Even though something can be technically correct, it’s quite often an unhelpful or even a wrong thing to say. Not because of social norms, but because reality is more complicated than the one-dimensional model representing adolescent morality.
At any point, there are multiple ‘true’ statements.
Over 2400 years ago, Platon introduced a notion of duality. He drew a rigid distinction between mind and body, good and evil, or truth and lies.
This notion is very appealing because it makes the world easy to understand, less confusing, and less scary.
If only I follow a comprehensive set of rules, I can be confident or even self-righteous in my choices. Furthermore – everybody who opposes me is wrong! What a brave new world!
This line of logic suggests that there is only one truth, and the only reasonable thing to do is to share it.
In reality, we are faced with multiple non-false statements – all of them plausible. The concept of ambiguity is a fundamental feature of physics, not only social interactions.
But scared apes that we are, we feel compelled to make sense of the world and simplify indiscriminately. When faced with inconsistent statements, we want to choose „the truest one.” We accept the one that fits our worldview the most (at this time), discard the rest, and deem them lies.
Human communication is inefficient, and things have context.
“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”The correct attribution of this statement is not helpful.
Logical axioms are an artificial construct that is rarely encountered in the real world. When I say „it is warm outside” on the first day of spring, is the temperature the same as when I said it while vacationing in Dubai?
Of course not.
We refer to reality, hoping that we have a similar context, but that is never true.
If we were to converse, there would be four sides to the exchange:
- My perception of you and your context
- Your perception of me and my context
Since we have no way of perfectly synchronizing each other hidden contexts, how can we be sure that the components of our exchange are entirely similar?
During millennia this was aided by non-verbal methods. The tone of voice, gestures, and body language are meant to communicate precisely that – the context of my emotions associated with the statement.
„Technically Correct” is valid only in the first order.
Let’s say I ate three croissants. This is, of course, purely theoretical since I would never, ever do such a thing, but let’s say I did.
Now, chocolate-filled croissants are good. This is a true statement (there will be NO discussion over this).
- The first-order consequence of eating a croissant is that I feel good.
- But the second-order consequence is that my glucose level rises, and my body produces an insulin response.
- The third-order consequence of a croissant-full diet is that my body gains fat, and
- the fourth-order result is that I get diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or both.
Is the statement about “croissants being good” a false one? No, it is still technically correct while neglecting higher-order consequences.
These first-order-good and higher-order-bad consequences of the same behavior land us in trouble regularly:
- Driving a car to work may be more comfortable, but it’s leading to an ecological apocalypse,
- Scrolling Facebook makes you feel like you are connecting with friends, but it’s eroding your ability to keep these relationships off-line.
- Praising your kid for good grades now will make him feel better, but if he did not deserve them, he would have real trouble with self-esteem once those straight A’s are harder to come by.
Focusing on higher-order consequences of our choices may be the key to success, and being stuck in first-order thinking can lead to disastrous outcomes.
People don’t appreciate correcting.
They don’t appreciate unsolicited advice either – that is a lesson I am still trying to internalize.
People don’t always remember what you said, but they sure as hell remember how you made them feel. And how do they feel when you interrupt them to point out the dubious nature of a minor detail in the story they’re telling?
„Oh my, how good that Artur just pointed out I was wrong. Thanks to him, I will not be wrong anymore. He is so smart!
They will remember that you are a prick that cannot sit still for a few minutes without stealing attention back for yourself even if you are right.
Correct is not the goal.
At the end of your life, there is no medal for the # of correct statements you have stated.
Truth matters profoundly, especially in this day and age, but mostly because of the outcome.
Let’s say you’re helping your diabetic grandpa with his groceries, and you witness him replacing cake with oranges. Both of these reactions would be correct:
- “Grandpa, oranges have a lot of fructose and will spike your blood sugar as well. You should stay away from any fruit.”
- “Grandpa, this is a smart choice. Keep it up.”
I would say that even though the former one is very technically correct, it is also less helpful. I can imagine my grandpa throwing a tantrum: “to hell with all that, am I only allowed to eat salad like a rabbit?”
If my goal is to help him, he needs encouragement towards a healthier lifestyle more than my smartass comments. Oranges are still better than cookies and help to build a habit of consuming less processed food.
Also, sorry for my fixation with blood sugar examples.
Is postmodernism the answer?
„Ok, Artur, you made some case against technical correctness. But should we then decide for ourselves what is correct and what is false? Focus only on subjective reality, as postmodernists suggest?”
Instead of focusing on yourself and proving how smart you are, try focusing on being helpful to others.
When you free yourself from the burden of “the one truth,” you can acknowledge many possible interpretations of the same set of facts. Choosing the most helpful one is the only sane option.
The core of the scientific method is the predictive value of a theory. If said theory can predict the outcome of an experiment, it is true. In other words – it is helpful. Ensuring helpfulness will not let you stray away from objective reality.
If you try to be helpful, you have to get rid of your self-righteousness and do the humble work.
Above all, helpful truth will help you make the right choices. Technical correctness can only be used to judge choices. Let’s make some good choices and stop judging.