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  • Dr. Mike Brooks

Unraveling Truth: Navigating Complexity

Hello, my fellow connectors! I told you that I’d be blogging a book, and there is a complete story arc to my Medium series. The kickoff article in the series, Finding Greater Peace and Joy in Our “Crazy” World, sets the tone for what’s to come. I encourage you to read that, but I’ll do a brief recap here.

In my first article, I tried to capture the angst many of us feel from living in an increasingly “crazy” world that often seems chaotic and overwhelming. My hope is that you will join me on this ambitious journey to understand why we are struggling so much and what we can do about it. By seeking truth together with open minds and curiosity, I believe we may find greater peace and clarity amidst the dizzying changes happening all around us. Moreover, we need to assess our challenges to navigate them skillfully.

To bring you into the loop about the story arc, my goal is to demonstrate that the intricacies of our modern world require a flexible approach to the pursuit of truth. This adaptability is critical if we’re to live out our life’s purpose authentically. Yes, we will soon cover what our purpose in life is, and this is the path that we must tread first to get there. With this in mind, I’ll explore why fulfilling that purpose is such a Herculean task in today’s challenging, ever-changing landscape.

So, buckle up! We’re about to try to shed some light of truth on the complexity of truth. This grand adventure that I’m taking you on is just getting started. I guarantee that, if you stick with me for a little while, I will blow your mind…or at least shake up the snow globe.

Why We Need Truth

As I discussed in my previous blog, truth can be extremely elusive in this complicated world of ours. Thus, we must remain humble. None of us has a monopoly on truth. Yet, we must seek truth because we must use its light to help us skillfully navigate the numerous, complex, unfolding challenges of our modern world. To drive this point home, let’s dive into some concrete examples where a proper understanding — or misunderstanding — of truth has significant ramifications.

This might seem like common sense, but knowing the truth, what is real, helps us to make skillful decisions so that we can function more effectively in this world. For example, we need to know what to get at the grocery store, when and where our kids soccer game is, the date of our wedding anniversary, how to pay our bills, which medicine to take when we are ill, and so on.

Problems quickly arise when we don’t have our facts straight:

·         We would not want our country to go to war based on flawed intelligence that we were about to be attacked by another nation.

·         Imagine a tattoo artist with a bad sense of spelling - you might end up with “No Regerts” permanently inked on your skin.

·         You wouldn’t want your partner to divorce you based on a mistaken belief that you are having an affair with your neighbor.

·         If we mistake salt for sugar when baking a birthday cake for our child’s party, they are all going to get an unpleasant surprise.

·         We wouldn’t want our government to pour taxpayer money into a program aimed at reducing repeat offenses, only to find out it’s actually a revolving door for criminals.

When it comes down to it, we seek to know, to understand “reality” so that we can make wise, effective decisions in this world. This requires us to have fairly accurate information.

Think of life as a journey, and we must navigate the road along this journey. If we cannot see the road because it is too dark, we will likely end up in the wrong place…or even crash! In this sense, the truth is like a beacon of light that dispels the darkness so that we might find safe passage. Perhaps even more importantly, and this is an idea we will circle back to within this series, we need truth in this world not just to survive, but to grow in a spiritual sense as well.

“Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.” — Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

The Elusive Concept of Truth

For being such a simple idea, truth is a lot more elusive than we’d like it to be. People don’t just disagree on what is true and what is false. We have different ideas about what “truth” even means. There is a certain irony about not being able to precisely define the very concept of truth. For example, when discussing this topic, people might use the words truth, reality, knowledge, accurate information, certainties, data, and facts as if such concepts are completely interchangeable, yet they aren’t necessarily. One could say there are many views and opinions about how truth should be defined. This also goes to show that, like a willow-the-wisp, truth is difficult to capture!

While many parts of my Medium series delve into aspects of truth, it’s essential to underscore that truth is like a multifaceted gem in our intricate world. Over the millennia, countless philosophers, scientists, and wisdom teachers have written and spoken about truth, so I’m not here claiming I have anything unique to offer. However, there are three truths I’m pointing out for the purposes of this series: First, we need truth to navigate the complexities of this modern world skillfully. Second, a fundamental truth about truth is that most truths are not absolute (i.e., they aren’t universally applicable in all situations). Third, our pursuit of truth demands flexibility, especially because it often proves elusive in our intricate, ever-changing world.

