Tempting Truth

Recently I was discussing the internet with friends. Real ones, I mean, physically in the room with me. One asked if the internet made conspiracy theories more believable. My response was that the internet has changed truth. That probably seems like a bold statement, I know. Truth, however, is an abstract very difficult to pin down. Science, for starters, does not deliver truth. Science is theoretical, and since it is falsifiable, a scientific theory, while based on facts, is always contingent; it is the best explanation that we have at the moment. Scientists generally know not to conflate this with truth, deferring the latter to the realm of philosophy. The average person probably conceives of truth as that which is literally real. Reality itself is, however, a very slippery concept—quantum physics reveals realities where many are not comfortable going, and which very few truly understand. Truth is a philosophical concept that reflects what humanity collectively accepts to be reality. It is in this sense that the internet has changed truth. It is the Wikipedification of the mind.

People, for as long as they’ve had the luxury to consider abstracts, have struggled with the question of truth. For a few centuries—almost a couple of millennia—in much of the western world, the Bible was considered a source of truth. If it was in there, it was true. The source of authority here was that of a deity who oversaw the writing of the Bible, word by sacred word. When science began to demonstrate that this Weltanschuung was untenable, people realized that truth was a bit more complex. When westerners came into contact with other religions, the complexity grew. Large swaths of humanity believed things completely different from the rest of us. What was the truth? A rear-guard action was often the result. Those who had the Bible had the truth already, and since truth doesn’t change, what more was there to be said.

Truth or dare?

Truth or dare?

The internet is not yet a mature adult, but an entire generation has now grown to a kind of maturity with it. It is the first line of recourse for true information. Who has a phonebook in their house anymore? When is the last time you opened a physical dictionary? Some of us routinely look up Bible verses online, since the internet is the ultimate concordance. Instead of turning to the Bible, or any other source, we turn to the collective “wisdom” of humanity as the measure of what is true. Snopes aside, we plow ahead with what we read online, confident that with all those millions of users, we just can’t be wrong. How strange a concept to unplug and look at the actual reality behind the screen. We might be surprised to learn that there are great and terrible wizards back there after all.

5 thoughts on “Tempting Truth

  1. Brent Snavely

    “In the beginning was the Word”, which is about as violent a start as one might ever wish for — the internet makes it easier to spread the violence around.


  2. As someone who works closely with one who has first hand knowledge of facts, I can confirm that there are great and terrible wizards, indeed. There are conspiracies, too. Holmes never reveals anything classified, but he knows the first hand facts, and when something goes public, he points me to it. After watching the overt propaganda around Benghazi and PRISM — both far more insidious deceptions than most of the public wants to believe or can even conceive of — what I see is the internet being used as a political tool consolidating mob mentality on a scale unseen before. It genuinely allows our “leaders” to get away with murder. But who wants to believe that? Most people don’t give a damn about facts. They make up their own facts and run with them, calling them “truth,” and they support whoever reinforces the world as they want it to be, not as it is. Perhaps that is the only truth.


  3. Patrick Siglin

    Great and terrible wizards should have been just as likely back there… prior to the printing press, prior to scribes. Back when truth was less fleeting.


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