In this day and age, when everyone is suspicious of everyone else and their motives for doing anything (perhaps rightly so, when the world appears to be increasingly full of liars, cheats and manipulators), it’s an oxymoron that the so-called ‘truth movement’ is probably no less prone to falsehood than any other area of research… but it would be a mistake to pronounce the ‘truth movement’ is now ‘dead’, just because a few rotten apples have recently been exposed. Truth is all about movement – and it’s alive and kicking (quite a few butts, so it would seem).
“What is truth?” has been a favourite topic of conversation among philosophers since ancient times; one that isn’t easy to answer in just a few words. The Oxford Dictionary Online presumes to define ‘truth’ for us in three ways (my comments in brackets);
1. the quality or state of being true (being ‘pure’, ‘honest’, ‘genuine’, ‘authentic’)
2. that which is in accordance with fact or reality (as in: ‘accurate’, ‘correct’, or ‘right’)
3. a fact or belief that is accepted as true (which is oftentimes not ‘truth’; merely consensus)
It's something of a paradox that we’re not getting
further away from the truth as the years go by, but closer to it. As exciting new discoveries radically revise our
understanding of the past, by now it should be obvious that no matter how much
time and money one invests in the pursuit of education (whether you’re studying
for a PhD, researching, writing books, etc.), you’ll never be ‘done’ with it;
as knowledge is a perpetual unfoldment. Put another way; the goalposts will
always keep moving. Such is the nature of our ever-expanding universe that
there is always something more to learn about anything, no matter how ‘expert’
you are on a subject at any one given time. One should never assume that a
‘fact’ will always hold true and – even if it is absolute – it can always be
more deeply understood. New information may come to light, completely changing
one’s perspective (it’s happened to me many-a-time). It is what it is; until it
becomes ‘something else’… which is usually in hindsight; such is the true gift
of what we call ‘time’.
These moments of revelation can transform your life if you’re alert and open to them. Sadly, for many people, the more time they’ve invested in the pursuit of knowledge, the less likely they will accept something that contradicts it. Too much is at stake; a reputation and/or income generated as an ‘expert’ in a particular field far too great to relinquish. An astute scholar must carefully draw their own conclusions based upon that premise.
With a mass of conflicting information now available at the click of a button (every man and his dog offering his tuppence-worth), more than a little discernment is an essential prerequisite for any student. Many people, as well as institutions such as schools, universities, research programs, etc., will only accept and teach a theory as an established ‘fact’ when it has been subjected to a process of evaluation called ‘peer review’ (where it is pre-judged by ‘experts’ before publication) – but that doesn’t guarantee this information is more correct or true; only that it has been approved by your peers, which is another thing altogether. You and I both know that the truth is not always approvable (especially when it hurts). That’s why Plato said that, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” Of course, truth need not be spoken in order for it to be true. Not everyone is open to it. Sometimes it’s wiser to keep quiet – like in the poem... you know the one;
I haven't organised any ARC Conventions since 2012, so I've been very quiet, enjoying a lengthy process of researching and writing. The book I’m working on (The Muse) weaves together practically everything I’ve ever been curious about or interested in - to describe it as something of a ‘mosaic’ would be especially appropriate (the word comes from Medieval Latin musaicum, meaning ‘work of the Muses’). I feel as Nietzsche wrote; that it;
"… has reinforced in me the joyful confidence that they may not have originally developed in me as single, random, or sporadic ideas, but up out of common roots, from some fundamental will for knowledge ruling from deep within, always speaking with greater clarity, always demanding greater clarity."
One thing that I really love about a lot of old books I've been reading are the Authors’ Prefaces. I admire those old scholars who were humble and so eloquently acknowledged their fellow researchers with sincere affection and grace. The Preface from William Warrington’s Cambria Triumphans (1805) is a fine example;
"[The author] flatters himself that he has
opened many new sources of information; he has also been careful to examine the
Old; and it is with confidence he can say, that he has neither servilely
transcribed, nor implicitly followed the modern historians. What he has done,
neither precludes, nor is intended to, preclude, the future labours of other
writers who are deeply read in the Welsh language and manuscripts. The field is
still open to a more able historian, and to the profound researches of the
learned antiquary. With what success it has been executed, it remains for the
Public to determine. He shall not be charged with deficiency, in
not having executed what it was never his intention to undertake. He thinks it
necessary to declare that he is an Englishman; and whatever preponderancy may
be discovered in this work to the side of the Welsh, it is neither the
partiality of an author to his subject, nor the prejudice of a native; but the
voluntary tribute of justice and humanity which is due to the cause of freedom,
and the violated rights of nature.
In the course of this work the author has been much indebted, for the perusal of the works of many valuable writers, to Thomas Faulkner, Esq; of Chester; a gentleman who mingles with deep erudition the liberal desire, of giving his assistance to any design, which may be useful to the republic of letters. He is under the like obligation to Philip Yorke, Esq; Of Erthig, near Wrexham, Denbighshire; whose taste and knowledge in literature, whose gentleness of manners and benevolent spirit, render him an amiable friend, and a valuable man."
Those lacking such modesty and respect in their own work have monstrous egos that prevent them from extending the same benevolence. Information is far too often passed-off as ‘Fact’ when it is merely conjecture. We currently have a situation much as the American poet and physician William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) described in his five-volume epic poem Patterson;
"It is dangerous to leave
written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the
world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to
myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a
thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity,
be burned to the ground as a consequence."
