30 May 2019
Since the year 2016 - the year of Brexit and the presidential election of Donald Trump - we often hear that we now live in a "post-truth world". That people have given up not only on finding the truth but the concept of truth itself. Politics aside, I think it is a complete misinterpretation of the situation. Most people in today's world think that there is one single truth, the Truth, that there is one single way how things happened and any other way that contradicts it is untrue. I see no signs of a widespread belief that there are many truths and contradictory claims can all be true in the same universe. I also see no signs that finding the truth has suddenly become much more unpopular or that there are spikes in fallacious thinking. Quite the contrary, there are significant undertakings to discover and document the truth, unprecedented in magnitude, like arguably the most impressive collection of human knowledge, Wikipedia.
However, there was a change in attitude towards information. What I do see is that we have come to live more and more in a post-certainty world. There is a general uncertainty about who to believe anymore and people seek out multiple sources to check the truth of new information. I think this is actually a step forward, in fact, it is a significant intellectual revolution. Certainty is intellectual stagnation because it means that nothing can change your mind and you will never be able to learn new things and improve the clarity of your worldview. Shedding one's certainty - obviously not to the point of pure confusion - and acknowledging that any apparent fact could actually be false is a precondition to scientific thinking.
The fact that a significant number of people if not the majority finally realised that if something is in the newspapers, it doesn't mean it's accurate, nor does it mean that it's true at all is an intellectual achievement that has been in the making for centuries. Rather than being outraged or alarmed about this development, I am quite happy and optimistic about the state of critical thinking in today's world. Yes, it could be much better, there is plenty of room for improvement, but if we look at things in a historical context, it's actually not that bad. What's important is that we keep fostering scientific thinking and especially emotional detachment when dealing with facts, such that we can further improve our lives and how our societies operate.