While driving to work the other morning and listening to Strauss Marches, I was reminded of a conversation with Richard Pearlman, a well know opera director, we were discussed an operetta I was singing at the time. I remember him saying, this is a subtle aria, you need to dig deep and mine for each small emotional change and make the most of each of these moments. With a world of information at our fingertips, perhaps like singing that operetta aria, we need to be like miners. We have a whole world of information at our fingertips and yet we are happy to feast on the low hanging fruit. We are willing to believe what ever we read and not be bothered with digging a bit deeper into the story, the claim or even the photograph. We gnash our teeth in outrage when we think that some foreign power might be influencing our elections and yet we are reticent to take on the responsibility to investigate these claims. We claim to want gold but are unwilling to dig beneath the surface seeming happy with our treasure trove of fools gold. As we have said before, media is plural but truth is singular. Let us also remember that wisdom is also plural and if we search for truth, we may gather wisdom along the way.
I often think of Galen better known as Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. While accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, might be a strange person to dwell, he influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic. The problem was that as good as Galen was, his book was never updated for more current information. Centuries after Galen’s death, his book was taken as the book on medicine and when later scholars like Paracelsus disagreed with Galen, they were told that what they saw did not matter as it disagreed with Galen and Galen, they felt was truth hence, anything disagreeing with Galen was wrong. (There is a fascinating discussion of this in Daniel Boorstein’s, “The Discovers”, a book I highly recommend..)
This does not seem so far from the idea of alternate truths, and that today, with the internet one can find a source to back up whatever claim one makes. No matter how ludicrous a claim is made, it seems that someone can find some internet source to back it up. While, with Galen, it took years for the truth to will out, it now seems that we have a moving target in the realm of Alternate truth. Whereas with Galen, there was a finite monopoly on truth, the book was written and so his truth was determined. However today it seems that we have levels of truth, a tweet does not convey the truth but requires an interpretation and revision with a parade of soothsayers needed to discover the real meaning of the truth. Oddly enough, it seems that this was the initial objective of Galen.
One of the quotes that stuck in my head from my high school history class was from Henry Ford who, commenting on his Model T’s in 1909, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” This came back to me when thinking of how the explosion in electronic media has allowed us so many choices in life compared even to when I was growing up. I remember when there were only 5 TV channels on the TV, more if you could get the antenna in just the right place. Now we have more options than we know what to do with on our TV and with the addition of our tablets and phones, the options have grown . While author Barry Schwartz in his 2004 book “The Paradox of Choice” argues that the increasing number of choices while seemingly giving us greater choice and actually increases our anxiety, we seem to have greater stress around making the “right “choice when we have more options. Recent developments would seem to argue the opposite. We seem to be able to insulate ourselves from opposing views and now even wrap ourselves in the warm illusion of alternate truths. Why bother with the harsh light of truth when we can stay crouched in the cave of shadows and half-truths.