As our knowledge expands and the world shrinks, the simple village truths that have guided us for so long don't fit as well as they once did.
For most of our history, truth was a monopoly. There was no defense necessary. There was only what was, what is, and what forever shall be.
Until it's not.
The mechanisms that we have built to explain the unknown and to build the foundations of civilization have always been with us. We have been building realities and living in dreams from the first days of our language.
But today we are deafened by endless screams of selfish and unsophisticated truth hackers, liars and cheats, pretenders and selfish manipulators. We don't have a solid ground of shared truth anymore, because someone is always working to pull the rug out from under our feet and to throw a new one over our head.
Even ancient truths that have always been true are under the microscope as they come into contact with new evidence and new ways of understanding what they are trying to tell us.
If I know that reality is fluid, and you don't know that, or don't care, or are too busy or distracted, or afraid, then I'll choose a reality that works for me. I'll build a money system. I'll build a government. I'll build a god. And you, like good little animals in the zoo, will eat, love, and cry, and sleep inside the world that I have built for you.
Truth is a game, and the stakes are high. Reality is on the move.
How do the truth hackers control this? How do they bend the will of a nation? How do they own the soul of a world?
It's not easy, but with enough time and willful intent, they have learned to fit the world with a bit and a bridle to pull us in whatever direction they want.
A stage magician will practice hundreds of hours to perfect a hand motion so that you will never notice the drop or the exchange. It seems amazing, because it would never occur to us that someone would put such an enormous amount of time and attention into the position of a thumb.
Generations can be spent building big truths, building support, spending entire lives in the pursuit to showcase one small piece of one small part of the truth that they want to own.
We all want to understand what is going on in our world. We need stability and security, and so we are always building stories to explain and understand what we see.
On November 22, 1963, John Kennedy was murdered in front of the world, and today, we're still trying to put all of the pieces together, because it never feels quite right.
Was it a lone gunman, or were there others? An act of a single mad man, or a conspiracy?
That term, conspiracy theory, is commonly used to discredit an argument as being exaggerated, unlikely, or without genuine merit. There are plenty to choose from. Some are ridiculous. Some are true.
Governments sometimes lie. The Pentagon Papers revealed lies about Vietnam. The co-intel-pro FBI operation in the '50s and '60s used several illegal tactics until they were exposed. We went to war because we were told our enemy had weapons of mass destruction. Even today we wonder if there is more to the stories of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, and the World Trade Centers.
Religions sometimes lie. The Boston Globe revealed cover-ups in the Catholic Church. Peter Popoff famously used a hidden radio earpiece to fake miracles. Jim Jones of the famous People's Temple convinced hundreds of members to kill themselves and their children by drinking the Kool-Aid, a term that is still part of our lexicon of belief.
We also know that governments, for the genuine safety of our country, must sometimes be careful with who knows certain truths. We know that religions with different doctrines can't all be true, but we believe them anyway.
Even science, that bastion of verifiable, repeatable, peer-reviewed truth, can be used to lie. Genuine scientific findings can be misunderstood or sometimes intentionally misrepresented. Evidence that doesn't fit the prevalent paradigm might be disregarded and not considered for further study. It took a long time for scientists to give up on the idea of ether as a necessary medium for light. Evidence of continental drift was originally scorned.
It doesn't help when non-scientists or psuedo-scientists jump in to promote a political or religious or social agenda by promoting lies as science or framing science as lies.
Have you ever looked at a cloud, or some random bit in the world and seen something that could be a face, or an animal?
Seeing patterns in noise is an effect called peridolia.
It's not just faces in clouds, it's motive and meaning in a chaotic world.
It's that act of imagination that we use to get through the day to understand the circumstances that lead to the moment we find ourselves in.
It's why conspiracy theories sometimes seem true when they're actually ridiculous.
It's why conspiracies seem ridiculous even when they're actually true.
It's why science has learned to be very careful. Eventually, enough evidence is considered and compared, and science moves forward.
We're trying to make sense of a lot of noise, and there is always someone, somewhere, telling us what it means or throwing more chaos into the mix to trick us.
And lately, it seems, it's getting worse. Much worse.
Plain, obvious fictions can infect otherwise well-functioning minds. There are people convinced that the world is actually flat, and that every obvious evidence to the contrary is a lie.
Institutions of belief are fighting to stay true and relevant. If a fact inconveniently doesn't fit, it will be brutally killed.
In this hyper-connected world, anyone can say anything, and there's someone somewhere who will believe it.
Mark Twain told us "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." And he didn't even have a Twitter account.
On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog, or a catfish, or a computer program.
Today, more than ever before, as Robert Wilson said, Reality is what you can get away with.
It is no longer sufficient to believe something. We need to be careful and thorough and patient, and we need to understand why we believe, and to be able to justify that with evidence and clear thinking.
But the world we live in today does not make that easy.
