What is true?
This is an excerpt from Torbjörn Sjöström’s opening speech during Almedagsveckan on the big PR day. Where the theme was truth.
What is true? On the importance of understanding that authority bubbles, alternative truths and the difference between collective and empirical truth.
Knowledge according to Plato is: Beliefs that are both true and one has good reason to believe.
In order to gain knowledge, it must be based on truth.
What then is truth?
In the 16th century, it was true that the sun revolves around the earth. It was something that had been true since the time of Aristotle. There were a lot of problems with a calendar that refused to be stable.
Copernicus figured out what happened, but it was quite politically infected, so an alternative truth only came after his death.
Interestingly, there was an ancient Greek, Aristarchus who realized that it must be the earth that revolved around the sun. But he did not have as many followers as Aristotle. Aristotle’s worldview and not the heliocentric one became the prevailing truth.
It is the collective truth that prevails. Back to Plato’s definition of knowledge, what many believe in, one has a good reasons to believe in. The empirical truth may well be eclipsed, like the heliocentric where the empirical deviated from the collective truth for 1800 years.
Because it is certainly not the case that the truth needs to be the empirical truth. It’s really about authorities bringing followers who believe in the authority’s truth and trust the authority’s knowledge.
Now almost 2200 years after Aristarchus’s loss, we have a situation where we lack common authorities.
It’s not about filter bubbles that are so popular to talk about, but the lack of common authorities.
We have authority bubbles building their alternative truths.
There are many examples of companies that miss this clash of truths. SCA, which earned several billion in the quarter when the scandals surrounding the CEO’s debauchery were reported on. The board saw an extremely profitable company where a few million were miscalculated money and acted accordingly. But the collective truth which i.a. Pension company owners reacted to the fact that it rolled millions. A simplified picture of course. But the board failed to follow the collective truth and stuck to its internal financial truth.
Nowadays it is even more difficult.
When identity politics is embedded in everything in the public space, you risk creating an exclusion through inclusion. Elevate Kakan as an ambassador for Audi, and all of a sudden existing customers get angry because they don’t think all cops are idiots.
In the long term, we need to build common authorities that can agree on a truth and focus on where to go based on it. That can only be done through good journalism that focuses on knowledge and truth. I’ve really looked for other possible solutions, but can’t find any.
In the short term, everyone must understand that there are now many different truths and you have to be careful not to end up in a “culture war” when you really just wanted to appear good and inclusive.
The beauty is that the answer to follow this is simple: Good surveys.
The more fragmented society is with different truths, the more important it is to understand and examine the different truths that exist, so you don’t get lost. It is possible if you are smart to be inclusive without excluding. But it’s extremely easy to get lost if you don’t do your homework.