What is Truth?

In his autobiography, titled “The Story of my Experiments with Truth”, Gandhi writes about his pursuit of Truth:

“For me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.”

When I first read this passage, it was difficult for me to understand what Gandhi meant by absolute truth. Beyond truthfulness, what is Truth?

A short essay by MIT professor Neil Gershenfield helped me understand one answer to the question “What is Truth?”. Gershenfield writes that “scientists do not seek and find truth, they seek and find better models”. When the predictions of planetary motions by Kepler were improved by Newton, Kepler did not become wrong – Newton’s models (and later Einstein’s) were based on different assumptions and had a different accuracy, not a different truth.

By accepting that there is not one absolute truth, we can let go of dogma, and make experiments to explore how reality works (and accept that we will not find “the” answer). Truth is not absolute, but a model.

Armed with this idea, we can move closer towards personal truth. When actions lead to a different outcome than expected – for example, the job we started does not bring us fulfillment – we can write down assumptions why the outcome was different than expected. By testing those assumptions in new situations – moving towards a sales role in stead of engineering, because we assume that computer work does not make us happy – we can learn more about personal truth.

As Gershenfield writes:

“Violations of expectations are opportunities to refine them.”


Book review: Little Bets by Peter Sims

Little Bets communicates one big idea: to create breakthrough solutions in today’s dynamic world, we need to learn by doing. Fully formed ideas based on assumptions are bound to change, as we learn a tremendous amount in the process of turning ideas into reality. We need to discover what works by making little, experimental bets. Action produces insights that can be analyzed.

Sims uses the life stories of successful business leaders, entrepreneurs and creative professionals to illustrate and further explore the central idea. He explains how Chris Rock creates hilarious stand-up comedy shows by tirelessly trying out jokes on a small audiences; and how Bill Hewlett & Dave Packard regularly produced small batches of prototype-products to discover whether customers liked their product.

The idea of experimentation does not only apply to product-ideas, but also to personal choices. I wrote in a previous post about my opinion that the best way to find work that you love is to try things. A recent article on BigThink, as well as Reid Hoffman’s book The Start-up of You, also stress the importance of this thought.

One of the realizations that came to me while reading the book, was that every creative process brings with it the fear and self-doubt of not succeeding. Also, Sims tells a great story about learning a little bit from every person you meet, particularly children, as well as learning a lot from people who are passionate about using your product. Although the “experimental approach” has been documented by other authors, Little Bets succeeds in triggering thoughts on how to be more experimental, as well as documenting some very revealing personal stories.