The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

by Brad on December 17, 2009

I’ve always been fascinated with “truth.” I used to think truth was about knowing lots of stuff, and I got pretty good at it. Business loved me, because I worked hard. My relationships, on the other hand, didn’t take to it so well. One day, still years ago, I realized (1) I knew less that I thought I knew, and (2) it didn’t matter that I knew less that I thought I knew. This opened a new exploration for me, into questions I came to find intriguing: (1) what is truth, anyway? (2) how do we know what we know, anyway? (3) how does “truth” change, depending on circumstances? Some people investigate this stuff for a living; they’re called epistemologists. I’m not one of those, but I do love the inquiry. Through it, I’ve come to know (and appreciate) that there’s no such thing as “absolute truth,” at least one that we mortals can apprehend.

The questions above don’t offer easy answers. They’re not like asking how to get to Seattle, or even why the sky is blue. Instead, these questions invite inquiry, reflection, conversation. We live in a society, however, that avoids such things, in favor of sound bites, quick fixes and productivity. I prefer to be a “disruptive influence” on that kind of value system.

When I look at my life journey, and my own inquiry into these questions, I notice that it grew in layers, each one more expansive than the previous, where truth was that which is:
written – literal, not open to question. Ex: fundamentalism. I don’t think I lived long, or well, in this frame.
proven – measured by looking at fragments. Ex: classical science. The source of my upbringing, and my guide for some 30 years of adult life.
experienced – personal & subjective. Ex: eastern philosophical thought. I always “knew” this was there, but denied it due to science upbringing.
co-created – relational & context-sensitive. Ex: quantum science. The study of quantum physics began my journey to new questions.
intuited – via faith, imagination, dreams, energy. Ex: spiritual thought. “Knowing without knowing” has become a huge opening in my life.

Looking back, I see how each level was its own self-contained system of “truth.” But I now also see how that same system of truth was its own self-imposed limitation, preventing me from expanding my world. Looking for-ward, I’m excited by the prospect that the layers continue, that the process, (of inquiry, reflection and conversation) holds the promise for me, and not the prospect of a result, an “ultimate truth.” Thirty years ago, no one could have convinced me I’d find such peace and intrigue in “not knowing.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Wendy kapp December 26, 2009 at 8:45 am

I heard an interesting quote 3 days ago and it has been tumbling around in my head ever since.. “Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment”, Rumi. Thanks for teasing out and separating the four ways we ‘collect’ truth because it helps me to think in pieces. I will use the exercise of listening in your newsletter to see how I listen and how I understand truth. At the Christmas dinner table, my son whose a senior in high school, joined the political conversation. (I know, not a good Christmas topic). He studies political economics and has a lot of ideas about how systems don’t work, etc. I was watched him try to speak his ideas into the conversation and saw my family try to crush and corral his comments in the guise of being older, knowing more. Simple comments like “what you don’t understand” and “where do you get your info from” trying to shut down the unfamiliar or uncomfortable thoughts. He did stop trying, but he was not convinced by their bullying. On the way home we talked about how important it is to keep your mind open to explore new ideas and not fall prey to common knowledge. I learn so much from my children.


Terri Lavery January 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I think your son’s experience at the christmas dinner table explains why we need him involved in political economics. He has the bravery, creativity and tenacity to make the changes we need! Bravo Wendy! xoxo


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