Throughout history, truth has preoccupied all disciplines and ways of thought, strongly correlated as it is with the principles that shape our collective sphere, such as trust, democracy, justice, and freedom. Today, all over the world, and particularly in the US, it is preoccupying people to the point of [healthy] obsession. In this Salon we discussed what truth looks like in different fields, from science to poetry, philosophy, design, and, yes, even journalism, and how the arts can offer alternative ways to unearth and tell the truth.
Among the many questions we tackled are: What is the relationship between reality and truth? Have facts really lost currency? When obfuscation—whether imposed or spontaneously provoked by historical circumstances—rules, what role can art play in guiding people toward truth? What are some great examples from photography, literature, or performance? How can fiction help? What can we learn from religion, and is there anything that we should instead unlearn? How has the digital sphere changed our connection with truth? Are digital media weapons for transparency, or do they contribute to the distortion of our collective grasp of truth? How can, and should, museums speak truth to power? Has truth gone the way of beauty; it now in the mind of the beholder?
This salon took place on March 27th, 2017.
Maria Popova is a reader and writer who writes about what she reads on Brain Pickings (brainpickings.org), which is included in The Library of Congress archive of culturally valuable materials. She has written for The New York Times, Wired UK, and The Atlantic, among others, and she is an MIT Fellow. She is on Twitter at @brainpicker.
Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is an Emmy-nominated journalist and a correspondent/producer for VICE on HBO. In 2015, he was featured on the Arabian Business power list of the planet’s 100 most influential young Arabs, and in 2012 he was featured on Forbes' “30 Under 30” list of “young disruptors, innovators and media entrepreneurs impatient to change the world.” Shihab-Eldin joined VICE from HuffPost Live, an award-winning online network he helped launch in 2012. There, he produced and hosted World Brief, a 30-minute interactive global news show averaging one million views a day. In 2010, Ahmed created, produced, and cohosted Al Jazeera English’s The Stream, an award-winning interactive talk show that earned him an Emmy nomination for Most Innovative Program in 2012.
Emily Parker is currently digital diplomacy advisor and Future Tense fellow at New America. She is the author of Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground, which tells the stories of Internet activists in China, Cuba, and Russia. Previously, Parker was a member of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s policy planning staff at the US Department of State, where she covered 21st-century statecraft, innovation, and technology. She was also a staff writer and editor for The Wall Street Journal and an editor at The New York Times.
Paul Boghossian is Silver Professor of Philosophy at New York University and Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is the director of the New York Institute of Philosophy and NYU’s Global Institute for Advanced Study. He was also Chair of Philosophy at NYU from 1994 to 2004. His research interests are primarily in epistemology, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language. He has written on a variety of topics, including color, rule following, eliminativism, naturalism, self-knowledge, a priori knowledge, analytic truth, realism, relativism, the aesthetics of music, and the concept of genocide.
Janna Levin, the Claire Tow Professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College, Columbia University, has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of space-time. She is also director of sciences at Pioneer Works. She is the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham Prize. She was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow. Her latest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, is the inside story on the discovery of the century: the sound of space-time ringing from the collision of two black holes over a billion years ago.
SOME THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Clifford, William, The Ethics of Belief, Contemporary Review, 29 (December 1876–May 1877)
Ellul, Jacques, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes,(January 12, 1973)
Ingber, Stanley, The Marketplace of Ideas: A Legitimized Truth, Duke Law Journal (1984)
Nietzsche, Frederich, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)
Arendt, Hannah, Truth and Politics, The New Yorker (February 25, 1967)
On the Nature of Reality: Albert Einstein in Conversation with Rabindranath Tagore, Modern Review (1931)
Popova, Maria, In Search of a Better World: Karl Popper on Truth vs. Certainty and the Dangers of Relativism, Brainpickings (January 26, 2017)
Popova, Maria, The Life of the Mind: Hannah Arendt on Thinking vs. Knowing and the Crucial Difference between Truth and Meaning, Brainpickings (September 16, 2016)
Twilley, Nicola, Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them, The New Yorker (February 11, 2016)
Overbye, Dennis, Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory, The New York Times (February 11, 2016)
Cadieux, Caitlin, and Pollock, Nicolas, What Do Black Holes Sound Like?, The Atlantic (May 25, 2016)
Ajaka, Nadine, Dark Matter, Animated, The Atlantic (March 15, 2017)
Gefter, Amanda, The Evolutionary Argument Against Reality, Quanta Magazine (April 21, 2016)
Gilbert, Daniel, How Mental Systems Believe, American Psychologist, vol. 46, no, 2 (February 1991)
Stafford, Tom, How Liars Create the Illusion of Truth, BBC (October 26, 2016)
Borel, Brooke, Fact-Checking Won’t Save Us from Fake News, FiveThirtyEight (January 4, 2017)
Duca, Lauren, Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,TeenVogue (December 10, 2016)
El-Bermawy, Mostafa, Your Filter Bubble Is Destroying Democracy, Wired (November 18, 2016)
Kolbert, Elizabeth, Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, The New Yorker (February 27, 2017)
Shanejan, Scott, From Headline to Photograph, a Fake News Masterpiece, The New York Times (January 18, 2017)
Subramanian, Samantha, Inside the Macedonian Fake-News Complex, Wired (February 15, 2017)
Tavernise, Sabrina, As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth, The New York Times (December 6, 2016)
Viner, Katharine, How Technology Disrupted the Truth, The Guardian (July 12, 2016)
Curtis, Adam, [Hypernormalisation](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afBmN7icFRw, BBC, via YouTube (2016)