TED Conversations

Evangelina Cifliganec

Writer, Publisher, HappySomething.com

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Is there anything more important for humanity, and its long term survival, than knowing the "truth"?

I think the question is clear enough, although general. Sometimes we take for granted why we always want to know the truth, and my answer is because it helps us survive better, at least in the long term. Even gossiping and curiosity about other people's lives I believe come from that fact, that knowing the truth, and less secrets helps us survive better, more often than not. But this instinctive truth search sense we have developed in old and different times, to me seems as needed as ever today. I wonder what other people think, how many of us have thought of this, and the media, or the paparazzi, etc. in that way, and is there anything more essential for humanity's long term survival, in terms of values than knowing/seeking greater truths?

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    Jul 23 2011: If the word "truth" is defined as that which is happening, has happened, or will happen then truth is essential to human freedom from the tyranny of falsehood.
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    Feb 27 2011: I think there are a lot more important things for humanity and it's long term survival than knowing the truth. Love for example. If Christopher Columbus never discovered America a lot of Native American tribes wouldn't have suffered their cruel fate. If Albert Einstein never discovered E=MC squared then no bombs would have been dropped on Japan causing countless pointless deaths. The fact is that truth can be more harmful to humanity, and can be the cause of it's destruction. It would be far more wiser to have age old secrets, than just spilling out the truth to everyone. What would happen to the world if one day everyone would know the secrets of the Universe.

    Not everyone is capable of handling the truth. Your question "Is there anything more important for humanity, and it's long term survival, than knowing the truth"? I gave an important example of Love. If you find out all the secrets of the universe and on your deathbed you would have regretted your life and called it a waste for there was no love, just truth.
    So therefore I believe there are far more important things for humanity and it's long term survival than truth.
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    Feb 27 2011: The *truth* is in who is doing the telling. The only truth of which we can rely on is our own individual moral compass and even that changes from day to day depending on life's experiences.There is no truth but our own. If our existence depends on outside influences to keep us informed as to what is real, then we are a pathetic lot of reactionaries.Greater truths can only come to fruition in our own individual time lines. Seeking answers is our purpose, but deeper levels of understanding these answers comes from searching within.We are born knowing the truth. Reality obscures.
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    Feb 26 2011: I think that sometimes, ignorance is bliss -- a good example would be the oh-so-predictable scenario where someone cheats on their partner and then feels compelled to tell their partner about it afterwards because they feel they "owe" them the truth...but what's really happening is they need a way to assuage their own guilt.

    I also don't think we need to know the "truth" about celebrities -- that's nothing more than the airing of dirty laundry...and why do the rest of us even care? That, in itself, is a sad commentary on the state of our minds.

    There are things we need to know and things we don't -- but it sometimes seems as though we air out every stray piece of information that we can get our hands on in the name of "truth" when the reality is, sometimes, with the glut of information that's available to us, we stop seeing what's true and start becoming swayed by whoever shouts the loudest and has their story told the most often.

    Another good example? Every time Oprah irresponsibly puts someone like Jenny McCarthy or Suzanne Somers on her show to provide people with information about autism or cancer -- and I'm not saying that these women are wrong, but I do think that when Oprah washes her hands clean of responsibility and people choose to stop immunizing their kids or pouring their life savings into a cure that a celebrity has touted simply because these people are on Oprah, you start to run into problems.

    It's easy to watch a show like that and think, "Finally! I'm getting the truth! There's a conspiracy happening and the government/medical establishment/drug companies don't want me to know about this and they're putting me and my family's lives at risk." To some people, this is the "truth" coming out.

    Yet another example? Wikileaks! Why is it important to know any of the stuff that's being aired on that site? We say we need to know the truth, but is it worth it if knowing the truth means putting other people in danger?
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      Feb 26 2011: "Yet another example? Wikileaks! Why is it important to know any of the stuff that's being aired on that site? We say we need to know the truth, but is it worth it if knowing the truth means putting other people in danger?"

      I sort of agree with the rest of your examples, but not with that one. NOT knowing the truth exposes other people to danger, while knowing it may expose two people (Assange and the whistleblower for the case) to danger. The only difference is that we personally know one of the endangered people when we know the truth.

      WikiLeaks reveal corruption and hypocrisy - the main things that hurt the honest and rightful people.
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    Feb 26 2011: I've always held the opinion that truth is useful. By understanding how certain events in our lives determine our well being we can of course work towards changing our well being for the better and being more content with ourselves. Therefore our notion of truth is useful. How true our notion of truth is that's another story that I'm not gonna get into.

    At the most reducible level of human knowledge our simple "fact-based" knowledge such as the physical sciences there is a lot of progress being made towards human well being. It gets complicated when we seek truth in the psychological realm, because it really seems like the mind and physics are entire worlds apart, no one can measure a person's depression or really identify the origins, society, family, childhood. There is something irreducible when it comes to mental well being. For one the relative effects of pleasure and pain dampen with time, in some cases one becomes the other, Even so just the nature of the human psyche, if everything was perfect and we had nothing to struggle with or fight for, then we would go insane. When I keep my cat locked too long into my house, with food and water, it still goes insane and almost destroys my vases and so forth, something drives it to be a hunter, to continue the struggle even though it's got everything to survive.
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    Feb 26 2011: that depends on the truth. of course I'm talking in general cuz personally i wouldn't like anyone to lie to me, even if it's for my own good. I just feel my brain abilities of accepting the truth underestimated .

    however, we can't tell the children the truth about making babies. and there are many places in which we can't tell the FULL truth . so we go on with the proverb saying "the less you know the better it is" .

    yes , if you think deeply, maybe there are many stuffs we don't need to know the truth about. like what's down there deep in the earth, what is there in the space, or what does a bee body consist of . I mean of course it may help some of us in a way or another, but for most of us we can live easily without knowing the truth .

    however, this desire to know everything is born with humans . we just love to know everything, hungry for knowledge and widening our brain capacity. it's just how we are created I guess.
    which isn't a bad idea i think :)
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    Feb 26 2011: Certainly being able to predict future events with some precision and being able to infer conclusions based on observation are vital for our survival and central to what we are. Aristotle famously begins his Metaphysics with the statement ,"All men by nature desire to know" and then continues, "An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses" conflating observation and knowledge. I don't think this is quite the same thing as 'the truth' though.

    I'm pretty sure bacteria and roaches will outlive us without knowing any truth beyond their immediate senses. I'm also pretty sure that out search for "the truth" has often lead us down the road to destruction. So while it may be possible that knowing the "truth" may be important for our long term survival, I don't really see any evidence of it. To jump from the observation that we always want to know, to the conclusion that knowing is essential for survival is a leap of faith. I always want to know a better pancake recipe, but I'm quite certain it is not aiding my long term survival.