Beginning the Search for Truth
This page is merely a possible account of what lead me to the absolute starting point for the focus of this site, just as a segue into my formal system of thoughts on Truth. It is not a support for my formal system, just an orientation to help the reader find some bearings for what is to come.
In the beginning there is reflection discovering itself. Reflecting on my past I saw that sometimes I would reflect but other times I would simply act or be acted upon without reflection. This latter mode appears to be much more common in my everyday operations. I would usually perform tasks and assess things without the need of conscious reflection, and so reflection stands out from these other modes of action and passivity. When reflection looks at itself it sees a mental process that examines thoughts and experiences before the conscious mind, a bringing of thoughts or experiences to conscious awareness.
Reflecting on my past, I remember myself reflecting on various things at certain times throughout my life almost as far back as I can remember. I remember reflecting on dreams that I had had, and experiences I had had, and things I was taught even as a little kid. Thinking back now about its frequency and prominence in my life, reflection seems to me to be a normal action in my everyday life.
Continuing my reflection on my past, I remember events peppered throughout my life when I seemed to be making use of a notion of Truth. Most of these consisted of unreflective action. I would often use a notion of Truth but I would not be consciously aware of what I was using. I recall having an understanding of deception, arguments over whether another child was lying or not, realizations of make-believe characters not existing, recognition of errors and a concept of accuracy, being struck by discrepancies between accounts, questions of where an object was located, and so on. Eventually I was inquiring into whether religious beliefs were true, what the right action to choose was, what happened in the very distant past, what would happen in the very distant future, what would happen in various hypothetical scientific scenarios, and so on. At some point I was explicitly asking myself, "What is true?" Not only was I continuously making use of this concept, but I recall others seeming to make use of the same concept in their everyday lives, and it was my unquestioned understanding that they actually were. After all, other people would use words like "Truth", "reality", "fact", "accurate", "right" in contexts that made sense with the same meaning I was using. My recollection is that the language, actions, behaviors, contexts, were often consistent with my understanding of the concept of Truth, whether in hearing different people make arguments in court, questioning the validity of a rumor at work, or in reading a textbook on science, religion, or history, etc.
Therefore, reflection on my past suggests to me that I have always made use of a notion of Truth in my everyday life, so have the people around me, and that, to some degree in some respects, I have always sought Truth. I would seek the answers to my questions, to see if I had the amount of money in my wallet as I thought I did, to find out if someone said something about me that I heard they did, whether a particular action was right or wrong, whether something happened like I remembered it, and so on. Questions of Truth appear to stand out in my memories of both my practical actions of everyday life as well as in the construction of my underlying abstract structural backdrop for the world that establishes meaning and understanding, which was also an action of my everyday life. Such questions seem to be involved in my recollections of my cultural and social exchanges in general. I can recall on an average day as readily switching between wondering if I heard someone say what I thought they said as to wondering if there was a ghost in the room with me.
In addition, reflection on my past also reveals that this concept of Truth had a certain cultural importance placed on it, so that not only did the culture treat it as valuable, but my experiences and interactions with other people in general seemed to be consistent with this. Truth was generally treated in the culture as having value, as something to be sought. A belief that was true was treated, often even unconsciously, just as a matter of course, as having more value than a belief that was not true. Distinctions were made between fiction and nonfiction, make-believe and reality, truth and falsehood. People would exert effort and resources in an attempt to answer personal questions and satiate curiosities. There was often indignation when someone would be presented with something untrue if it was presented as being true. It just seemed to be a common virtue of my particular culture to value the true over the false, and it was generally accepted that believing what is true is superior to believing what is not true, and people usually acted accordingly, unless someone intended to use claims of truth to manipulate someone else for their own benefit. According to my memory, I unconsciously accepted this value from very early on, and I actively sought the truth, just like the people around me seem to have done.
In relation to this cultural value on truth, through reflection I recognized a use of the concept of justification. Because the truth was taken to have more value than the false, in order to distinguish the true from the false there were processes of thought that were treated as indicators of the truth. Justification was unconsciously treated as both a personal and social tool to indicate something was true, and was also often intentionally used as a tool to get other people to accept a particular belief as true, whether it was or not. In other words, the culture just blindly accepted justification as a way to distinguish the true from the false, individuals seemed to blindly use justification as a way to distinguish the true from the false, but it was sometimes used intentionally as a way to manipulate the beliefs of others. If another child told an unbelievable tale, my incredulous attitude would elicit some response about why his tale should be believed. Some people cited authorities, lawyers used evidence and arguments, Christians spoke of miracles, science teachers spoke of experiments, peers spoke of witnesses to particular events, etc. This use of justification, as a way of authoritatively saying "this belief should be accepted as true because it is justified," almost as if it were the command of an authority (like the law, a parent, morality, or God), was commonplace, in one form or another, whether more or less sophisticated, throughout my ordinary experiences in life ever since early childhood.
