Brian Answers: The Deadly Truth

On today’s edition of Ask Brian Anything, blog reader LS asks:

Is 2+2=4 a truth you are willing to die for?

In yesterday’s post, I claimed the truth is beautiful and important. Today I have to answer: how important?

First, let’s distinguish between knowing the truth and telling the truth.

Knowing the truth is crucial as a foundation for your own thought and action. What you know stands among the pillars of who you are. But knowing the truth isn’t just about memorizing facts. It’s about curiosity, a passion to acquire new knowledge. It’s about weeding out lies and false beliefs. It’s about using the same carefully structured doubt that lies at the heart of the scientific method. Knowing the truth is a way of life.

Telling the truth is more complicated. Passing the truth on to others is important for its own sake, but it also establishes trust, the foundation of a healthy relationship – and a healthy society. Lying erodes trust, and that’s dangerous.

Knowing and telling the truth are both virtues, but neither is the highest virtue. It’s easy to imagine scenarios where you should lie to protect someone’s life, and with a little more imagination, we can even think of times when it’s nobler to delude oneself than to face the truth.

So, with all that in mind: is 2+2=4 a truth I am willing to die for?

It depends.

The question conjures up visions of a Winston or a Picard in some Orwellian chamber, with a brutal interrogator bent on shattering his basic understanding of reality. It suggests, more than just an equation, a titanic struggle between individual good and bureaucratic evil.

And so I say again: it depends. It depends what the stakes are.

If it’s just about me, my own understanding of reality, I don’t think I’d be willing to die for that. But if somehow my struggle determined the fate of something larger – if I could save the lives of others, or steer the course of a society – then yes, I’d probably be willing to die for that.

In other words, I wouldn’t die for the truth itself, but I might die for the implications of the truth.

Ideally, however, nobody dies! Ideally, we would eat cake and talk about Star Trek. You know, just sayin’.

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6 responses to “Brian Answers: The Deadly Truth

  1. Brian, I appreciate your blog and have read them regularly for a couple months. You are bold and brave for sticking your neck out there and answering some pretty tough questions!

  2. freedom is the ability to say two plus two equals four.

  3. Thank you for the thoughts. We got asked that, rhetorically, in class; the professor naturally assuming the answer to be “no,” which was problematic for me since the first image I pull up in my head is scenes from 1984 (quickly followed by other scenes from other literature using 2+2=4 or 2*2=4 for varying purposes). But thank you again for the thoughts. Now let us eat cake and talk about Star Trek.

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