In my last post, I talked about 3 events that happened this past week, and explained that the events present three problems in our ability to know truth:
1. You are limited to your own perspective
2. Extreme skepticism limits your ability to accept truth
3. Video evidence is commonly demanded but not always available
With all of these problems, is the search for truth a hopeless endeavor? I don’t think so. It’s not always easy to determine what is true and what is not. However, there are a few principles that help in this process.
One principle involves outside verification. The idea here is to step outside your own perspective and look for complimentary evidence to support a claim. Other people can then look at that same evidence, and will hopefully come to the same conclusion. This process can help you to gain more confidence that a view that you initially thought was true is actually true.
An example of this principle being put to use goes back to the dress debate, where people pasted the dress photo into editing software like Adobe, and used the software to determine the actual color. Even after that process, there was continued debate about the color of the dress. However, the use of Adobe allowed people to use a basis outside their own perspective – outside verification – to help determine what the true colors were.
Another principle is to compare your view with others. Doing so can at least help you start to analyze your view. This principle is what caused the dress debate to take off. People made a claim about the colors of the dress, and asked for their friends’ thoughts. When people were not in agreement about the correct color scheme, there was confusion about what the colors really were.
Like in the dress debate, comparing your view with others may not result in a consensus about what is true. But it does challenge you to consider the legitimacy of your own view and the views put forward by others – even for something as simple as the color of an object.
The third principle is to incorporate a healthy dose of skepticism. You shouldn’t just accept every claim people make. A person making a claim should be able to provide evidence or rationale to support that claim. Skepticism involves placing the burden of proof on the claim-maker by asking for this support.
A skeptical mindset is good to have since it leads to a demand for evidence when evidence is needed. However, there can be a point where skepticism becomes excessive – when any evidence is provided, it’s not enough. You need more evidence. And then more evidence beyond that. The demand doesn’t stop until you attain absolute certainty.
The problem with this heavy demand is that you’re always going to hold beliefs without having this kind of certainty about their truth. You simply don’t have the time or ability to address all the things you believe and alleviate all the doubts you have about them. When it comes to the certainty required to know truth, a standard of reasonable certainty is more practical than a standard of absolute certainty.
The last principle is to accept that there are many ways to discover truth. While some types of evidence are more reliable than others, all types can help to confirm the truth of a claim.
Video is especially helpful in proving what happened in the past. It allows you to see an event for yourself and come to your own conclusion about what happened. It can even convince you that two llamas are galloping through Phoenix traffic.
However, reliable video evidence is not always possible to obtain today. And there’s simply no video available to prove what has happened over the majority of human existence. Other types of evidence like writings, communication with others, and archaeology are needed when video evidence isn’t available, and can supplement video evidence when it is.
These four principles are not the only ones that help in the search for truth, but they definitely related to the pop culture outbreaks that occurred this past week. The next time you respond to the next cultural craze with a What?, Huh?, or Are you sure?, remember that all hope is not lost. Putting these principles into practice can help you to know the truth about white llamas, gold catfish, and so much more.