I think Truth is a slippery concept. Here are three statements commonly held to be true with little debate:
- 1 + 1 = 2.
- The sky is blue.
- What goes up must come down.
The first statement is true as long as there is agreement about the meaning of the symbols “1”, “+” and “2”, and you are talking about counting things. But, it isn’t true if you use it to predict what happens when you add two drops of water together: in that case you end up with only one drop of water.
The second statement is not always true, for example at night, on a cloudy day or if you are standing on the moon. The last statement is not true for the two Voyager space craft which will never return to earth.
These examples are my feeble attempt to show that “context” is very important when you are looking for the truth. Truthfulness exists within a context. You can fall into a “truth trap” if you blindly assume truth in one context is a universal truth for every context.
Since truth exists in a context, you have to look for and understand the context surrounding a statement about the truth and then evaluate if a different context is sufficiently the same before you can can conclude if the statement will be true in the new context. That’s not so easy. I think the ability to judge how similar two contexts are when looking for the truth is one hall mark of “critical thinking”.
Defining a context is not so easy. This is often due to unspoken, or unconscious, assumptions you have which do not apply in a different context. The three true statements I made above all had hidden assumptions about context which leads a casual reader to agree that they are true. It’s very hard to see your assumptions about common experience.
I point this out because when I work on motorcycles there are times when I can’t find the cause of a problem. Every test I try indicates nothing is wrong, but yet, the truth is, something is wrong.
I’ve learned that when I find myself in this situation, it’s time to write down all my assumptions. Often I have to do this more than once because the hard part about assumptions is you don’t recognize you have made them. Then I test every one of them. Every time I have used this meticulous listing of assumptions and testing, I’ve found one that isn’t a valid assumption in the context of the problem.
I hope this helps you solve problems that are too slippery to get a grip on.