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Truth is like a crystal


(Michael Hrenka) #1

I have had this comparison in my head for many years: Truth is like a crystal. It has many different sides, each representing single facets of truth. This is why it’s important to assume different perspectives: From a single perspective you only see a limited number of facets. Only when you can view something from sufficiently many sufficiently different perspectives there is a chance to understand that object in a holistic and complete way.

For me this has been nearly obvious, at times. Yet, multi-perspective thinking seems to be rare. One reason why it’s rare is that it’s hard: You have to switch from one perspective to another, changing the way you think over and over, without declaring a single perspective as absolute truth. This makes you vulnerable to uncertainty and even fear that you have been wrong about many foundational beliefs for so long. Sticking to a single perspective makes the world simple – it’s true complexity appears manageable. A clear order emerges out of the chaos. An order which you can rely on to provide you clear guidance. But this is the path to extremism and fanaticism.

The other extreme is to go the other way of post-modernism, cultural relativism, and nihilism: There is no real truth, only different truths. But my picture of truth as crystal easily disproves that assertion as fallacy: There is indeed the crystal, of which its facets are merely parts which can easily be observed. However, the facets are integral parts of the crystal, which can indeed be comprehended in its entirety, if one knows all the facets.

You might even go deeper with the crystal metaphor and start with the crystal (group) structure that defines how the atoms in the crystal are aligned. That would represent a deep theoretical understanding. Still, that wouldn’t be enough, because different crystals grow into different shapes regardless: Some are smaller, some are larger, some have impurities. And they can be polished or fractured. Empirical observation is still important, even if you are in possession of the “core of knowledge”.

Actually, I have recollected my crystal metaphor when I thought about the conflicts of my co-workers. They easily see the faults of the others, but would never think about admitting their own faults. It’s so much easier to create narratives about how the others are responsible for things that went wrong. And it’s so much easier to blame others, to unload all guilt on others, than to work on one’s own faults. The funny thing is that they are often quite right about what the others do wrong. But it’s not the whole story, it’s only their own perspective, it’s the facets they see.

Empathy starts with assuming the perspective of another being. It’s a natural step towards multifaceted thinking. Still, it’s not enough. Two perspectives are better than one, but they might still not add up to a complete picture. This is why diversity is so important. With many sufficiently different perspectives we are able to see a problem from so many angles that we start understanding it fully, and easily find the best ways to address it. And here emerges a connection between holistic understanding, multi-perspective thinking, and collective intelligence. Collective intelligence works best when people are as different as possible, while still being able and willing to work together.

This requirement for diversity is why I embrace the creation of artificial intelligences which are radically different from humans, while they might still share some essential human traits, so that we can still collaborate with them on a meaningful level. It also makes me embrace the connection of human and non-human minds with technological telepathy and empathy. This trans-human level of diversity will open up radically new perspectives to us. It will make us see and understand more. It will make us wiser, more powerful, and more capable than we could ever be as singular human species.

Truth is a crystal with a thousand facets. So let a thousand eyes grow and connect to see them all!
– freely adopted from the quotation “Let a thousand flowers bloom”.

Transhumanist thinking
(Dr. Curiosity) #2

This multi-perspective approach is something that I’d almost consider a “threshold concept” for higher-level thinking and problem solving. While it can initially be difficult to get into the practice of doing things this way, once you’ve got it on board it tends to radically change the way you approach a lot of issues.

In user-centred design, UX experts work to develop “user stories” to model how different kinds of people will interact with a system or product, building a library of personas that typify the capabilities, values and goals of people who will be using them. In business analysis, policy analysis and project management, a lot of priority balancing is done at the stakeholder level.

In game design the metaphor can become explicit, with designers employing various design lenses uses to focus on different aspects of gameplay mechanics, narrative, emergent player dynamics and aesthetic affordances. In competitive games too, the secret to effective play (for both human and AI players) is to be able to model the decision-making processes of another entity, so that you can act in ways that anticipate or even positively influence their future actions.

I think the most important and challenging part of this concept is synthesis: the ability to not just see multiple perspectives and glean knowledge from them, but to build that into a new, deeper understanding; uncovering insights that aren’t situated in any one facet alone. Inferring the existence of new perspectives you wouldn’t otherwise be able to find and access, and using those as new tools to explore and solve the problems you face.

(Michael Hrenka) #3

Thanks for your reply, DrCuriosity. I really like your examples of the paradigm of multi-perspective thinking applied in various different fields. They demonstrate that it’s an actually important and acknowledged paradigm that is quite useful in practice. Still, I wonder whether and how it would be possible to quantify and evaluate the advantages of applying that paradigm as opposed to doing things from a single-perspective approach.

That’s an interesting and quite valid opinion. I’m not completely sure whether synthesis is actually the most challenging part of the concept of multi-perspective thinking, but it’s very important and useful indeed. Synthesis can indeed lead to new insights, but so can incorporating facets that haven’t been considered before, because they are quite unusual from our current ways of perceiving things.

People are often eager to declare facets they don’t agree with as false, even though they may have some actual truth and merit to them. The danger of this happening is the higher the more one believes in possessing “the actual truth”. This proclaimed truth is then defended aggressively and exclusively against the views of “ignorant others”. Unsurprisingly this breeds hostility, polarization, and generally leads to hardened fronts and ineffectual communication between adherents on both sides of the divide. Assuming a multi-perspective approach in such a situation is extremely difficult, but very much needed.


This is the biggest obstacle really. Freeing oneself from the need for verbal self defense. When that’s done, you can then concentrate purely on the things that actually matter to the people involved in or listening to the conversation.

The main cause of the overwhelming need to defend oneself in such a situation are (usually unconscious) beliefs to the effect of “if I’m wrong, I’m in danger” or “If I’m wrong, I’m not good enough” and other variations. There are methods that are useful in dissolving these beliefs but convincing someone to use them can be difficult due to these very beliefs. Unsuccessful attempts at convincing usually only serve to entrench the beliefs deeper.

Another way of expressing this is that defense mode tries to kick in when someone else does something that threatens to undo your survival strategy. There could be, for example, a deep core belief of “I’m not good enough” and a survival strategy belief “Being perfect is what makes me good enough”. Thus, this person will become extremely defensive whenever there’s a danger he might end up thinking himself imperfect and thus leaving him with just “I’m not good enough”, which is a very painful belief to have, so he’ll try to fight to keep being perfect in his own eyes.

This issue is quite simple at the core level. When given a choice of whether to suffer or not, people tend to choose not to suffer. Truth becomes of negative subjective value when you can’t have it without suffering due to having it. So, be mindful, the truth you’re offering could be mere suffering for someone else. At least until they deal with the actual source of the suffering, which are usually beliefs similar to the ones I outlined above.