Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Truth (?)

Originally posted on August 28, 2017

Can something be true but not the whole truth? Forgive my fooling with what seems to be cut and dried, but by no means am I alone in this question. First, some history:


I became intrigued with propaganda in my early teens, in the early 1950s. Propaganda was a bad word, I knew that. That our side—the good guys—used it was intriguing, and discovered later. The Nazis use propaganda, but we used education, advertisement, public affairs. I soon learned that what one called one’s efforts colored them for the unsuspecting public. It’s good to educate, it’s bad to use propaganda. But they are the same process! You can use words to make something seem good or bad! It depends on the emotional coloring of the words.

That words can make things seem good or bad was a revelation. There were lots of other techniques that could make “truth” even better, while the other point of view was laced with “lies,” that everyone knows are “bad.” Semantics, too, appealed to me. Hyakawa’s Language in Thought and Action was a key text in my development.


This led to epistemology, which is the study of how do we “know” what we think we know? There are a variety of approaches here, from thinking about hallucinations and delusions to real questions about knowledge of non-concrete and widely agreed upon facts.

Can things be true at one level and either not true at another level, or perhaps not the “whole” truth? The philosophical issues that make something true as far as that goes, or true at a certain level, appeal to the human instinct that sees simply, black or white. The tests that ask, true or false, seem direct: They’re only trying to help you to think straight. But “truth” at one level may not be so true at a higher level of abstraction—though many people have trouble even realizing that there are such things as levels of abstraction. Direct and simple implies virtue, but it also implies that things can be made direct and simple, whereas in fact situations are often not that clear-cut. But people don’t want to hear that—it makes them think harder that people really want to.

We must pause and recognize that simplicity is not necessarily a virtue, though it is presented as such. The idea that there is only one level of truth is appealing. Simplicity seems true until you think about it, and so do dreams while you’re in dreaming sleep. The operative word is “seems.”

Indeed, things are not always what they seem, and if nothing else this tends to be obscured. Might the discrepancies be plentiful enough and we unconsciously minimize how many things might be operating?  Well, just to be out front about my poor mind and its struggles, there it is.

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