November 10, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)

Is it True?

It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832)

For all of my life I have been inundated with all kinds of information on all kinds of subjects. One thing that I am absolutely sure of is that some of that information is true and some isn't. Most of the time, it really doesn't make any difference whether the information is true or not. Does it really matter to me if the big bang theory is correct? Does it matter to anyone? Occasionally, wrong information might cost me my health or my life.

How do I decide? When I can, I prefer to make up my mind based on my own personal experience. Even though I am aware of my own capacity for self deception, I consider my own experience to be a better guide than someone else's. Often my own experience is very limited so I have to rely on someone who has had more experience on the subject than I have. The best example of this concerns my cars. While I have rebuilt an engine and done my own repairs, modern cars are beyond my experience, with the exception of the spark plugs. Modern cars no longer have distributors or carburetors. Consequently, I rely on a few excellent automobile mechanics in Laytonville. They, in turn, are not ashamed to admit that they don't know something and refer me to someone else like the dealer. Hopefully, the dealer knows when he is out of his depth.

When I have to make a decision, I always use my own judgment, even though I often rely on someone else for the information that I need in order to make that decision. I would rather live with my own mistakes than blame someone else. Many people feel just the opposite.

Another kind of information is the kind that is tossed at me in TV commercials. Most of the time I assume that they are lying and I use the mute button on my remote control. This can be difficult because some of the commercials are better than the products that they are advertising. I figure that if they had a really superior product, they would need to advertise it just to get someone to try it once. After that, they can rely on word of mouth. Besides, some of the commercials are so obnoxious that I wouldn't buy their product even if it was the best that there was. I won't even walk into a Carl's Jr. I have never heard the best fast foods advertised, like McDonald's Western Omelet McMuffin. As for pain relievers, I have tried them all. If aspirin won't help, I give up on over-the-counter products because the other ones probably won't work either. There is a slight advantage to some long acting pain killers that can work for 6 hours and might get me through the night without enough pain to wake me up. Very often, there is little difference between competing products. Almost all of the products that are advertised on TV are things that I don't need. If I did need one of them, I certainly wouldn't rely on the commercial. Occasionally my appetite is tweaked when they show a chocolate cake; but I can resist.

I find Consumer Reports to be fairly reliable, but far from infallible. I use it when considering purchasing a car, but I look for the particular things that I need in a vehicle, such as good performance on rough roads, good gas mileage and a good frequency of repair record. Sometimes I can use the experience of friends and acquaintances. However, their experience is usually as limited as my own.

In matters medical, I try to use the best physician I can find. But I also have access to medical books and the National Library of Medicine. Having been around medicine for most of my life, I can speak the language. The only person who is really vitally concerned with my life is me. Despite all of this, I have made serious mistakes, and I assume that I will make more. Hopefully, that mistake will not be fatal.

In a world in which we are all lied to incessantly, distinguishing what is true from what is not can be a great challenge. It seems to me that I have spent most of my life doing that. Have I discovered "TRUTH?" Of course not, but I have come close to it a few times; much closer than most people do in a lifetime. I thought that I had a handle on it when I was young, but that was not so. The truths that I have found are very small, while the untrue information that exists is massive. We are swamped with it daily in talk, writing, radio and television. It's hard to smell sweet when you live in a sewer.

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