The Truth is There is no Truth

Roses are red, violets are blue, so I was taught in school, but what's it to you?

I noticed something about myself recently, which I imagine might not be quite so unique to me: whenever someone asks me a question and it's clear by the way that they ask it that I'm expected to have an answer (often, a solution to their problem), I'm able to come up with an answer. Those answers come in many forms and some are much more useful than others, but I seem to always have some sort of answer. When my younger brother asks for advice about his career, or someone who I coach at work asks what the appropriate next step is on a project, or a consulting client asks for my recommendation on how to optimize a workflow, I'm full of answers. But are they the "right" answers?

In these situations, it seems that the expectation creates both pressure to perform and is simultaneously empowering, creating a space to create something. That's poorly worded, I know, which is probably because I don't understand why it is well enough to articulate it. Regardless, the observation struck me like the Texas heat in August walking out of a well air-conditioned building.

I think there is a truth underlying this observation, which is that there really is no truth. We like to pretend we live in an objective reality - life is simpler that way - but with each day I learn that to be less and less accurate. Imagine trying to describe the color red to someone who is color blind or what it's like to fall in love to someone that's never experienced it. Those are on the end of the spectrum where the subjectivity of reality is easier to understand, but I would argue that this is also the case for just about everything in life. 

For example, let's look at providing career advice. I've spent plenty of mental compute cycles analyzing how to optimize my own career, so it's easy for me to talk about the actions I have taken which I perceive to have made a positive impact and recommend others replicate those, but in hindsight I really have no idea exactly which decisions and random events were truly causal in the "success" that I've had in my career. And even if what I perceive to be the things that caused my success, are indeed the things responsible for it, that doesn't mean the path that I took is the path. There are potentially infinite permutations of decisions that could have led me to this point. 

Which leads me to a question I've been pondering a lot lately: how do you know? There are many logical explanations for how things could work which are ultimately incorrect. You could work clear across the city of Houston, observe that the horizon never really changes, and come to the conclusion that the world is flat (you wouldn't be the first, or the last - sigh). Within the frame of understanding from that experience, your conclusion is perfectly logical, yet it is inaccurate. You might launch a new product that sells incredibly well and assume it's because you've created the best product on the market, when in reality how the product was marketed simply resonated with people looking to make a purchase. 

It seems that if the world more widely understood how much they don't know, particularly about cause and effect relationships, and that there are many, many more "right answers" than we think, we would all be a little better off. Maybe your truth is not everyone's truth; your way is not the way. 


1. Extrapolation from a single frame of reference is problematic.
2. Through testing, you can only disprove theories; you cannot completely prove something to be true. 


1. Long-term Capital Management (LTCM) figured out the "perfect" investment diversification strategy in the late 90s, which on paper could never fail, until they lost $4.6 Billion in four months and nearly destroyed the world's economy.
2. "Aether, a supposed medium permeating space that was thought to be the carrier of light waves" (Wikipedia) was a perfectly logical explanation in the 1800s, but later disproven with the Michelson-Morley experiment.
3. Swans, by definition, were white. Black swans were not real, until they were

Thought Experiments

1. There is a correlation between the number of bars and the number of churches in a given area. Is that because those who drink feel the need to repent? Could it be that those who are religious feel the need to drink to dull the guilt of their "sins?" Or maybe if there are more people in a given area, there are simply more bars and more churches to serve the larger population.

2. People at the gym seem to be more physically fit on average than the population at large. Is that because physically fit people enjoy gathering at such places or because spending time at the gym makes people physically fit? I would argue it's actually the former, a simple selection bias more than anything.

3. As an American, I understand physical locations based on a system of addresses which identifies (names) the streets. I refer to places by a sequenced number along the street of which they reside or the intersection of two streets (6th St. and Congress Ave.). The Japanese however, identify the block of land between streets, and think of the streets themselves simply as the space between blocks. Is one of those more correct than the other?

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