“Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” –Indiana Jones (and the Last Crusade)
Is there a conceptual difference between truth and fact? I see a clear separation of these ideas. The concept of “Facts” embodies the tangibility and concreteness of existence or knowledge of an occurrence. The meaning behind a fact may be debatable, but its occurrence or existence is widely accepted. The idea of truth is murkier. The “Truth” of something is real and factual for a person, but it is bound and understood through their personal perceptions and interpretations. As such, truth is subject to debate. What is the “truth” for one person may not be true for another. It is important to understand that each person’s truths are also their facts. This is one of the reasons why we have a fractured world. I base this position on Max Wertheimer’s excellent 1934 paper entitled “On Truth”.
As we understand the idea of individual’s truths versus facts, our ability to interact with people achieves a new level. Often, it is the truth of the situation that must be addressed and not the facts. Connection breakthroughs occur when we seek to understand the other person’s truth before we try to apply our version of the truth. Interestingly, as we do this our view of the acceptable possibilities and potential of any situation is expanded as we experience more of the other person’s truth. New ideas and creative concepts sprout from this level of mutual understanding.
The variability in perceptions and interpretations of the truth is the source of its power and mystery. It can make people think and seek a level of understanding before it is possible to internalize its meanings. Finding truth is a scary process for many people as it shakes the foundations of their knowledge and long-held beliefs. I love the concept of truth because it can be soft and guiding, or a quick jab to people’s tender underside. It all depends on the individual’s openness to pursuing understanding at that moment. The truth may also be seen as an action or the search for understanding, meaning, and applicability beyond the sterility of the underlying facts.
Finally, the clarity experienced through understanding the truth when supported by the facts and applied to life’s purposes can become a fundamentally altering event for a person. This leads to real wisdom. I see wisdom as the application of understanding that derives from the pursuit of truth that is grounded in facts. While I do not consider myself wise, I work each day to understand the world through the lenses of truth and facts. One day with continued effort, I hope to reach a stage of wisdom. Of course, the truly wise may say that state is unachievable but its pursuit is the right journey, but that is a line of thinking for another day.