Truth (was Re: far too many thoughts etc)

minnow at minnow at
Mon Feb 23 18:02:36 EST 2004

Robyn replied to me

>>If there is infallible truth-drug available it generally plays hob with
>>false accusations, so one just has to build a plot without those.  Mercedes
>>Lackey has to cope with this after her invention of the "Truth Spell" in
>>Valdemar, whereby Heralds can always get the truth from a witness; and Lois
>>McMaster Bujold in the Vorkosegan books does a rather good job of pointing
>>out how difficult it can be to ask the right questions to arrive at the
>>truth even when someone *is* compelled not to speak a word of a lie.
>Bujold clearly holds this as an article of faith. It's expressed in a
>different way in Curse of Chalion, where there's a saint who can tell
>(sometimes) whether people are telling the truth. He says "it's not as
>useful as you might think." I think this is an excellent example of why
>Bujold is such a good writer - she thinks about complexity in interesting ways.

She seems to have grasped the idea beyond being able to find out what
people say is truth; that they may devoutly and genuinely believe something
to be true ("There is a God" down through to "it was a yellow car") and
simply be mistaken.  Any policeman who has to listen to evidence given in
court about any Road Traffic Incident knows that whilst most if not all of
the witnesses don't actively mean to tell *lies*, they may get such things
as the direction in which the vehicles were facing, their colours, the
number of vehicles on the scene, the distances from one place to another,
and who arrived first, simply wrong, demonstrably wrong, and yet be sure
that they are telling the truth about what they saw.

In other words, she has noticed that truth and fact and belief may get very
muddled in people's minds, to the point at which believing something makes
it true *for that person* -- and thus makes that person useless as a
witness to fact.

This is something it would be wonderful if more people noticed.  "I believe
this sincerely" means just that and no more: it doesn't make it fact.


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