January 21, 2014

The Perception of Truth

“An error does not become truth by reason
of multiplied propagation, nor does truth
become error because nobody sees it.”
Mahatma Gandhi


Perception - Eldon TaylorImagine that we have six witnesses from whom we are collecting evidence. One witness states emphatically that the accused broke into her home. The next witness is equally adamant that the accused was home in bed with her at the time in question. Another witness states that they saw the man crawl through a ground level window as they were passing in their automobile, and yet still another witness questions the certainty of that statement by pointing out how poorly lit the area is. However, they too had seen something from their home across the street, but by the time they dressed and got outside the accused was kneeling on the front lawn of their neighbor. Still another witness insists that this is the man they caught in their home and they held until law enforcement arrived. And our last witness claims that the accused was home in bed all the time with his mother.

Now, when law enforcement arrived the accused was kneeling on the front yard with a gun pointed at his head by the owner of the home that was allegedly entered illegally by the accused. The accused argues that he saw someone running from the house and the homeowner ran outside in pursuit and mistakenly identified him as the burglar, threatening to shoot him if he didn’t kneel and remain stationary until the cops arrived.

Eye Witness Testimony

Okay, think about this one. We are all aware of the problem that can arise from eye witness testimony and the variety of descriptions that witnesses can provide. Our system of justice simply could not work if the descriptions offered by every witness were all taken to be absolutely true. The fact is, what we are dealing with is the perception of truth by each of the witnesses.

I have reported in the past on folks who truly believe what they offer as the truth despite the fact that the evidence says something else all together. I have also shared stories of our propensity to believe what we want to believe. Often weaved in both scenarios is the construct known as cognitive dissonance or the notion that we can hold two mutually exclusive ideas simultaneously and never recognize this dissonance.

Personal Truth

I’m sure you have no problem noting that the witness testimony in our little example cannot all be true. So it is with truth — or we need to change our meaning of the word. Thus, when you next hear something like, “That is my personal truth,” recognize that as with the witnesses, they are describing the truth according to their perception — and that is all they are describing.

Perception is an interesting human faculty in that science has clearly shown that there are many shared illusions, preferences, beliefs, and so forth that literally reinforce false perceptions. For example, with a nocebo one may think that they have come upon some poisonous substance from WWII, as actually happened in a small Midwestern school. The teacher who discovered this drum with cross bones on it in the basement immediately became alarmed and within an hour she was running a temperature, experiencing breathing difficulty, inflammation and hives. By nightfall, one-third of the school was in the hospital manifesting the same physical symptoms. Everyone magically healed when they learned that the contents of that 50 gallon drum was only water.

Truth Seekers

Perception is not truth — and sometimes it is a lie. It is false to facts. If we are to become awake, it is incumbent upon us to seek the truth. Truth seekers recognize the many possible paths others call truth, but they are unwilling to accept the herd definition and rather continue their journey seeking that ineffable and perhaps undiscoverable epistemological certainty.

I wish you the very best in your quest for the truth, and thanks for the read.

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions