Endless Curiosity

March 2, 2009

What is truth said Pontius Pilate

Filed under: Psychology — Alec @ 6:05 am

What is truth said Pontius Pilate and would not wait for an answer.

Something about the concept of truth must be playing around in my mind. On Friday I saw the Clive Owen thriller, The International, and on Saturday I saw a play called The Visitor. Great play by the way, playing at the Miners Alley Playhouse in Golden, and well worth seeing.

I’ve probably got the exact wording wrong, but I remember lines about the truth from both events.

In The International, Manhattan assistant DA Eleanor Whitman says that she just wants to find the truth. Her boss tells her that people don’t want the truth because the truth implies responsibility.

In The Visitor, Sigmund Freud tells the Visitor that truth is a harsh mistress, to which the Visitor replies, “and not very satisfying.”

It was interesting to me that two events on two successive days mentioned the truth. Or perhaps what is more interesting was that out of all the lines in the movie and play, those are the ones that I remembered.

Truth is a fascinating concept, both philosophically, and in the realm of humans. We all deny the truth, some more than others. We very often believe what we want to believe, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

In his fascinating article, Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush, Ron Suskind quotes a Bush aide: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

Well, perhaps, but recent events seem to give the lie to that. I’m not trying to pick on the Republicans in particular; they are just good examples because we’ve had 8 years of examples of Republican denial of truth. Now let’s see what the Democrats do.

Reality (truth) is what it is, regardless of what we’d like to believe. And yet we all have our pet beliefs that we hold onto, regardless of the evidence. There’s lots of research that shows we tend to accept evidence that supports our beliefs, and reject evidence that contradicts our beliefs.

So much for our vaunted logical thinking. So much for following the truth. The truth can be inconvenient. It can force us to make uncomfortable and difficult decisions. It can show us uncomfortable things about ourselves.

How many people do you know who follow Keynes’ famous quote: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Well, what do you do? Do you change your mind, or do you stubbornly hang onto your version of The Truth, regardless of the facts?

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