Truth or fiction

November 20th, 2014



I’ll incriminate myself right now and say that, to at least some extent, I believe in such a thing as objective truth. To some, this view’s validity might sound laughably self-evident.


However, if there’s anything my philosophy courses have taught me, it’s not to assume.


The question of truth is a tricky thing, and the problems surrounding it reappear every day.


Think about how you interact with different sets of people. I’d be willing to bet that you adopt a very different tone when you’re talking to professors than when you’re talking with friends.


Humans find themselves constantly censoring, inflating, stretching, coloring and redacting information when they speak. Even when its unintentional, people omit information through forgetfulness. Purported “facts,” “true stories” or “accounts” of things might be less reliable than they appear.


It’s as much of an emotional exercise as it is a mental one. Our fears, reservations, ego and goals drive the ways in which we present information to those around us.


If we’re trying to impress, we are less likely to include self-deprecating comments or information. Instead, we’ll highlight and emphasize points that might inflate our image and place us in higher standing.


Conversely, we toss in new information to a conversation when it serves to place us above “competition” or establish us as “better” in relation to another person or some other competitor. And while I do say many things that arguably don’t rise to any level above conjecture, these views about the ways we interact stand as factual (or nearly so). Such is the way our world operates.


Don’t hurry to place me in the box of cynicism and disillusionment just yet, because all of our personal editing and censoring might serve an indispensable function in the very near future – if it doesn’t already.


The advent of the Internet represented the proliferation of information. This deluge of data liberates in many ways by allowing for nearly-instant access to countless topics. On the other hand, though, any new material must be closely sifted through to distinguish fact from fiction.


Consider your use of social media in the last week. If one student were to post about a snow day and attached a phony email as evidence, half of the student body might begin mapping out plans for a personal day. All of this, of course, taking place without people stopping to validate the post’s credibility.


While this is just a small and, regrettably, imperfect example, similar instances take place everyday in the national and international spheres.


The recent protests that took place in Ferguson, Missouri had all the ingredients necessary for a recipe for disaster. People, ranging from irate to introspective, voiced opinions from every angle of the situation. To do so, many took their frustrations or musings to their favorite social media outlets.


Competing reports about the sequence of events leading up to and following Michael Brown’s death muddied any previously established conception of truth. In the days and weeks following, many people retweeted or reposted false information.


Essentially, enough emotional, ideologically-entrenched, people spouted off information and misinformation online to complicate an already-complicated situation.


One might assume that the ability to access information so quickly and easily is unequivocally a good thing.


However, instances occur every day that prove this to be slightly view to be slightly off-center. So this proliferation of information is just as dangerous as it is potentially informative.


In fact, when considering this potentially paralyzing problem, the only barrier that currently exists to the dissemination and perpetuation of misinformation are the people who come across it. People unthinkingly ingest information at an incredibly fast rate.


To combat the spread of incorrect or questionable information, all people, especially those of our generation with instant access to information, should commit themselves to healthy skepticism.


Ultimately, the real trick is separating the valid, credible pieces from what should end up in the trash.