9 Comments

WHEREIN LIES THE TRUTH?


It’s amazing that we get along as well as we do. I recently read “A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, in which he points out the truly unique thing about human beings–the thing that distinguishes us from the family pet and other animals–is our ability to have a commonly held belief about things that do not exist or cannot be empirically demonstrated at all. At a given time of day, you cannot convince a dog it is not time to eat or go for a walk.

Dr. Harari says “The truly unique feature of Homo Sapiens language is the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.”

Before the Cognitive Revolution, many animal and human species could say “Careful! A lion!” Later they acquired the ability to say “The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.” This is about the time that legends, myths gods and religions appeared for the first time.

carnarvon imageThe Carnarvon cave paintings at Queensland, Australia

Aboriginal cave paintings whether in Australia, France or the United States, depict the common beliefs of the people living there at that time.

It’s relatively easy to agree that only Homo sapiens can speak about things that don’t really exist. You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. Why is it important? Because fiction can be dangerously misleading or distracting.

Any large-scale human cooperation is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths. States are rooted in common national myths.

We seem to gather into ‘silos’ of common belief, clearly demonstrated in the presidential performances here in the United States. One of the most interesting beliefs is that of Donald Trump, who has convinced himself, though not any of the people who supposedly would know, that ‘thousands and thousands of people danced and cheered in the streets of New Jersey, as the World Trade Centers were blown down.

This is reminiscent of the aliens landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, or the Loch Ness monster in Scotland who pops up for air every few years. Bigfoot I could believe—maybe.

But the truth is our own, and thank whoever or whatever, that we can cherish our own beliefs.

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9 comments on “WHEREIN LIES THE TRUTH?

  1. A great post. Donald Trump is proof that mankind truly is keen to accept the most impossible nonsense. Even that which cannot be imagined is taken for proof as being true.
    Even so, I too believed in Santa going over roof-tops on a horse- back in Holland and then was convinced in Australia that his preferred mode of transport was a sleigh pulled by reindeer. All not true and all my being ‘good’ washing the dishes, making my bed, and laying the table was for nothing and based on my mum fudging the truth. Santa does not exists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s disconcerting to realize that our parents were –cough, cough, “liars”. But I bought into it and perpetuated the myth in my own time. Smart parents got some work out of their lazy children, and the rewards were satisfactory. The original “family business”.

      As for Trump still riding on top of the heap, it is truly frightening.

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      • The real question is not that Trump is still enjoying a ride for the Presidency; rather, the question is Why? He represents the anger that many have about politicians and government in general. It’s been interesting how Trump and Carson have changed the debate. Would I vote for Trump or Obama if that scenario were to be offered….At this point, anyone would be better than Obama.

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  2. It’s scary how much misinformation is out there and even scarier how many people buy into it. It seems few people take the time to seek out the facts. And when that includes candidates for presidency, we should all be nervous. Great post on a very important topic.

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  3. We have become trusting of those we know to be untrustworthy. We expect a politician to lie, and then change the subject as if it was of no account. In this turnout of people desirous of running this country, how many ‘truth-tellers’ are among them? More importantly, do they actually believe what they seem so sure of?

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  4. What is this Santa-denying I see? Fiddlesticks. There are the facts, and then there is the truth, and I’ll never relinquish my belief in the truth of Santa. (As Faulkner said, “What do facts and truth have to do with each other?” Of course, that could, and probably should, be balanced by Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” That’s true, too. But I digress.)

    The Trump statement is interesting because there is a kernel of truth in it, and just a bit of factual support. I had friends and relatives in Jersey at the time of 9/11, and there was rooftop celebration of the Towers’ fall — just as there were hashtags on Twitter yesterday celebrating the San Bernardino slayings. But Mr. Hyperbole of 2015 has taken a fact, and is trying to turn it into a myth of hundreds of thousands celebrating. Santa is more believable.

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