What is Truth?

Lewis Harrison explores, “You Can’t Handle the Truth”

I awoke about 3:00 am this morning asking myself questions about truth and the distinction between what is truth or fiction? Sometimes this happens – I awake with just a few hours of sleep with some questions bouncing around my head. When this happens, going back to sleep or meditating is a lost cause. The only solution is to “dive” into the question. “is there a naked truth, an undisputed truth?”.

As I thought about the idea of truth that line from the play and movie “A Few Good Men” came I to my mind. The one where Jack Nicholson yells, “You can’t the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

Today Sunday, is a day when many of us express our faith either formally in some house of worship or in some personal way. The idea of faith which is a hope for the truth is closely tied to the idea that one can actually know what is true.


Here are some of my thoughts on this.

It seems that as knowledge and expertise increase, creativity and innovative thinking seem to drop off. There are many reason why this happens but one of the main ones is that once you systematize your world view and the patterns that form out of that a hidden type of arrogance forms where it is hard for a person to believe that they do not know as much about what they think they know and they think they do.

A belief that one knows what is true or “so” is likely to breed arrogance. After all once one achieves expertise in a particular subject, it’s is natural to imagine not knowing what you do. In time one develops a specialized language unique to this level of expertise including various catch phrases, cliché’s and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to achieve a specific goal an expert is likely to achieve that goal the way it has always been done effectively. In a corporate environment this is often know as applying “best practices”. Unfortunately the down side of this way of thinking is that it stifles innovation and does not address the issue of new technologies and new ways of thinking

Any innovative thinker is cursed by their knowledge. On one level they can tap into wisdom and knowledge not available to most. On the other hand they can’t even conceive of what it might be like to be as ignorant as the mass of ordinary people.

How does one transcend this dilemma?

To begin with one must create a support system of experts from different disciplines. This can include individuals with highly creative and expansive minds who might even have done work in a related but different field, and who is not in a hierarchal or competitive environment of which you are a part.  You definitely do not want someone in this group who can gain or lose any benefit by agreeing or disagreeing with your ideas.

In this creative environment new types of “common language” that dissolve entrenched and ineffective specialized language will come into being. After all you can’t innovate in a group if everyone is speaking a different abstract language of specialization and expertise.  Part of this support system needs to be creative and artistic individuals whose only purpose is to keep these innovators track. This “outsider factor” forces the group of innovators to observe their reality from a new and different perspective. The result of this is new solutions to old problems and simple solutions to complex problems.

There are some very basic questions that will arise in any field of endeavor that will stump the experts.  Believing that you know the truth who worshipping your own expertise  is one of the great obstacles   to answering these questions

In my exploration of Applied Game Theory and in the Wisdom Path, my term for my daily spiritual practice, it is impossible to know any absolute truth intellectually.  This is not to say that there is no absolute truth, only that there is no way to come to it through a logical, deductive or inductive, left brain stream of thought. Among many great thinkers there is a trilemma (A difficult choice from three options, each of which is, or appears unacceptable or undesirable) .known as The Münchhausen trilemma (named after Baron Münchausen, a German Nobleman who told outrageous stories about his adventures including allegedly pulling himself and the horse on which he was sitting out of a swamp by his own hair).  Also known as Agrippa’s trilemma, this is a term used by philosophers and mathematicians to point out the purported impossibility of proving any truth even in the fields of logic and mathematics.

Imagine that a person states that something is “true”. I may then ask “How do you know that it’s true?” The person may then respond with some proof or evidence that it is in fact true.  Yet that same question can be asked of the fact or proof, and any subsequent proof. As I stated, the Münchhausen trilemma is that there are only three options when providing proof in this situation:.

  • Circular      Arguments – Here a theory and proof support each other (i.e. we repeat      ourselves at some point)
  • Regressive      Arguments – Here each proof requires a further proof, ad infinitum ad (i.e.      we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
  • Axiomatic      Arguments – Here you must question even that which appears to be obvious,      self evident, unquestionable or based on accepted precepts (i.e. we reach      some bedrock assumption or certainty)

The first two methods of reasoning are essentially flawed. As for the third, many great thinkers going back to the great Taoist and Zen teachers as well as the Greek skeptics have recommended deep questioning of all accepted values. The trilemma, then, is the decision among the three equally unsatisfying options.

Looking at this idea metaphorically as presented by the ancient Greek philosopher Agrippa we must deal to with following obstacles to logical ideas about truth and what is true:

  1. Dissent – The      uncertainty of the rules of common life, and of the opinions of      philosophers.
  2. Progress as ad infinitum      – All proof requires some further proof, and so on to infinity.
  3. Relation – All      things are changed as their relations become changed, or, as we look upon      them from different points of view.
  4. Assumption – The      truth asserted is merely a hypothesis.
  5. Circularity      – The truth asserted involves a vicious circle. Here you would say      something is “so” and then make a justification for it. However even the      justification requires a justification or support.  Thus any proposition of any form       can be endlessly (infinitely) questioned, much like a child asking      “why?” over and over again.


If these ideas get your mental juices flowing you might want to explore the following thinkers and ideas:

*Plato’s Third Man Argument

* Tarski’s Undefinability Theorem

* Godel’s incompleteness theorem

* Any Zen koan





Lewis Harrison is a pioneering speaker, success coach and practical philosopher specializing in human potential and personal development.  He is the creator of the “Ask Lewis…” Series of ebooks.


He created the system known as Lewis Harrison’s Applied Game Theory (LHAGT). This body of work is presented in  a 2,000 page manual offering  effective strategies for solving a multitude of basic and complex problems as well as exploring a wide range of disciplines.



He is the owner of  Events Chair Massage www.Eventschairmassage.com

Lewis conducts online training and coaching programs as well as residential retreats at the Harrison Center for Personal Development www.TheHarrisonCenter.com


His most recent book is “Spiritual, Not Religious: Sacred Tools for Modern Times

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