I’ll get back to posting some neat stuff about the tech and startup scene, once and awhile I like to do an ‘ideas’ post, I’ve had a few in my head lately, and this is one of them…
Truth is a tough concept to the define and fully hash out. I know the theories. But when you boil it down there’s roughly speaking two kinds of truth – social truth and scientific truth.
Social truth is all about agreement between people. We agree about driving on the right-hand side of the road in North America. We agree that stealing is wrong. We agree about Justin Biber lacking talent!
Social truths persist when they create value to groups or to broader societies at large, or sometimes even when they seem to create value. By agreeing which side of the road to drive on, we avoid collisions.
The social truths that only seem to create value tend to get shaken out of favour over time, replaced with better truths. So for example while racism unfortunately still exists, it’s an example of a ‘social truth’ that has been in a process of being shaken out of society (hopefully out of existence entirely). It was once much more accepted as truth than it is now.
Other social truths remain controversial over longer periods of time, and limited to certain groups. People will never stop arguing about about tax rates. Some things are beyond the reach of science to discover truth. We can’t measure, compute and/or reason about everything.
Social truths are created and spread socially. Powerful members of groups can sometimes use that influence to shape social truths. There’s limits to that though, especially overtime.
Scientific truth is the ‘deeper’ truth in the sense that it’s more testable, repeatable, and detached from what people think about it. It’s the type of truth that evidence supports, or that can be formally proven (mathematically). People can disagree with the force of gravity all they want, but it’ll still be there.
Scientific truth also has huge value to society – think MRI scans, automobiles and instant pizza pies!
A once believed scientific truth can turn out to be false sometimes, usually requiring a revision to some theory about reality, but that doesn’t devalue scientific truths or the value they provide as a whole. It is however a reason to give pause when using science as a tool – science discovers scientific truth, but because it’s a process conducted by people, mistakes can be made.
There’s a huge amount of crossover between scientific truth and social truth. Scientific truths tend to become social truths overtime, because they provide value to society. There are hybrid truths – so for example whether we choose to drive on the left or right hand side of the road is a social truth, but the fact that driving on one hand side of the road works better for everyone is a scientific truth.
The social truths that persist overtime tend to have roots in scientific truths. This is partially why people tend to argue a lot about ‘what the evidence says’ about some matter.
The world is full of social truths battling it out. Social media has enabled anyone to try to create social truths. People tend to congregate in groups that agree on controversial social truths, and bash other groups of people that don’t agree.
I’m biased towards scientific truth. I like the order, objectivity and cleanliness of it all. You can’t spin it into being, it’s already there, you’re just trying to find it and dig it out of the hole.
I’m not crazy about social truth – too often it’s just people trying to dominate each other over some stupid stuff. South Park totally nailed this idea. It’s social animal behaviour that has roots in our ‘monkey ancestry’ let’s say.
But you need both. Scientific truth without social truth is irrelevant, and social truth without scientific truth is at best unproductive, and at worst very dangerous.
It’s really too bad that some of the best practitioners of scientific truths are the worst practitioners of social truth, and vice versa. I think that’s part of why a lot of bad politicians succeed, why a lot of good ideas go unheeded, and why startups need ‘both sides of the brain’ to succeed.
But on the flip side, to end on a more positive note… when both truths are combined, some pretty amazing stuff can happen.