The Druids and Bards of Ancient Britain knew this only
too well; they lived by the axiom y Gwir
yn erbyn y byd (‘the Truth against the world’). The poet laureate Lord
Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) had a literary society in Philadelphia named after
him, and he received a letter from them asking for a motto. He replied on Sept
"You have done me honour in associating my name with your institution and you have my hearty good wishes for its success. Will the following Welsh motto be of any service to you? I have it in encaustic tiles on the pavement of my entrance hall: “Y Gwir yn erbyn y byd” (The Truth against the world). A very old British apophthegm, and I think a noble one."
… but what does it actually mean? The Bards were supreme masters of wordplay. It means ‘the Truth against (but erbyn also means ‘in opposition to’ or ‘in contrast with’) the world.’ After re-reading one of my favourite books, The Philosopher’s Secret Fire: A Secret History of the Imagination by Patrick Harpur (2002), it occurred to me that we may consider how the terms ‘truth’ and ‘the world’ (Gwir: y Byd) relate to each other by way of analogy, using terms that are not synonymous, but homologous. To quote Patrick;
Western culture favours… pairs of opposites produced by its fondness for polarizing. Other cultures recognize that the terms of a pair can relate to each other in many ways […] A word can mean many things depending on the context or which analogical system is used.
In his book, he gives an example of how many cultures regard the sun (in both
mythology and by the use of gender-pronouns in language) as masculine, while
the moon is feminine – but this relationship is reversed in the mythology and
language of other cultures (including Welsh, Norse, Sanskrit, old Goidelic, and
Arabic). Rather than saying that ‘Sun equals Female’ or ‘Sun symbolises Female’
or ‘Moon is synonymous with Male’, we may use the analogy that ‘Sun is to Moon
as Female is to Male, as Day is to Night, etc., which can be written properly
in abbreviated form like so;
Sun: Moon:: Female: Male:: Day: Night (etc.)
In the case of the Welsh maxim, it would be written;
Truth: the World (Gwir: y Byd)As well as ‘truth’, the word gwir can also mean ‘certain, undoubted, genuine, real, very, right, sure; perfect, just, faithful, guileless’. The word byd, while meaning; ‘world, earth, globe; universe, planet or other heavenly body’ also means; ‘human existence, life of the human race on earth’, ‘condition, state and circumstances of life of human race or member thereof’. Byd can also refer to ‘worldly, irreligious persons, those who do not profess religion’ (atheists), as well as to ‘possessions, property, and wealth’. But what of analogies? We may say, for example, that;
Truth: the World:: Metaphysical: Physical:: Real: Pretend (etc.)
or we may use another system;
Truth: the World:: Pure: Polluted:: Virtue: Vice (etc.)
Patrick explains that; “Analogy preserves ambiguity by simultaneously embodying similarity and difference… The lesson of analogical thinking is that the symbolic value we attach to things is not fixed and absolute.”
Interestingly, in philosophy, ‘The Absolute’ is a term meaning ‘that which exists without being dependent on anything else’. We will never perceive Truth as The Absolute while we need falsehood in order to define it – in other words, even if the truth is Absolute, we each have a unique experience of what that looks like while we’re ‘in the world’ living a human existence. As an individual human being, one’s perception of truth changes shape depending on when and where you’re at in life and from which direction you are observing it (if you’re doing it right and don’t get ‘stuck’, that is, which happens to the best of us, sometimes). As Patrick Harpur puts it, “The world we see is the myth we are in. We have a choice of what myth we will look through but we do not have a choice of no myth at all.”
So it’s very interesting that in Owen Pughe’s Dictionary
of the Welsh Language (1832), the Welsh word myth means: ‘something
that pervades’ (that spreads and is perceived throughout), ‘something that
infects’ (or contaminates), or ‘a miasma’ (something unhealthy that pollutes). It’s
much like the highly infectious disease ‘influenza’; which (according to the Online
Etymological Dictionary www.etymonline.com)
is related to the word ‘influence’ – an astrological term, meaning: ‘streaming
ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions, acting upon character
or destiny of men,’ from Old French influence; ‘emanation from the stars
that acts upon one’s character and destiny’ (13th c.) – also ‘a flow
of water, a flowing in’, from Medieval Latin influential; ‘a flowing in’
(also used in the astrological sense) from Latin influentem (nominative influens),
present participle of influere ‘to flow into, stream in, pour in’ (see also
the origin of word ‘fluent’). The Welsh word myth is a compound of the prefix my;
meaning ‘that is’ or ‘that is present’ and yth; ‘that which tends to
stretch out or to be continuous’. ‘Influenza’, just like the Welsh myth,
are both invisible influences that are contagious and pervasive. In the same
way, a ‘myth’ (or story) can spread far-and-wide very quickly, pervading, and
influencing our understanding of the world… for better or worse. I don't think that's a coincidence. A false myth
is a most unhealthy thing; a miasma contaminating the thoughts, words and deeds of others (and nobody probably understood that better than a Druid).
Tiokasin Ghosthorse, an Indigenous Lakota, once told
me that, “Real eyes realise real lies”.
If we can recognise falsity, we can at least know what truth is not. Whilst we may not always be unable
to define exactly what ‘truth’ is as
precisely as we would like at all times, we can all agree what truth does; it always comes out in the end... whether you like it or not.