Truth Be Told...
Recently, an enlightened peer constructed a piece on Wikipedia and the inherent lack of truth presented by the online giant. As always, it was well written and, from an academic standpoint, I agree with much of what was presented. But, after spending time away from academia, I have found that the disconnect between the masses and the learned individuals has become so large that there seems to be separate languages used by each. This isn't anything new to our little spinning rock, but when speaking about Wikipedia and the almighty Truth, this gap becomes troublesome, to say the least.
"Education is the kindling of the flame, not the filling of the vessel." - Socrates
The good people of "back in the day" used to gather from miles around to hear Socrates speak AND to speak to him. He was a firm believer in this mode of educating, the dialectical method, in which two persons with opposing viewpoints met on an equal field and duked it out intellectually. This method did two things. It allowed the purveying of knowledge through discussion, and it leveled the playing field between those in the know and those who wanted to know.
You see, communication is the grand equalizer when it comes to absorbing knowledge and Socrates understood this. He could have easily placed himself above the crowd and rained down high level rhetoric upon the people and, in time, they may have picked up what he was laying down, but it would be fragmented knowledge, incomplete in its knowing. Instead, he chose to lead them to the knowledge in their own way.
There can be no doubt that Socrates was one of the greatest minds of his time. There can be no doubting this. By no means am I placing him among average. In fact, I'm placing him far above, for he understood humanity in a way that seems lost to our culture. Socrates understood that humanity yearns for knowledge, and that this yearning goes far beyond the carnal hungers of our species, it is a survival instinct.
Giving someone knowledge is meaningless, as it will probably be regurgitated once and forgotten. Allowing someone to discover the knowledge in their own terms is true learning, for that knowledge becomes part of a skill set, a muscle response, an archived entry.
"Wonder is the beginning of wisdom." - Socrates
Think back to your schooling. How many moments in your education played out this way? Not many? Me either. Our current way of educating is based purely on regurgitation over a limited period of time, not the true gaining of knowledge, or inspiration to the same end. This is because there is no true discussion going on in our classrooms anymore. There is no talking, just telling.
If there is no real discussion happening in the schools then our students are missing out on two very key, intellectual survival skills. The first is the basic knowledge. Without the sense of discovery, there is no retention, hence no real knowledge base. Second, without the ability to communicate their way to a discovery, our students lack the skill to even obtain the knowledge on their own. Here is where the gap begins to form.
If our main method of gathering knowledge is flawed beyond measure, but the yearning for it still exists, our students have to look elsewhere in order to fill this need.
The first place to look is the environment that surrounds them. Unfortunately, what surrounds them is a collection of persons who come from the same failing system that they are currently in. No help there.
Realizing that the people surrounding them are not going to slate this thirst, they reach out to a knowledge base set in proverbial stone, the book. This is the tolling of the division bell. For those incapable of accessing the academic nature of the writing, one glance is enough to turn them off to the idea of learning anything from these pages. For those who have been raised by the written word, these pages hold the spark that ignites the flame of understanding and knowledge. One of these students pursues the academic route, while the other uses mass media to gain knowledge...and the gap widens.
"Prefer knowledge to wealth, for one is transitory, the other perpetual." - Socrates
What happens when these two students meet in the "real" world? Frustration. Even though both have pursued knowledge in their own way, they are still missing one key ingredient, the ability to purvey this knowledge to each other, for they approach truths in a much different light.
One has become so enthralled with the presentation of his/her truth, that they have forgotten to pursue every thread of it, while the other is so consumed with hunting down every thread of truth, they have forgotten how to make it accessible. What ensues is a battle of egos, not a purveying of knowledge in any way. What gets lost is a sense of any truth or continuity of knowledge...and the gap widens.
"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." - Socrates
Now, we can't go much further in our discussion without talking about what truth is, or how we stumble upon it.
For me, truth is a very personal description of the world, and it is constantly evolving. Take spirituality for instance. There are endless versions of truth in the spiritual realm, all held up by zero evidence and a massive amount of faith. Some would say that the root of this faith, a desire for an answer to all questions, is the truth. There are those who would tell them to shut their pie-hole because they find peace and happiness in their faith.
If both were to give an honest assessment of one another, they would find they have no idea what truth is, and it scares the hell out of them, hence their manufactured truths.
We yearn for knowledge at all times, even if that knowledge is not yet within our grasp, or even if it doesn't exist at all. When we don't find what we are looking for, we begin to piece together a truth that fits what we want to believe. Ever heard of the phrase, "history is written by the victor?" Yea, that is some serious truth manufacturing.
For instance, we "learn" about the glorious American Revolution and all the amazing patriots that fathered our country in school, whilst skimming over the demolition of an entire culture. We condemn Hitler for being a monster whilst hiding the fact our country was built upon similar circumstances. We praise the glory of a god whilst shying away from the millions murdered in his name. The truth is fun, is it not?
"I can not teach anybody anything. I can only make them think." - Socrates
Enter, Wikipedia. At its very essence, Wikipedia is a massive library of knowledge written by all the peoples of the world, and maintained by a small few, the scribes of their time. These few people are not the gods of our collective knowledge, they are merely the bridge. They maintain our modern day Socrates.
Wikipedia works to bridge the gaps left by our lack of education and our misconstrued truths, by presenting the knowledge in a unbiased way, and as true as can possible be. Are they able to accomplish this in every entry? Of course not, but they still represent an effort to unite humanity under one pursuit of knowledge. They do this by igniting that flame that Socrates spoke of, that hunger for knowledge.
Take, for instance, these three distinct web entries on truth:
"Truth - is a relation which holds (1) between the knower and the known - Logical truth; (2) between the knower and the outward expression which he gives to his knowledge - Moral Truth; and (3) between the thing itself, as it exists, and the idea of it, as conceived by God - Ontological truth. In each case this relation is, according to the Scholastic theory, one of correspondence." - newadvent.org
"Truth - (1) Antidote to fear; (2) The truth is like a lingering fart...everyone can smell it, everyone knows it is there, but no one wants to admit it; (3) Something which would probably upset a great many people if it were known and made public; (4) Facts that piss people off; etc, etc, etc. - Urban Dictionary
"Truth is most often used to mean in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.
The opposite of truth is falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also take on a logical, factual, or ethical meaning. The concept of truth is discussed and debated in several contexts, including philosophy and religion. Many human activities depend upon the concept, which is assumed rather than a subject of discussion, including science, law, and everyday life.
Various theories and views of truth continue to be debated among scholars and philosophers. Language and words are a means by which humans convey information to one another and the method used to recognize a 'truth' is termed a criterion of truth. There are differing claims on such questions as what constitutes truth: what things are truthbearers, capable of being true or false; how to define and identify truth; the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play; and whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute." - Wikipedia
When I look at the first two entries, I see the gap again. I see a dogmatic rendition of the truth, unwavering in its conviction and I see a humorous attempt at defining an itch that can never be scratched. When I read through the Wikipedia entry, I see Socrates legacy. I see a kindling of the flame, an invitation to a wealth of knowledge, and a world speaking the same language. I see unity, understanding, and peace through both. I see our future.
Mayhap it is time we stop worrying about the source of all knowledge and truth, and we start encouraging the journey to both.