We are faced with so many indignities all day long where we have to fight for every scrap of reality. We have to deal with intentional manipulation. It's easy to sign up, but to cancel, you have to call a special number, and be on hold for as long as they want to keep you, and then you have to listen to another long sales pitch through which you have to just keep saying no. Insurance, medical, and pharmaceutical companies move money back and forth through us and our illnesses, and we have to deal with it. More and more control is being taken away from us. We are not the customers anymore. We are the product, eyeball screens where they can sell to us, lie to us, project their packaged truths onto us.
So much our our world is painted, and packaged, and presented with easy to swallow morsels of tasty truth nuggets designed to keep us watching, keep us buying, keep us angry, keep us docile and under their foot, all without anything so clumsy as a critical thought or a question
So, if reality is fluid, and if the strength of a truth is proportional to the people who will agree with it, where do we go from here?
Luckily, the answers are not profound or mysterious. It's what we do all the time, but with the rate of world building being thrown at us, we need to intentionally slow down, think twice, and double check our assumptions.
It starts with this: Where reality is fluid, our belief must be fluid. Where reality is more solid, our belief can be more solid. It takes practice to know the difference, but mastery of this process is important, because understanding and participating in the shared values and truths of our culture is what separates us from animals.
It makes us who we are.
Let's not be sloppy with it.
You all probably know about Schrodinger's cat, the thought experiment about the effects of a random, unknowable quantum effect which, if triggered, would lead to a chain of events that might kill, or not kill, the cat inside the box. Until we open the door, the quantum state is unknown. The cat can be thought of as both alive and dead at the same time.
Both realities could equally be true. We can't know until we open the box.
In much the same way, our understanding of reality is always in a state of superposition. When someone tells us something, or tries to convince of that their truth is true, it's okay to hear the argument, nod, and say - sure - that might be true. OK - maybe not. Let's wait before leaping to a decision about what to believe.
At that point, all we know is that someone is making a claim.
We might imagine several stories that would allow us to choose to believe or reject that claim, right in that moment, but there's always another layer. What are the stories that we might imagine about why this person is promoting this version of the truth?
One story is that that he is sincere, and evidence will show that his claim can be verified. Another story is that he is sincere, but mistaken. Maybe he's lying, and if so, what would be his motives? What different scenarios might have led to this story being told.
Any one of these different scenarios might be true. At that point, the underlying facts are in a state of possibilities. We should wait and withhold judgment and belief until more evidence is shown.
Evidence is what let's us open the box.
It's an interesting exercise to find a conspiracy theory and listen to it. See the reality as they see it. Alien UFOs or advanced government research? What really happened in September of 2001? Vaccinations? Big foot? How old is the Sphinx? Where is Atlantis?
One of the tools of truth hacking is to convince us to skip the evidence, and to replace evidence with a plausible scenario that could be true.
That's where we go wrong. That's where we fall prey to the con men and false prophets.
Keep looking. Keep following the claims. Remember what Carl Sagan taught us: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Also remember that any claim requires at least some evidence.
A truth must match all available evidence, and even evidence is not final. You may need to find additional evidence to support the evidence.
We may need to withhold judgement for years, waiting for the full picture to emerge. But that's not the game. The game is to get you to believe, right now, to be angry or afraid, and to close the door.
When you take your time and look deeply, you may find that the theory is widely known to be wrong and has been debunked over and over. Maybe you will find that the claim can't be verified, but is sincere, and does raise some interesting questions. Maybe you find related theories that cloud the issue but are themselves so ridiculous that it makes the original question seem like just another crazy idea.
We should learn to be comfortable in this fog of possibilities. We should reject the urge to pick something because it feels right, or because our tribe is telling us, or because that is all we have ever known.
Reality is fluid, but the facts that can be verified are what determine the actual reality from a collection of potential realities.
Let's say you're at lunch with a friend. He picks up the check, and you say, next time, I'll pay. Let's go to that new place.
You have just created a reality from many possible realities. You created it out of nothing. You brought it forth into existence with the magic of your words. You created a debt and an expectation of your future behavior.
The reality of who pays next time could have been anything. It was fluid. But once you spoke the incantation and made that promise, you collapsed all the possibilities that could be into a new world. You opened Schrodinger's box. And just like a border that exists and does not exist at the same time, your promise exists because of the words you spoke and the understanding shared between you and your friend.
Sometimes we anchor our understanding in the physical world, to make it even more real. We write it down in an appointment book, or we write an IOU, or a contract, or a law.
We do this to reduce the possibility of a misunderstanding, or a lapse in memory of who said what.
It's no different with larger, more complicated truths. We must still ground our beliefs in facts, and recognize the difference between facts and fantasy. A promise, even though it is just words, and only exists because of our language and our understanding, it does exists, and that is a fact. If you show up next time and you say you forgot your wallet again, that may be the last time you have lunch with that friend.
We always want to know what's going on. Of all the realities that could have been, there is an underlying truth, even if that truth is only a decision that we made together. But so often there are intentional mirrors and false projections to hide it. We have become so accustomed to this that when something unexpected unfolds, it is easy to assume that someone is acting badly and lying about it.
And sometimes when they're lying about it, we believe them.
