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Problems of truth

13 July 2012, 15:18
I can prove almost nothing I believe in.  I believe the earth is round but cannot prove it, nor can I prove that the earth revolves around the sun. or that the naked fig tree in the garden will have leaves in a few months.  I can’t prove that quarks exist or that there was a Big Bang -  All of these and millions of other beliefs are based on faith in a community of knowledge whose proofs I am willing to accept, hoping they will accept on faith the few measly claims to proof I might advance.     

But now I realize, having read some of the other postings, that everyone else has assumed implicitly that the “you” in “even if you cannot prove it” refers not to the individual respondent  but to the community of knowledge. It actually stands for “one” rather than “you”. that everyone seems to have understood this seems to me a remarkable achievement, a merging of the self with the collective that only great religions and profound ideologies occasionally achieve.    

So what do I believe that no one else can prove? Not much, although I do believe in evolution, including cultural evolution, which means I tend to trust ancient beliefs about good and bad, the sacred and the profane, the meaningful and the worthless - not because they are amenable to proof but because they have been selected over time. And in different situations and therefore might be worthy of belief.    

As to the future, I will follow the cautious weather forecaster who announces, “Tomorrow will be a beautiful day unless it rains”. I can see all sorts of potentially wonderful developments in human consciousness, Global solidarity, knowledge and ethics.   However, there are about as many trends operating toward opposite outcomes:  a coarsening of taste;  a reduction to least common denominators; a polarization of property, power, and faith.  I hope we will have the time and opportunity to understand which policies lead to which outcomes, and then that they will have the motivation and the courage to implement the more desirable alternatives.

Acknowledgements:  MIHALYI  CSIKSZENTMIHALYI                                   Professor at the Drucker school of management                                   Claremont graduate university
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