Truth and its many versions

I apologize for repeating an anecdote that I wrote about in an earlier blog post. But it is highly pertinent, so please forgive my transgression.

My late brother was in the midst of his PhD in physics when he passed away. But during the many years he was studying physics, he was often asked how he can be a religious Jew, yet believe that the universe is 9 billion years old. The biblical account of creation seems to indicate that our existence is only around 6000 years old. My brother’s answer was succinct and brilliant: “there can only be one truth. It’s our job to discover it. Don’t blame God for our shortsightedness”.

In the years before modern media, the flow of information from one point to another was incredibly limited. Just the fact that the vast majority of the non-elite population was illiterate (and so to, even many of the elite), made it very difficult to spread knowledge and any news. We know that even today, despite the advent of Facebook and Twitter, there are countries that very successfully limit access to information. I hope and pray that constantly improving technology will soon make it impossible to “… stop the signal. (Mr. Universe[src]). Perhaps then, even the most tyrannical dictatorships will fall before the feet of a public that will no longer tolerate the lies.

One would think that with the free flow of information, as it is today in most parts of the world, lies would be much harder to create and spread. In perhaps the ultimate ironic twist, Edward Snowden fled to Russia in order to continue to share the documents that had previously been hidden from the public eye, by the “good guys”. I am not making a statement against or in support of Mr. Snowden’s actions. What I am saying is that  more lies are being created every day, and despite Mr. Snowden’s actions, the truth  will once again soon be buried.

Imagine a public event where disorder erupts and the police become involved. In today’s age, the near immediate response of everyone in the area of the event, is to pull out their mobile phones and begin recording and immediately distributing the events that are playing out in front of the crowd’s eyes. I am sure that there is software that can take live feeds from Twitter and Facebook and other sharing sites, and create a complete 3-D movie that allows the public to view the events from any angle, and for any time frame.

The power of such a system is astonishing. If an individual claims that he or she was unjustifiably beaten by a police officer, it should be possible to zoom in, on that individual and view the events from a full 3-D point of view. It may very well turn out that the “victim” was actually brandishing  a knife, which would only be visible to people standing at a very specific angle to the event. But with such a reconstructed 3-D movie, it would be near impossible to hide anything behind a billboard or coat or any other object that  is blocking a person’s view.

The point of this, is that witnesses to the event could all be telling the truth as they saw it. Some would say that there was a knife, while others would insist that there was no such weapon. Considering the fact that a policeman’s reputation, pension and entire professional future rests on the perceived truthfulness of the witnesses, relying solely on human perception could be disastrously wrong. Given the events in the United States over the last couple of years, in which multiple police officers were challenged as to their actions, and a number of the police were even incarcerated for those actions, I think we can all agree that constant video monitoring, is by no means a luxury, but rather has become a necessity. I am fully aware of the fact that despite irrefutable evidence, there will always be those who insist that the truth is still being hidden. For most people, though, crowd sourced data collection at the site and the time of the event, will become more and more important in assessing guilt versus innocence, for a tremendous number of defendants and plaintiffs.

Time and time again, I come back to the same issue. As more and more monitoring goes on, the average person is safer. When every purse snatcher, car thief and even rapist knows that the likelihood of being caught on tape is extremely high, it will have a mitigating effect on the perpetrator’s actions. Contrarily, innocent people will feel, legitimately, that their privacy is constantly being invaded. The trade-off is inevitable, but the degree to which privacy and safety are balanced is very dependent on the local population. In some cities, the public may vote against any such constant oversight. In a city like London, cameras are everywhere, because clearly, the London public feels that their safety trumps individuals’ desires for privacy. More simply put, if a man plans to take the day off to spend with his mistress, he should hope that his wife will not have access to that video stream that shows him skipping the train to work and instead, meeting his lover for lunch.

In the Jewish faith, one of the names for G-d is “truth”. Another name [of many] for G-d is “peace”. I heard a beautiful interpretation of this, that stated  that the truth does not always bring peace. More so, sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice the truth in order to achieve peace. Despite the flow of digital information that tracks every one of us at all times, the idea is not so much to catch someone in a lie, as it is to secure the peace of the public. If an individual’s lie affects only himself and perhaps his spouse, most people would probably prefer that type of information not being shared. But the moment an individual is caught in a lie that is highly indicative of intent to harm others, then most people would want such a person stopped, assessed and even arrested if necessary.

For the first time in history, the average person has the tools to capture the truth as it unfolds before his or her eyes. However, that same person is still left with the critical question – what to do with that truth. Amazingly, there will be many situations where the best thing to do is to click “delete”. When certain people are ill, there are sometimes medications that are curative but also have a very high rate of severe complications including death. Truth is the same. Truth may be the cure for countless lies that have been told before. But the price of that truth might very well be the health and even life of the people that we love. Case in point:  the truthful answer to the question “do I look fat in this” may be yes, but the appropriate answer will always be “no”.

Thanks for listening and Hanukkah Sameach

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.