It's genuinely difficult to know, and it can be uncomfortable to hold back our decision to believe, to leave all of the possibilities hanging until we have enough solid evidence. It's difficult to live in all of these alternate realities at the same time. Like a couple waiting for the results of a pregnancy test, or waiting for a call about a new job, or waiting for the jury. It can be excruciating to live in between these very different worlds.
Imagine living in dozens of alternate realities all at the same time.
But that's what we have to do. We have to abandon the comfort of certainty and embrace unlimited possibilities, especially with the big and important beliefs, and especially if someone is trying a little too hard to get us to close Schrodinger's door and believe now.
The possible realities of where are we might go out for supper is not that important, but the reality of whether your insurance company is acting in good faith when your claim was denied can be much more difficult to deal with.
We want to pick something, even if it is terrible. Sometimes it's easier to assume bad motives on the part of someone else. Maybe it was a billing mistake. Maybe you forgot that you still have more to pay on the deductible.
When the world shakes us up, makes us feel vulnerable, we desperately want to know what is going on. Sometimes it's easier to just be angry than to wait.
Well, that's just like him. Selfish. Doesn't care that we're all waiting here. Can't get a table. Not even picking up his phone!
But then he calls, very upset, because his dog just got off the leash and ran away, and now his world is caught between two realities, wondering if his dog is even alive.
We have all done this. We have all made bad assumptions and ended up apologizing, or feeling rotten.
So keep looking for more evidence. Keep calling your friend. Take the time to look something up and find more than just that one source you saw in the link that was targeted for you. We have to all be better scientists when it comes to living in the rough waters of reality.
Even when something feels true, or seems right, just because we can imagine a story that explains what we see, doesn't make that story true. It makes the story possible and worthy of consideration, and when we find more evidence, we can consider that.
Ronald Reagan taught us, Trust, but verify. Collect all of the facts, verify them, put them together, and from that, select the best understanding that can be assembled. And even then, understand that your understanding is based on the validity and endurance of the facts upon which it was based.
Always leave room to find an even deeper understanding. Always consider the possibility that you have more to learn, and that when you do, you might change your mind.
A fact must match all available evidence.
We are going to come to that place where we, as members of this society, will have to choose the values that define our world. What will we practice? What will we accept? What will we encourage or discourage. What will we fight for?
Understand that you are a creature of magic. You have the ability to speak reality into existence. Every word you speak moves some part of the rudder of truth. Whether you speak with kindness or out of anger, you are choosing one reality over all others that could have been, a reality where you were mean, or lying, or were kind, or patient, or well-informed.
This is the world that you will have to live in.
When you listen to others speak, recognize that you are hearing the words of a creature of magic. Don't believe or dismiss without taking the time to consider and understand.
How will an issue, whether something small in your family, or grand in your nation, be different if we charge forward with anger and defensiveness, versus leading with love and understanding?
How we think of ourselves and of our world manifests that world.
Imagine that there is an ideal version of you. The best, most talented, kind, understanding, confident, capable person. Whatever you image that to be, will become part of who you are. What would the best version of yourself do, right now? If you think small and selfish, then that will be how you act. If you think big and generous, then that is the reality that will be with you every day.
Imagine that there is an ideal version of our nation. The best, strongest, most talented, best prepared and capable in all we do. Whatever we imagine that to be, will direct who we vote for, what issues we support, whether we volunteer our time, and donate our money.
Of all the realities that could be, which one will bring the greatest health, prosperity, happiness, and opportunities to the most people?
Imagine that there is an ideal version of our world where nobody goes hungry, nobody is hurt or oppressed, nobody has to go to war to fight for false flags, a world where nobody wants to hurt or kill or take.
This world is possible.
But it may not be compatible with the truths that have led us to where we are today.
Why do we believe what we belive? Whose vision built your world? And why? What are the voices calling to you? Can you trust them?
What you believe most deeply, what you are willing to fight for matters greatly, not only because it defines you, but because you might be wrong.
When evidence is discovered, we must find a place for it, even if we have to change the shape of the world for it to fit.
The realities that could be are fluid, but the reality we choose is the ground that we walk on and the air that we breathe.
I want to live in an honest world, where I don't have to pretend that I can pretend to believe. The facts that I believe are part of the incantation that brought a new reality to this land. All people are equal. We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Love and understanding are better for more people than strength and dominance, which tends to favor some over others.
Our truth will be hacked to pieces if we let it. We are the medium of history and the masters of the most sacred magic: our words and what they mean.
Our deepest beliefs are vulnerable. If we give up our power and believe without question, untethered from evidence, there are plenty who will take that power from us. We have seen religions corrupted and segmented. Governments have been invaded and twisted. Our minds have been decorated. Our lives have been sold.
There are new realities to be found. New truths to be forged, based not on mere imagination or faith, but upon evidence that we can see, and facts that we can verify.
It's worth taking a moment to imagine how magnificent your life, our nation, our world could be, if it could be anything.
How would you nurture and heal a troubled world? How would you break down the barriers, and reveal the lies, and discover and share the deepest truths from the strongest evidence that can be known?
What if you, with a kind word or a patient ear can heal some part of the world.
What if you could speak this most beautiful, sacred world into being?
Think carefully, because you can.