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“IT’S ON THE INTERNET, so it must be true.” This may be the dumbest (and scariest) statement ever uttered. Yet it also prodded me to thinking about the concept of truth in all its various forms. Here are some tidbits that I’ve gleaned, from the thoughts of Plato, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Mark Twain and a few others.
Full disclosure (i.e., the real truth): I had no particular thoughts about Plato. However, I figured he would be a good place to start, so I Googled him.
A contradiction already? I’ll have to think that over.
Plato founded the Academy of Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. About truth, he said …. Well, he didn’t really, of course, because he spoke ancient Greek, not English. And you can see right off how tenuous this concept of truth can be.
Plato’s teachings are that the natural world we perceive through our senses reveals only an incomplete version of the abstract Ideal Truth. Attempting to understand this Truth by examining the natural world is not only folly, but likely dangerously misleading. However, truth as it exists in mathematical proof is akin to Plato’s Ideal Truth.
What’s more, only those who have a strong control of philosophical Truths should be allowed to make important decisions.
Gee, I wonder what Plato would think of goings-on today. Or perhaps any other presidential campaign.
Tolstoy is acclaimed for War and Peace, 1869, a huge (1225-page) multidimensional (580-character) epic of the Napoleonic Era. Tolstoy wrote of an earlier novel, Sevastopol in May, 1855, “The hero of my tale, whom I love with all my power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all his beauty, who has been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.”
By the way, the photograph of Tolstoy shown here was the first color photograph taken in Russia, which reminds me of another aspect of truth: In ”Been There, Sorta,” I cited Susan Sontag’s view of truth and photography: “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.”
I wonder, is a color photograph more true than one in black and white? What about colorization of b/w movies?
One of Tolstoy’s short stories is “God Sees the Truth, But Waits,” 1872. Its tale of a wrongly accused prisoner may have inspired Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, 1982, which led in turn to the movie The Shawshank Redemption, 1994.
You just can’t keep Truth down.
On a different perspective, Woody Allen said, “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”
Just as Tolstoy explored truth, so does Peter Ustinov in an imaginary encounter with Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Russian novelist tells Ustinov, “Nothing is always true. Few things are always untrue.”
In Crime and Punishment, 1866, Dostoyevsky has a character say, “Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”
This idea of self-deception reminds me of Earnest Hemingway’s comment about seeking truth: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shockproof shit detector.”
By contrast, Mark Twain had fun with the concept of truth: In Following the Equator, 1897, he wrote, “Truth is the most valuable thing we have, Let us economize it.” And in the same book, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”
From Twain’s notebook: “I have not professionally dealt in truth. Many when they come to die have spent all the truth that was in them, and enter the next world as paupers. I have saved up enough to make an astonishment there.”
I suspect his view on the current U.S. presidential election would be summed up in, “I don’t mind what the opposition say of me so long as they don’t tell the truth about me. But when they descend to telling the truth about me I consider that this is taking an unfair advantage.” ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016
In a recent column by EJ Dionne (Washington Post) he noted truth must be consensual since we have to agree on it. The comment involved our current challenges with fact-free politics where we can’t agree on whether the sun comes up in the morning in the east or the west.