In a press briefing at the White House, a spokesperson for Donald Trump defended a false statement saying that they were ‘alternative facts’. This provoked widespread ridicule because facts don’t have alternative versions. Water boils at 100 degrees at sea level. Not 101. Paris is in France. Not Russia. The moon, disappointingly, isn’t made of cheese.
Science is all about finding out what is true and what is not. But is truth limited to facts alone?
It’s up to everyone to make sense of their lives. We all have to learn about ourselves, how to relate to other people, how to find inner peace. To do that we use our experience, our wisdom and insights, our feelings and intuitions, as we all work on the beautiful puzzle of what it is to be alive.
That’s the subjective world. Science might be able to tell us how the brain works, how hormones can affect our emotions, but it can’t give us the meaning of life. That’s for each of us to work out by ourselves. That’s what people mean when they talk about my truth’, your truth etc
The objective world is everything else. The chances of a plane crash. The height of mountains. The life expectancy of people in Malta. These are things we can measure with tools and maths and statistics. That’s what we mean when we talk about the truth.
Where it gets harder is when the objective meets the subjective: our bodies.
Objectively we’re made up of cells and nerves, organs and bones – that’s all objective fact. But we also feel what’s going on in our bodies and that’s profoundly subjective. We can also sometimes influence what’s going on inside in quite amazing ways.
That’s probably why science faces the most controversy when it comes to matters of health: vaccines and 5G, homeopathy and superfoods, chemtrails and chemotherapy. We can feel an instinctive resistance to any expert who tells us what’s going on with our bodies. Who the hell are they to tell us what’s good for us, what we need, what we should do?
But the same objective science that makes planes fly, phones work and jars of pesto last for weeks in the refrigerator can apply to the human body also.
I once met a friend in the street who told me that she had just found out she was pregnant.
‘Oh, wow, congratulations! Did you just take the test?’
She frowned. ‘No, I just asked my body: body, are you pregnant? And my body said: yes!’
I bought her a pregnancy test and it turned out her body wasn’t as honest as she imagined. Intuition can get things wrong.
It’s not to say that how we feel doesn’t matter. Our bodies are real time, lifelong experiments and as conscious, aware people, we can learn a lot by observing and listening to what our insides tell us. That’s what yoga, meditation and dance are all about.
But if a thermometer tells us our body temperature is 39°C then we have a fever regardless of how we feel.
One way to look at it is that objective truths keep the lights on in the theatre; they make sure the stage is soundly constructed and they even supply the special effects of smoke and trapezes. But it’s the subjective truths that are what everyone comes to see acted out on the stage; the actors and the dancers, the direction and the story.
From time to time I’m a travelling storyteller and I have this one story of meeting a tribe in the foothills of Pakistan who live in harmony because they communicate only by kissing. After the performance people often ask me if it’s true?
I never quite know what to say. It didn’t actually happen but there’s truth in there for sure…
https://www.mediaite.com/online/oprahs-crucial-error-speaking-your-truth-isnt-a-powerful-tool-its-a-poison/ – an essay exploring the dangers of making ‘truth’ relative.