Being raised in a strict religious cult among people whom I now know were clearly brainwashed, I think a lot about truth. In the world of my childhood, there was one truth and that truth was absolute. In that world fact was a synonym for truth, but I have come to accept other ideas about this five-letter word. I have found three things to be characteristic of truth: It is subjective, it is transient, and it is a powerful and dangerous device.
Truth is subjective because what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another, hence truth and fact are not one and the same. As an example of the difference between the two, if you floated in space outside Einstein’s windowless spaceship as it zipped by at the speed of light, and Einstein sat in comfortable stillness inside, it would only be your truth that the spaceship was moving quickly. Based on his experience inside the spaceship, Einstein (if he were not actually Einstein) would perhaps argue that his spaceship was gliding slowly through the cosmos, or perhaps not moving at all. The fact in this scenario is E = mc2 , a physical law which is at work no matter what your point of view.
Because truth is subjective, it is also transient, directly affected by our ever-changing feelings and ideas about our world. What we think of as truth today might not be truth tomorrow, case in point: the Earth is not flat, poor Pluto is not a planet, and Jews do not have cooties. I once believed in God, now I do not. Transient ipso facto.
Yet, the idea of truth is one of humanity’s most powerful, both for creation and destruction. Most of us go through life trying to figure out who are, what we were meant for, and what it’s all about. This is a naturally evolved mechanism, one which drives us to push forward, to discover, to conquer, to achieve. Sadly, that searching nature can be taken advantage of by every snake-oil salesman peddling some new one-and-only truth. Really, every great dictator, despot, cult leader, and charismatic-but-abusive spouse is just a great salesman selling their truth to your neighbor, your friend, or god forbid, to you.
We all have our supposed truths. We can find them sharing the kitchen and the remote with our denials. The best we can do is buck up and teach the next generation that it’s okay to get down off their high horse and accept the subjectivity and transience of truth. In the end, our truth is still our truth…
Until it isn’t.