Reflection also helps me recall particular instances when my search for Truth was intensified. If I believed something to be the case and told other people that it was the case but subsequently discovered that what I originally believed was not the case, I would be embarrassed and frustrated with how easily I could be so certain of something's being true when it was not true. Or sometimes I would hear authorities on a subject (authorities being understood as people who are considered by a community to be more aware of what is true and false in a particular area) and I would hear one authority claim one thing to be true and another authority asserting the first claim was not true. These "problems" I would encounter dealing with what was True even with so-called authorities would encourage a deeper reflection on Truth and justification themselves.
So reflection on my past shows me that my culture provided a notion of Truth, treated this notion of truth as having importance and value, and treated justification as an indicator of Truth, but also that all of these things were actively used by myself and others in our ordinary lives. Whether this account provided by reflection is accurate or not this is the apparent and supposed origin and historical starting point of my quest for Truth.
Reflection on my past also made me notice some other things. Having reflected on my own thoughts and thinking processes over a very long period of time, I eventually made an observation about all the thoughts and experiences that I had been reflecting on. I observed that I could have a particular thought or experience, for example, I might have had a thought about a circle. I observed that I could not have a particular thought or experience; for example, reflecting back on particular times I did not recall thinking about a circle. The first state was positive in the sense that I was thinking about or experiencing a circle. The second state was negative in the sense that I was not thinking about or experiencing a circle. There was, as it were, a presence of a circle in the former, and there was not a presence of a circle in the latter.
But I also observed that I never, at the same time, both had a thought and also didn't have that thought, for example, in my reflection I never recalled both thinking of a circle while also not thinking of a circle. Another way to put this is that I observed that I never had a thought or experience that was both positive and negative in the same respect, or in other words, I never had a thought or experience that was both present and not present at the same time.
I began to look at my present thoughts and see if I could make myself have a thought and not have it at the same time, but I could never make myself do both at the same time. I began to look at my experience as well and it appeared that I would either have a particular experience or not have it, but I don't ever recall, either in my past or in analyzing my present experience, both having a particular experience and not having it at the same time. It now stands in my mind merely as an observation to make of any and every thought or experience I have to see if it is the case in each particular case or not, merely as an addition characteristic of my thoughts to reflect on.
Since reflection showed me that I was seeking Truth, seeking Truth gradually became more and more a conscious effort. Reflecting on my past efforts to find the Truth, most of them have been unreflective actions, and did not satisfy my desire or curiosity for the Truth. Reflection on justifications, the large number of them, their conflicting conclusions, the rejection by some people of particular justifications, how justifications applied to themselves and how they related to Truth were all problems that intensified my search and encouraged further reflection. This is what appears to have lead me to my formal inquiry.
In this whole process reflection was often itself an action focused on other thoughts but not consciously aware of itself, but sometimes it did become reflexive and take itself as an object to bring before consciousness. Eventually reflection on reflection itself began to highlight distinctions, notice details, recognize correlations, and make discoveries. Finding itself as a type of action but a unique type of action in its bringing things explicitly before consciousness and in the products it would yield, reflection revealed its relation to a type of conscious understanding. Thinking back, reflection increased conscious understanding, revealed facts to consciousness, and lead to recognition of problems and ideas on how to correct them. In short, reflection makes it appear that in my past experience, the more aspects of a situation that I would reflect on, the better my conscious understanding of that situation, and the more details, problems, and possible solutions were arrived at. Whether this account provided by reflection is accurate or not, reflection makes it appear to me that reflection is a natural part of my life, that the more aspects of a memory or experience that I reflect on the more remember or learn about that memory or experience, and because I am seeking Truth, my reason encourages me to reflect on as many aspects of my experiences, memory, and reflection itself in order to learn the most about Truth and what I am doing when I think about it. Whether reflection is providing me with accurate data or not, this is where I start: seeking Truth and reflecting on as much as possible.
I begin my formal inquiry into Truth with reflective awareness, so that it is not mere unreflective action as it has been for most of previous life. I will reflect on my process of seeking Truth while observing if I ever have a thought or experience that is both present and not present at the same time.
I seek to have true beliefs. Because I am actively seeking to have true beliefs, I cannot be satisfied with just considering a thought that happens to be true. I cannot be satisfied with having true beliefs but not being aware that they are true, to me they would just be my beliefs. No, I want to know which beliefs are true so those will be the beliefs I will be sure to hold.
This is where my formal thoughts begin. Discovering Truth, so I can hold true beliefs, is the underlying intention behind my thoughts, actions, and inquiries. Having this guiding intention will frame and focus the potential thought processes I will engage in, and thereby limit which thoughts I will consider.