The Truth Hurts

Here at gamboling we’ve been monkeying around with the idea of truth for the last few weeks. And in the end we all have to ask ourselves what really is truth?

I was addressing an envelope to a firm based in Milton Keynes. And I asked Katherine how to spell it and she said “Keynes like the economist, blimey I never thought of that. The city is named after two economists.”

Of course you may have known this already but until that moment of striking thought Katherine had been clueless about the whole situation.

Milton Keynes is a planned city, the largest in Europe, and when they were building the city the planners still hadn’t come up with a name for it. The call went out to the civil service and an economist in Whitehall came up with using the names of Milton Freeman and John Maynard Keynes because he thought somebody might see the irony of using the names of people who were against planned economies as the namesakes of a planned city. By the time the irony was realised it was too late and the name had been made public.

Okay so none of that last paragraph was true. The true answer is that there was a small village in the town called Milton Keynes. Which means that Katherine’s story is very dangerous.

Her story which she created, which was just the short part in quotes is incredibly potent because it sounds right. And tied to which the actual true story is quite week in terms of story. These are the ideal situations for the release of a meme.

A “meme” Alex are you sure you mean one of those things where everyone answers the same question?

I am sure. A meme is an idea or snippit of thought. It was an idea created by Richard Dawkins to talk about how ideas spread and solidify in society in a rather similar way to evolution. The set of questions that spread themselves are just a subset.

One of the most powerful proofs of natural selection are those humming birds with the really long beaks. You know the ones that have to get nectar from plants with really long stalks. And we can see that each one is growing to keep up with the other. In each generation the problem gets more pronounced. This shows a lack of intelligent design because a designer would have said “right you’re both five centimetres long”. And this is the same with stories. Stories aren’t retained because of their rightness they are instead valued on their ability to propel themselves. Their quality of their story DNA if you will.

The fact seems to me that if you heard this story then you’d be quite likely to believe it. And if you weren’t sure then what would you do? Check Wikipedia probably but how do we know that what’s there is true?

An American comic called Steven Colbert has been pushing his idea of Truthiness. Truthiness is the idea that you don’t have to believe what you read in books you should believe what you feel in your heart. Things that you thing sound true. And while that idea sounds crazy now it must have been how things were decided before there was writing.

Much of what is passed down to us has been checked and doubled checked and so we feel capable of believing it. But we are so used to believing it that we no longer actually bother to check.

Just think about the number of things that you use in a day that you don’t understand. I mean I know how a phone works in principal but could I actually make one? Right now I’m writing this post on a mobile phone and I’m going to send it in a while as an e-mail which I’ll then post onto the internet. There’s a lot of technologies right there. Not even considering the way they generated the electricity, mined the metal, shaped the plastic, extracted the oil for the plastic. And so on and on.

The day that one person couldn’t know everything was the day we needed a new solution. And writing was it. But the danger has been from the start: what if what you’re reading isn’t true?

2 thoughts on “The Truth Hurts

  1. Nick Ollivère says:

    I’ve been thinking about the importance of stories too. They are (I think) some of the first texts that we have, but they are also the basics of every single conversation happening every day. The question ‘how are you?’ demands a story. You don’t tell the bare facts, you elaborate it, perhaps only a little bit, but still enough.Also, I don’t think there was a point where one person knew everything. I think we’ve been a communal animal from conception, or pretty near it. We’ve always lived in a tribe and depended on other people to help us, to tell us facts: ‘there’s a fruit tree over there’; ‘a lion lives in that cave’.

  2. Alex Andronov says:

    You’re right of course.I was thinking of things like how to make pointy sticks and fire which might be known by the tribal elder. And although another tribe might not know that information they wouldn’t have existed as far as you’re concerned so one person knows everything.But as you rightly point out the more mundane non-invention aspect of stories would have been distributed throughout the group. And mundane rapidly becomes important when it concerns lions.

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