How do I know if something is true?
Well, I first have to believe it. Can I think that something is true without believing in it? For example, let’s imagine that it is snowing right now. How might I choose to believe that it is not? Well I could stay inside, close my blinds, not check the weather or talk about it with anyone else. Basically be in a state of ignorance. However, the moment that I become aware, for example if I go outside and see fluffy white snowflakes land gently on my skin, then I can no longer believe that it is not snowing.
What is true for me is because I believe it to be true. Without my belief, it is not true.
However, everything that I believe is not necessarily true.
This is where I can get in trouble. I believe that the stock market will go up. I believe that I cannot get covid. I believe that climate change will continue to have detrimental impacts on our environment. I believe that my products are better than those of my competitors. I believe that the results of the US election are not clear. I believe that we are in a mental health crisis. I believe that all humans are fundamentally good at our core.
These are a collection of beliefs, some that are true, some that are not. Yet my mind can make them all true for me, in my life, in this moment, if I choose to believe them. It all happens in my mind. Outside forces, people and my environment no doubt influence me however my mind is ultimately in the driver’s seat. It decides what I believe to be true, even though it may not be.
My journey through life is a search for the truth.
A search for the truth that requires a strong relationship with my mind, as otherwise I am victim to the whims of what my mind may decide to believe or not believe.
This journey is also one of experimentation. It begins with awareness of what it is that I believe, and then is followed by a curiosity to try and uncover whether my belief is true or not.
There are a few ways to uncover if my belief is true or not.
The best way is to experiment for myself. This gives me first-hand evidence and experience, and the opportunity to learn. To learn is to grow. For example, I believe that I can cook thai food, that I can be comfortable in a challenging yoga pose and that my clients will value my new product. The best way for me to uncover if my beliefs are the truth is to action them. I put the effort forward, without attachment to what may come of it, as my mindset is one of curiosity. “Is this true?”.
Another way is for me to wait and give space to the belief. For example, I believe that a covid vaccine will be effective and that the majority of people will take it. All I can do is wait to see if this belief will become true. There is not much else for me to do at this moment.
Yet another way is to survey and tap into the knowledge or experience of other people known to me. For example, I believe that it could be a lot of fun to go snowshoeing in the winter but have not done so as an adult, only as a child. I could ask friends who have, to uncover if this belief has been true for them. I still would not know though if this is true for me until I actually do it. More importantly, I would not realize the benefits of this belief until I actually do it.
There is another way, which is unhelpful and harmful. It is when I get lazy. When I believe something to be true simply because it appears as though others mostly do.
Just because others believe it to be true does not make it true.
The mystical “they” that is often spoken of and referenced. “They say that…”. “They believe that if you…”. This is a dangerous method to uncover if a belief is true, as it becomes easy to fall victim to living under a veil of ignorance. We can look to online bullying, cancel culture, political extremism and terrorist groups to find examples where group-think can lead to a misguided conviction behind a belief, which then leads to harmful and detrimental choices and actions.
One way to mitigate the risk of blindly following a commonly held belief, that may or may not be true, is to take a moment to pause, and to ask myself, “do I believe this to be true?”. Not what the media tells me. Not what social feeds tell me or even what friends tell me. What do I actually believe? The answer may be that I do believe it to be true, which is fine. It may be that I do not believe it to be true, which should also be fine. Or the answer may be that “I don’t know”. And these might just be the three most powerful words that I can say to myself.
“I don’t know” is where my search for the truth begins.
Philosophy was originally defined as “the love of wisdom”.
I believe that wisdom is the ideal mixture of two ingredients: knowledge and experience. Knowledge alone (without practice) is but an intellectual game or exercise and does not result in wisdom. Experience alone (without awareness or attention) does not expose the deeper benefits. Knowledge and experience together cultivates wisdom. And if philosophy is to love wisdom, then it is to love knowledge (learning) and experience (growth).
Physics originates from philosophy. I find this fascinating.
Science was born from philosophy, as a process to prove wisdom.
Like this, we are all philosophers, developing beliefs from our own knowledge and experience, and we are all scientists, when we see everything as an experiment designed to help us uncover the truth.