TRUTH is a set of variables that posits an observable phenomenon; that records and relays faithfully the actual situation or happening without the hindrance of subjective intervention.
But, in actual fact, there are many inflections of truth that are manifested in relation to their contexts, which construct the parameters of their veracity.
There is the scientific objective factual truth that is evidence based, the subjective truth of individual’s perception, the journalistic truth of sectarian inclination, the faith-based truth of personal conviction, the political truth of opportunity and adventurism, and the truth of artistic imagination.
Scientific truth is evidence based and needs external validation. For example, Michael Shermer, writing in the Scientific American (April 2017 issue), mentioned that the extinction of the dinosaurs is proven to be true by verification and replication of radiometric techniques.
He contended that the Big Bang Theory of the creation of the universe has been accepted as true by way of convergence of evidence of cosmic phenomena, among which are the microwave background, the abundance of light elements and the redshift of most galaxies.
However, scientific truth based on current knowledge is tentative in the understanding of the mechanics of quantum or external events. When new knowledge or evidence emerges, they alter the current accepted verifiable event, positing a new level of truth.
On the other hand, faith-based truth rests on personal conviction without valid proven knowledge.
In the religions of the Book, namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the existence of a Supreme Power is accepted as fait accompli based on the principle of proportionality of phenomena. Sceptics and atheists attribute such phenomena as natural occurrences.
Scientists, too, challenge faith-based truth, attributing the creation of the universe (Big Bang) to cosmic upheaval rather than the creation of a supreme being.
Scientists based their conclusion on the principles of proportionality as well as validation of cosmic elements that support their propositions, while religious truth is based on faith and conviction.
Journalistic truth is subjective and is expedient to fulfil certain objectives of its employer. Sometimes, it is brazen in disseminating distorted information to shape public opinion towards partisan intents.
Ethical values are sometimes discarded in such a situation where journalistic integrity is sacrificed for the sake of propaganda.
But, not all propaganda materials are false, a huge portion is truthful. But these materials are arranged in a manner to convey a certain perception and guide the readers towards a sectarian opinion. And, ethical consideration is not pertinent; what is important is justifying the ends. This is managing truth to serve vested interests.
Nevertheless, non-political, documentary reporting and narratives in the print and electronic media are, for the most part, quite truthful with a tinge of personal preference at times. Even in this case, we may not be able to verify as to what is gospel and what is apocryphal.
One does not have the capacity to ascertain its veracity as one accepts it on trust. And, it also depends on one’s attitude of scepticism or gullibility.
Truth forms the inherent basis of all man-made public and private institutions with respect to their governance. And, the bastion for the quest for truth is enshrined, especially in the judiciary, where judges who are sworn to uphold justice are there to ensure that truth prevails.
But, the executive and the legislative are governed more by contextual truth, which is based on expediency — when the phrase to bend the truth is applied to accommodate different situations. And, truth may get lost in the quagmire of bureaucratic manoeuvres when deliberating instances of malfeasance and misdemeanours.
When this happens, there may be a trust deficit, and truthful pronouncements may be received with scepticism and may not be believed. It is like the boy who cried wolf too many times.
Truth in non-verbal and verbal artistic expressions assume a different construct. It is not subject to the ethical or moral principles, but to a subjective interpretation of phenomena or reality.
Its objective is not to portray the truth of reality or verisimilitude, but to transform it into another level of cognition that may run counter to the physical laws of reality.
The visual arts, like paintings, sculpture and even photography, convey a selective form of truth beyond absolute factual truth. One could fathom the truth beyond the physical or iconic representations.
On the other hand, the performing arts, like dance and music, are not intended to portray truth, but to invoke varying emotional states. Ethical value judgment is not applicable to the arts. The concern is not the truthful depiction of natural or man-made phenomena.
However, caricature and cartoon present comic depiction of personalities or incidents, which may bend the truth to create the comic and satirical effects. Even then, such expressions, especially those political in nature, may not be palatable to certain sectors and may invite punitive actions.
For cartoons and caricatures, though comic in nature, may be truthful. General subjects are acceptable and usually disposed of with a laugh.
Films are another artistic expression that are not bound by truthful depictions. Even true story may be changed for dramatic effect.
In films and also theatre, the audience must exercise the suspension of disbelief and accept what is portrayed as truthful. In films, reality may not be truthful and truth is not an integral part of screen reality. But, the beauty is that the audience could empathise with and be drawn into the actions, accepting the images as true and real.
The many inflections and manifestations of truths reflect Man’s perception of the microcosmic expressions of his understanding of his universe.
Absolute and universal truths are apparent, but Man chooses to ignore them because he is inebriated with greed, dissension, schism, envy and other weaknesses that influence him to hide them under various levels of subterfuge.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin is an emeritus professor of Performing Arts in the School of Arts at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org