Search for Truth

The way we think about communication impacts the way we think about “truth.” We tend to think about truth as something that is objective and verifiable, something that has always existed, something that we just need to discover and describe. And when we use the “tool” of communication to describe or “convey” or “transmit” truth we usually judge the communication by whether it was “true” or “false;” “correct” or “incorrect;” “right” or “wrong.” We want people to be truthful and honest. We value finding and discovering objective Truth. Most of you talked about “truth” in these ways on your first assignment.

The slogan from the television series X-files makes sense because we tend to want to cut through all the illusions and discover Truth:

Likewise, we don’t like it when it seems like people twist the objective “facts” of a situation. We certainly don’t want to be deceived by lies and illusions. We make people swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” in court with the understanding that they will not spin the facts or manipulate anything. We usually think about lies or distortion or spin or rhetoric as things that get in the way of clear, truthful, transparent, successful communication–it’s all “noise” when we think of communication as “transmission” or “sending info.”

These ideas about truth trace, in part, all the way back to Plato (and Aristotle and Socrates). As you read Plato’s Gorgias you should be able to identify some of these ideas in Socrates’ attitude about communication and rhetoric.

Think about these other examples that represent standard and typical ways we think and talk about truth:

  • Last fall, the presidential candidates had teams dedicated to telling the facts and “truth” about each candidate and combating the myths and lies … John McCain started the “McCain Truth Squad” (and the “Palin Truth Squad”) / Barack Obama tried to “Fight the Smears”
  • Karl Rove criticized some of the McCain campaign ads for going “one step too far,” and “attributing to Obama things that are … beyond the ’100 percent truth’ test.”
  • When we learn history in K – 12. We memorize “objective” facts and data about the past that we typically treat as absolute truth. We see that attitude in a show like “Digging for Truth” on the History Channel, that goes on a quest to discover the truth of the past.
  • We want the news to tell us the truth. A CNN commercial tells viewers to “Get the facts. Demand the truth. We do!” We usually expect that ideal news will communicate neutral truth about the world.
  • We also value the objective truth in science, where numbers and data prove facts about the world.

Plato (via Socrates) isn’t exactly talking about physics and the history channel. He’s more interested in discovering True Beauty, the True “Good Life,” True Love. But the point is that the way Plato thought about speech, rhetoric, communication, and truth trickled down through the years and influences us today.

Suggestions: Think of other everyday examples where we value the Truth as something that has always existed outside of communication? As something that we just have to find, discover, and describe? How does that relate to the way we sometimes think and talk about our identities, our True self?

It might be equally helpful to think about messages that criticize what Socrates calls “rhetoric.” Other than politics, where do we devalue and criticize communication that we believe distracts us from the truth or misleads us from the truth?

Once again, relationship advice is another good source for seeing some of the common ways our standard way of thinking about communication shapes the way we talk and understand “truth”:

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