Friday, November 16, 2007

This is the truth about truth

... or is it?

Can anyone ever know what is true?

My research planning/thesis-writing has just collided with my outside-work reading-for-interest, although it has to be said that the reading-for-interest has been going on for some years. Brian Magee's book of interviews with experts "The great philosophers" is fascinating but requires some mental application, but so far I have managed to glean that identifying the truth (and, indeed, whether that is possible) is an important theme in philosophy. And my two main research methodology books (Robson's "Real World Research" which also makes a handy doorstop or stepping stool, and "Essential Skills for Management Research", ed. Partington) both start with discussions of truth, positivism, realism, empiricism etc. Researcher reflexivity and bias are key themes throughout the book.

The more I think about this, the more interesting it is. What can we ever really know? What if the world really is all an illusion? And even if we assume, for the purpose of everyday living without having to work out if this chair really is here, whether it isn't here if I'm not, and as for that tree that falls in a forest when no-one is there.... well anyway, how can I ever know which of two embattled friends' versions of "the truth" of a situation is actually true? Are the findings I'm drawing from my research true? And what about my interpretations of other researchers' findings? Is my understanding of what they've written close to what they meant me to understand?

It seems to me that the more I think about this, the less sure of the truth of any non-trivial fact I become, just as the more I learn about anything the more I realise I don't know. Which could get you down, and certainly it can be annoying at times. But mostly, it just makes the world a more fascinating place to think about. However, I am running out of patience with those that assure me they are telling "the truth", because it seems to me they often just can't have thought it through.

And that's the truth.