“Dad, how do we know what we know is true?”Posted: April 28, 2013
Simple. If it is consistent with reality it is true. If it is not, then it is false.
But seriously, it is a complex issue.
First, you have to look at reality and observe its laws, causes and effects. You have to think logically about what you are trying to understand and validate it with reality. The older you get, the more sophisticated you’ll become. That means that you will deal with things that are abstract and complex, but if you learn how to tie it back to reality, then you’ll know you are making the right conclusions.
Sounds very complex. But what about things we can’t understand? My friend told me we can’t understand God.
It is true we don’t understand everything but it doesn’t mean we can’t understand anything. Believing in things that are not part of reality can be a very dangerous thing.
Why? What’s wrong with believing in things that don’t exist?
Let me give you an example:
So a friend tells you about god for the first time. When you ask where they live they say in the sky and that you can’t see or hear them. You’re confused, but the people around you are so confident that you take it as truth.
But then something feels wrong. Suddenly reality doesn’t seem so clear anymore. You think that there are things beyond reality that you can’t see, feel or even understand. You and reality are not communicating so clearly anymore. It is like it betrayed you and you are separated from it in some way. You feel small, unintelligent and incompetent versus the almighty god that knows and controls everything. You rely on your feelings and not your thought, you take anything that your religious friend tells you as truth instead of asking for proof.
Oh. That’s sounds bad.
But you are a thinker. You are brave. You know that the fact that many people say something is true doesn’t make it so. Reality is the ultimate judge – not them.
So you think about the concept of a supernatural, of something outside of reality and you come to the conclusion that it is fiction. That those are false, detached ideas in some people’s brains.
So they are all lying?
No, they are not lying, they truly believe in it, but it has an enormous cost that comes with it. You see, our mind is such a powerful tool that it is very easy do drift with ideas and detach yourself from reality. But reality will always strike back. This is why it is dangerous, because you can’t evade reality and its laws and if you’ll try to ignore it, you will have to deal with the consequences.
So you have to see it to believe it?
Not necessarily. Blind people understand the world just fine.
Think hard about what you learned as a baby to be true and try to induce the common denominator between all the things that turned out to be true. What made them true?
Reality. You saw proof with your own eyes. That is perception and that is the basis.
But can you always trust your eyes? What happens when they fool you? Remember that time when you saw your finger in a glass of water? It looked as if it’s crooked. But then I gave you the explanation about light traveling slower through water changing the angle of light that hits your eyes. It had a logical explanation that didn’t contradict anything that you knew to be true. It just explains everything better.
You know that you can trust your eyes, ears and the other senses. But you also realize that there is something more than just your senses – there is your mind and its ability to conceptualize and understand reality. You realize that when thinking about things in the right, logical way, you can make even more sense of reality with the power of your mind and far beyond our senses.
You never saw a 100 miles with your own eyes, but the powerful concept of numbers and mathematics makes it easy to imagine a 100 mile road.
I never thought about it. That’s cool.
It is. Every time you learn something new, you basically generalize and integrate more knowledge into new concepts. You learn about great concepts other smart people made and start connecting all of your concepts into a big, consistent knowledge base. It is like a skyscraper of concepts.
I like skyscrapers. But what if you learn something that is wrong? What happens then?
Reality will tell you it is wrong if you’ll keep an open, rational mind, you’ll be quick to identify and correct it.
How will it tell me that?
You will see unexpected effects from the same causes. You will notice inconsistencies, contradictions and things that are not fully clarified yet.
Do you think reality is consistent?
Yes Dad, it is.
And so should be your knowledge about it. Nothing in your skyscraper of knowledge can contradict itself. If it does, then something is wrong and you need to fix it because you remember that an apple always falls to the ground. And if there is something foggy in your mind, you know it is not because reality is foggy or unknowledgeable, but rather that you didn’t clarify it in your head yet and you need to do some more thinking.
And as you grow older and wiser you build a skyscraper of knowledge where one concept is based on another like floors are built one on top of the other. And sometimes, you make an error. Sometimes, what you thought was true and exact, turned out to be incorrect or inaccurate. Maybe you didn’t see the full picture; maybe something was distorted or misunderstood on the way.
So you fix it.
You realize that it is wrong, you go the lowest floor of knowledge that is incorrect and replace it with something else that will support a better, more accurate concept. In most cases you’ll be fine-tuning your concepts, adding more clarity and accuracy. The same as Einstein fine-tuned Newton’s physics. This is how knowledge is aggregated through the ages.
So thinking right is quite important, ha Dad?
If you want to lead a full flourishing life, achieving happiness and prosperity, you need to think. You can’t survive in reality with tools you don’t have – a bear would kill you if you used only muscle force, a lion will chase and catch you if you rely on your speed. Your only chance to survive is by concepts and ideas that enable you to develop traps, agriculture, control fire and this way get a competitive edge on other species. Your mind is what makes you human. This is why ideas are crucial for your survival. Your ability to conceptualize and integrate will determine your ability to survive and flourish as a human being.
So in other words, you’re telling me I should take that chess class, right?
No. I am telling you should do what you’re passionate about. Take up chess only if it truly interests you. But what I wish for you is that you’ll love thinking and love life because of it.
So, I’ll think about it.
That a boy. Now go to sleep, I talked to much as usual and it is getting late.
Good night Dad.
Good night my little thinker.