“You can’t handle the truth!” says Col. Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) in the movie A Few Good Men. Jessup realizes that humans prefer their comfortable delusions to an abrasive fact. Jessup then goes on to explain his own delusions to the court, mistaking them for the truth as well.
A true statement is one which corresponds to facts which are known or can be known. If a statement can be shown to contradict the facts, then it is defined as a lie. This seems straightforward enough, but like most things in our universe it becomes much more complex as you look more closely.
“I am a man.” I state this with great confidence, having recently verified my gender through visual inspection. This statement is unquestionably true from my point of view.
“But you are not a real man,” declared an angry girlfriend - some years back - in response to the very same statement. She then went on to explain her point with great energy and in considerable detail. Her definition of “man” was different than mine. Her definition was based on behavior, not physiology.
Here we come to the crux of the issue. Truth, like beauty, is in the mind of the seeker. Truth is already installed in our minds, like Microsoft Windows is installed in our computers, not from birth but from our experiences in life. We search our world for facts that will support the truth that is already inside us. We dismiss contradictory facts as nonsense. We are then gratified when the world seems to provide us with ratification and verification for the truths we believed anyway.
A recently revealed memorandum from Fox News executives instructed reporters to seek out stories that supported Fox’s preferred truths. Of course, in a world of six billion people someone somewhere is saying or doing any and every imaginable thing, so Fox reporters were able to find someone doing or saying the thing that would support the preferred story. Fox, like you and I, prefer for our truths to be ratified rather than contradicted. CBS News was involved in a scandal regarding false documents about President Bush’s National Guard service. That the document was printed on a laser printer that did not exist at the time the document was dated suggests that CBS wanted very much to believe the document to be genuine. CBS and ex-employee Dan Rather were looking for facts that supported their preconceived idea of the truth. This is a reflection of the very human nature of the primates who run our news organizations. In my own history, I have only been involved in a couple of events that made the local news. In both cases, what was reported and what I knew to be true varied greatly from each other.
Below you will find a selection of provocative quotations about the truth. Some of them are true, and some of them are not. I will let you decide for yourself which are and which aren’t.
Is Mr. Twain telling us that it is always best tell tell the truth? I think not. His tongue is in his cheek, but he is saying: “Tell the truth when you are sure you should tell the truth. Tell the truth when you are not sure whether you should tell the truth. Tell a lie only when you are certain that you should tell a lie.” And we add, “Lie skillfully when you lie.”
There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil. -- Alfred North Whitehead, English philosopher, mathematician.
Whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. - Placed in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, physician, author, leading Spiritualist, and a man who believed in fairies.
What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires -- desires of which he himself is often unconscious. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. - Bertrand Russell, English philosopher and mathematician
There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees, which are falsehoods on the other. - Blaise Pascal, French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher
Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true. - Demosthenes, ancient Athenian statesman, recognized as the greatest of ancient Greek orators
The earth does not move. - Galileo, Italian scientist, genius, founder of modern physics and astronomy. He made this statement, knowing it to be a lie, on the order of the Pope.
All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. - Galileo, sixteenth century Italian scientist and mathematician who was tried for heresy on the order of the Pope himself. Galileo’s heresy, of which he was found guilty, was his statement that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was given light punishment when he recanted his claim that the earth moves. Galileo found it easy to understand that he would remain in jail unless he lied. I cannot condemn Galileo’s false oath to the Pope because I would very likely do the same.
New opinions often appear first as jokes and fancies, then as blasphemies and treason, then as questions open to discussion, and finally as established truths. - George Bernard Shaw, Irish author
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. - George Orwell, English author of 1984 and required reading for any serious Machiavellian
The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off. - Gloria Steinem, American feminist, author, speaker, wife, and undercover Playboy Bunny
Whosoever wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. - Heraklietos of Ephesos, ancient Greek philosopher
[W]hen people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together. - Isaac Azimov, chemist, revered author of classic American science fiction
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. - Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, slave owner, scientist, President, politician, farmer, inventor, Virginian