25 February, 2007

There is no truth.

Mass media is often criticized of being biased and of "not giving the full truth" or "not showing the whole picture". While it is true that information is being withheld or underreported or outright distorted, let's ask ourselves, is it even possible to provide the "complete truth"?

What is truth -- at least in the sense of accurate reporting of the events? If man A kills man B that is an event, right? And as a result of this event, man A is a killer and man B is a victim. Even if man A is an executioner and man B is a convicted criminal? And that even if man A serves a bloodthirsty dictatorship and B's crime was doubting the dictator's wisdom?

And so on and so forth, I'm sure everyone has seen similar logical chains elsewhere. My point is, it isn't possible to "accurately represent the facts", since there's always another layer to those facts. In the "man A kills man B" example above, the last step, about the dictatorship, certainly won't be reported by the dictator's newspapers. It probably won't be reported in other countries who support the dictatorship, and may not be reported at all -- if the dictatorship won't fail, who's going to call it that? And then, even if somebody does, others may not agree -- see Pinochet, for example... Or Saddam ;)

But there seems to be one more obstacle to the truth: according to the Gödel's incompleteness theorems, no matter how many "layers" -- points of view, motivations, etc. -- of the same event you include in the report, there always going to be a judgment, an idea or another point of view that can turn "good" guys into "bad" ones and vice versa.

So what does all this mean for us, the news readers? Should we stop reading news completely? That would be a possible solution, sure -- but our curiosity won't allow that. Besides, refusing information has to be unanimous, otherwise whoever still has the information takes advantage over those who doesn't. Which again is a solution, and that is probably actually happening, but can't we think of something else? If we read about as much layers as possible, can't we finally agree?

Well, no. But what we can do is to push the misunderstanding out into the domain where it doesn't matter much. That is, we won't get complete truth we can happily agree on, but if the argument is pushed from whether a billion of people should be killed or not, to, say, whether or not nuclear fusion is a viable global power source, then I think it would be good enough.

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