On truth, memories, stories, and perception
Lately I've been speaking with a few folks about the meaning of the word "truth". Usually whenever Linc and I fight, I seem to have a different memory of what I thought I did versus what he thought I did. It is one thing to not remember (aka short-term memory loss - subject for another discussion - I blame technology for diminishing our need to remember things). It is another thing to actually believe, or remember, that so-and-so happened. If two people remember the same incident differently, does that mean one person is wrong and the other is right? Does that mean both of us are wrong/right? Or that humans are incapable of telling the truth. Because at the end truth is merely a perception of our "take" on the experience.
When we go through our daily lives doing whatever it is we do, the very moment when we are experiencing the present is when we are experiencing the truth. Once that moment becomes the past, it gets recorded in our minds as memories. Everyone remember different things from that moment for various reasons:
(1) We remember what we perceive happened. Perception != truth.
(2) We remember what we want to remember. What we want to remember can be heavily influenced by conscious or subconscious goals.
(3) We remember what we are capable of remembering. Some of us, like me, rely so heavily on gadgets to help remember so my ability to actually remember may be far inferior than others.
As such, the truth can never be told. It can only be experienced. When we tell a story of something that happened in the past, that story is always partially true at best. Is partially true == false?
Some time ago I remember watching a slow-building, heavy on the drama Hong Kong movie. The name escapes me. In in was a little boy who went around taking pictures with an old skool 35mm. His life was pretty crappy. The usual portrayal of family problems interlaced with cultural expectations. Anyhoo, the kid said (and I may very well be paraphrasing this) "If people can only see what is in front of them, does that mean they can only see half of the truth?" He proceeded to go around taking pictures of the back of people's heads in the movie.
So why is it that I am thinking so much about the concept of the truth, story telling, memories, and what this all means? Two reasons.
(1) When I left South Africa, I came away with a memory. It kicked ass. But as time goes by I begin to wonder why it kicked ass. I wrote a lot during the trip because I wanted to remember the little details. Presumably this is a common behaviour amongst travelers. I read my blog posts a lot. I looked at the pictures from the trip a lot. And for a long time I felt like I spent most of my present trying to remember the past. This is probably a common symptom of vacation withdrawal. The documentary, A Map for Saturday, touched on it a bit. What I find really fascinating, however, is the things I remembered most vividly are the things I didn't write about and didn't take pictures. In those moments I remembered making a conscious effort to remember every little details because I knew I didn't have a camera to fall back on and they were too special to share with the world. I am curious about how my memories work and how it affects happiness.
(2) The society I live in puts a strong correlation between the concept of truth versus the concept of trust and rationality. I wonder how people can trust one another if everyone ultimately is a liar. I personally can trust someone or something without regards for truth, but I do rely heavily on rationality. If my perception of truth (i.e. lie) influence my view on rationality, perhaps I should think about believing in irrationality? What grounds do I have for making decisions now? Kyle Cameron wrote an interesting insight on this.
Then I went to TED2010 and saw a talk by Daniel Kahneman about behavioural economics. He spoke about the differences between the "experiencing self" and the "remembering self". In one part he asked: imagine that for your next vacation, all your pictures are destroyed and you get your memories erased, would you choose the same vacation?
Would I? I am planning my next big trip back to Africa right now and I can't help but ask myself that question. What is more important to me? That I go somewhere and come back with a story, a memory, a blog, a lot of pictures? Or that I go somewhere to simply experience. Though these don't seem to be mutually exclusive, one probably trumps another. What would you choose?