As other evidence that truth is a slippery concept, it is likely true that you find exceptions to nearly everything in this blog series. These posts about truth represents my views or opinions about the truth and, as such, they cannot be unequivocally “true.” Nonetheless, we could say that it is “true” that I’m providing my opinions and perspectives about truth. Are you still with me?

We Need Truth More Than Ever

We need understanding, clarity, skill, wisdom, and unity now more than ever to help us manage collective problems such as global climate change and the evolving power of artificial intelligence. My aim is not to preach or proclaim truth but rather to explore it openly as fellow travelers on this journey through an increasingly “crazy” world. We will go deep into the inherent challenges that evolving AIs pose in future installments. Given our evolving challenges, this is what I have come to firmly believe: We need the best of human wisdom to guide us in the age of artificial intelligence.

As we try to use the light of truth to navigate the complexities of our “crazy” world, it is important to note that most of the issues that divide and polarize us, and ultimately cause us to vilify one another, are not absolute truths. I advocate for a kind of intellectual humility, where we aim to uncover “general” or “relative” truths — those insights that can still guide us toward change, growth, and happiness. Having established why truth is our north star in this “crazy” world, let’s dive deeper into the complexities that make truth so elusive, yet so vital.

You Think That’s Air You’re Breathing Now?

We could even identify truths that we initially agree upon that fall apart upon closer examination. For instance, we might agree that the chair you are sitting on is a solid object, yet it is made up of mostly empty space. Similarly, you likely feel that you are real — that you are here. But we humans, as with other tangible objects, are all mostly made up of empty space too. (Some of us more than others!) Thus, our “here-ness” is mostly made up of “not here-ness.”

As for the object you are sitting on, when is it more proper to call a stool, bench, step, or loveseat a chair? Would that object be called something different entirely in another language? To someone from the past? The future? A different culture? An extra-terrestrial? How do I know that what tastes like chicken to you tastes the same to me? You think that is air you’re breathing now?

We must be mindful that a percept occurs within the brain. Thus, any stimulus perceived “out there” (i.e., outside of our bodies) is experienced as something “real” as a result of a mysterious firing of electrochemical signals traveling through sense perceptions and interpreted by different clusters of neurons within our brains. So, while our brains are busy decoding these electrical signals to create our sense of reality, we bump into an enigmatic issue scientists and philosophers alike are scratching their heads over – the so-called hard problem of consciousness. That is, neuroscientists are unable to explain how our perception of stimuli results in subjective experiences.

“What is real? How do you define ‘real?’ If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can touch, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” — Morpheus from the movie, “The Matrix”

From a quantum physics perspective, an objective reality might not even exist. What are considered physical objects are actually subjective realities created by the observer. Your head might be spinning a little as you wonder, “Just how deep does this rabbit hole go?”

“Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.” — “Spoon Boy” from the movie, “The Matrix”

Truth as a Web of Evolving Complexities

Throughout this series, we are exploring big ideas about how our world works, the hurdles we face, and the strategies for overcoming them. Let’s be crystal clear about the reality of these complexities. The terrain we’re navigating to find truth is mind-bogglingly intricate. Imagine a multi-dimensional web spun by the interactions among human cognition, genetic predispositions, cultural influences, values, personal preferences, biases, allegiances, environmental factors, and a whole host of variables we can’t even name.

This multidimensional, intricate web has one more dimension to add: Time. This web is in a constant state of flux, and the rate of flux is increasing with the exponential speed at which technology, particularly artificial intelligence, is evolving. Thus, not only is our world constantly changing, the rate at which it is changing is accelerating.

He knows changes aren’t permanent. But change is.” — From the song, “Tom Sawyer,” by Rush

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

So, while Heraclitus was onto something millennia ago about the impermanent nature of reality, today’s river of change is more like a torrential downpour causing a flash flood. The stakes are much higher now. The rapid rate of change in our world is a major problem because it means our tried-and-true methods of understanding and problem-solving may no longer suffice. As we rocket forward into this ever-accelerating future, we need more skillful ways of thinking, relating, and being. It is my firm conviction that humanity needs to work together in greater unity than we have been to navigate the formidable challenges that lie ahead of us.

The Complexity of Truth: The Next Steps on Our Journey

Having established why truth is our north star in navigating this “crazy world,” we now have to ask: What kinds of truths are we seeking? Are they norms set by society, or are they objective facts that stand the test of time? Moreover, as we grapple with these norms and facts, how do they intersect with deeper, spiritual truths about the purpose of our existence? In our next parts of this series, we’ll dive into the multi-layered facets of truth that shape not just how we live, but why. Please join me and share with others as you see fit!


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