What Is Truth?

We live in turbulent times. Politically, accusations of lies are thrown in both directions. A new term has entered our lexicon to capture this idea: Fake News. Everyone seems to bemoan the lack of truth in our conversation.

We want truth, from our politicians, from corporations, from family members. But can we recognize truth when we are exposed to it?

It has gotten to the point that two different people can observe the same event, and have different beliefs about what occurred. How can these two viewpoints be reconciled? Is one “true” and the other “false”? Or are they both some combination of true and false? And if so, how can you hope to convince each that the other is right, at least a little bit?

We live in a complicated world, and making sense of it with information coming from a variety of different sources is a new challenge, unique to this era. Before we are able to separate out a factual statement from a lie, we have to know what “truth” is, how to recognize and evaluate it, and how to store and share it with others.

Does truth depend on what you already believe? Is it relative, or absolute? What is truth?

Related questions: How do you know who to trust? When is a lie justified? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is necessary to change your mind? When is doubt helpful? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?

How Do You Learn?

Learning is something we do throughout our lives. We learn to walk, to talk, to play, to interact with others. Sometimes we have formal education, from elementary school to high school, to college, graduate school, perhaps even adult education. We learn on the job, how to be a good spouse and then a parent.

With all this learning happening, knowing how you learn can have a big impact on your life. Understanding what works for you to remember, recall, and utilize information is paramount.

Some people get the most out of education by seeing. Others might internalize best through hearing. Perhaps you learn best by writing. Or doing.

With the important role learning plays in our lives, it is a little surprising schools don’t offer formal education in how to study. Students are usually expected to just figure out what works best for themselves.

If you were to take such a class, or perhaps even to teach it, what would it show? How do you learn?

Related questions: How does your vocabulary influence how you think? What are the benefits of fiction? How do you define success? How do we know what we don’t know? What makes something memorable? How important is the repetition in our lives?

What Role Does Technology Play In Your Life?

Technology has had a tremendous impact on our lives. It helps us to be more productive, to communicate with others, to produce goods faster and at lower cost, and to escape the hold of our planet’s gravity, among many other benefits. In just a few short centuries, life has drastically changed due to the technology we surround ourselves with.

But for all the advantages that our technology has, there are also many drawbacks.

Example #1: GPS

Let’s take Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). GPS keeps us from getting lost, and using it couldn’t be much simpler. Plug in an address, and follow the directions. Any decent GPS will get you to your destination, oftentimes routing around accidents, road construction, or other obstacles. We spend less time getting directions, fewer hassles trying to read maps, and best of all less time being lost!

However, as it turns out, there is an advantage to getting lost. It may be less efficient in the short term, but it helps us to actually learn our local geography. Studies have shown that people who rely on a GPS for navigation do not retain as much knowledge of the route and local landmarks as those who navigate the old-fashioned way. And the difference is not just a superficial one, as the areas of our brain that are used for navigation can be significantly underdeveloped by constant GPS use.

Example #2: Plastic

Or what about plastic? Plastic was introduced just a little more than a hundred years ago, but now it is totally ubiquitous. We wrap our food with it, we carry goods in bags made from it, and everything from toys to life-saving medical devices use or are mostly made from plastic. The reason it is so useful is because it is inexpensive to make, it is lightweight, and it can easily be molded into whatever shape we want.

What it doesn’t do, however, is break down into constituent elements. This means that the plastic that was used to wrap your head of cauliflower at the grocery store will be in the world for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Every plastic water bottle, every computer or music CD, every plastic toothbrush we throw out will sit in a landfill, intact, for much longer than our lifespans. Or worse yet, make its way to a stream or a river, and eventually to the ocean. There are large islands of plastic waste floating in our oceans, where it is sometimes consumed by sea life while still not breaking down.

Example #3: The smartphone

One last example: the smartphone. Introduced just over a decade ago, they have quickly been adopted throughout society and are now considered indispensable. Smartphone owners use them for just about every aspect of modern life: work, recreation, exercise, entertainment, and communication.

However, it is not at all clear what the long-term impact of the smartphone will be. Our attention is fractured, our focus on reality is weakened, we are easier to manipulate, and we often feel less happy or content despite having and doing more. We don’t really have any idea what smartphone mean to young child development.

The common thread is that technology is a tremendous boon. But it also has problems that often go ignored or denied.

What role does technology play in your life? What technologies could you live without, and which ones are central to what you do or who you are? Are you doing anything to address some of the negative aspects of technology in your everyday life?

Related questions: What is technology? Can technology solve our problems? How have we changed? Are science and religion compatible?

What Is Unknowable?

Knowledge is ever increasing, and often it seems to increase by leaps and bounds. We know more today than we have ever known, and we add to that store of information every day.

The universe, our own genetics, manipulation of materials, the building blocks of matter — all are areas where we are learning more all the time. Sometimes it seems that we will be able to keep on learning and growing what we know indefinitely.

But even if we continue to accumulate knowledge, some things may be beyond our grasp.

It may be that some problems are just too large. For example, the number of ways an ordinary deck of player cards can be arranged is greater than the number of atoms on the earth. Writing them all out can’t be done.

However, some things just might be impossible to know. What is it like to live in five-dimensional space?

What is unknowable? How might we classify unknowable things? Which Intellectual Roundtable questions have unknowable answers?

Related questions: How do we know what we don’t know? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?