sure where this is taking me, but I hope it's toward the Truth. What follows is my first post. (What’s with the capitalized Truth? you might be wondering. I’m glad you asked. The answer lies in my second post, where I contemplate whether or not Truth even exists.)

Post 1: An Introduction to Truth and How to Pander it

Have you ever felt like someone was trying to pander truth to you? Do you know what I mean? Did anybody ever take some sort of truth, dress it up with a slick new outfit, make it pop with a trendy marketing ploy, and then try to exploit you? Or even worse, did they ever take some truth and twist it in order to get you to believe something other than the truth?

Let me illustrate with some truths about a chemical compound called dihydrogen-monoxide. Every single cancer cell ever tested for this agent has come up positive for it. Hundreds of children die every year when they inhale this chemical and it fills their lungs causing asphyxiation. It can act both as an acid and a base, giving it the unique ability to dissolve just about anything. Drop the Titanic in it and allow enough time--the Titanic will crumble. And these are just a few truths about dihydrogen-monoxide. What if I told you it is in our food and beverages? What if I told you that you and your children ingest large quantities of it every day? And the FDA doesn’t even regulate it. Major food corporations don’t even have to test for it.

Knowing these facts, wouldn’t you agree to sign a petition eliminating this horror from our food supply? Wouldn’t you urge your politicians to pass legislation? Wouldn’t you boycott the evil companies that refuse to submit to some sort of regulation?

I certainly hope not. You see, I may have neglected to explain that dihydrogen-monoxide is water. H2O. But I bet I had you going for a minute there
Truth is powerful. We all want it. If I could package the truth and either give it away or sell it, I’m pretty sure I would become the most popular guy on the planet. In fact, many people have managed to achieve enormous fame, wealth, and power doing this sort of thing. If you want to get filthy rich, you might want to try it. Just follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Discover some sort of truth. This might be difficult because there is nothing much new under the sun, so you will probably have to re-discover or re-brand an old truth that has been largely forgotten or ignored by this generation (or at least for the past year since consumers’ memories seem to be getting shorter and shorter.)

Step 2: Package your truth. If you want an audience you have to insert your truth into some sort of consumable media. Try music or a non-fiction book or a documentary. If you are audacious and charismatic enough you might even consider starting you own religion (I know this seems like a stretch, but Joseph Smith managed to do this in the not-so-distant past.)

Step 3: Market your truth. Believe it or not, this is actually the most difficult step. You have to convince consumers that they need your truth and that your truth is worth paying for. You will probably find more success if your truth manages to fill a pre-existing hole in their existence. For example, the vast majority of North-American consumers have already been convinced that they aren’t healthy enough and that they need to lose weight, so if your truth happens to be a truth about diet and exercise, it should be a downhill battle for you, and although it might seem like the market is already saturated with new truths about being healthy, the typical American consumer has proven time and time again that they are still not satisfied with the thousands of previously marketed dieting truths. Another strategy you could utilize is to prey on people’s fear of the unknown. Marketing a truth about how the end of the world is nigh can be surprisingly easy (but beware, you probably have to hijack some Biblical scripture and be some sort of ordained minister to pull this one off successfully.)

Step 4: Enjoy the fame and financial benefits while they last, but don’t sit back and relax too long. And don’t build that twenty million dollar estate just yet. Your truth probably won’t last more than a year unless you are really lucky. Most likely you will need to dive right in and start discovering a new truth before the consumers lose interest in your old truth.

Sorry about the sarcasm. In reality, truth is not a laughing matter. If we are not seeking truth, then what are we seeking? If we don’t have truth, then what do we have? Not much. Truth matters. I want the truth. You want the truth. But before we can discuss truth any further, we have to be certain it even exists. Some people (very smart people) say it doesn’t. I think they’re wrong. Stay tuned for future posts to learn why.