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A third kind of truth

Having seen only two distinct kinds of truth, there is a third one hiding in plain sight.

Having said that truth must either be absolute and unrelated to the world (a tautology) or a verdict based on evidence and fit to existing models, there is a third kind of truth that we can identify. In some ways it is wrong to call it a kind of truth because there is just a single instance of it.

The third truth takes a little bit of attention to find, but is available to everyone. It is best called 'I am'. This is not the concept of being, or the idea of consciousness but the direct experience of ones own being. The truth of one's own existence is not a tautology, there is no 'if' associated with it, plain or hidden and it is not a consequence of rules that we previously set out. And it cannot be a verdict. It is the place where the verdict is made. It is the screen on which the assessment and judgement of every other truth happens. But the truth of one's own living consciousness is necessarily outside of judgement, not subject to it. Of course, one can turn the mind around and make a verdict of it as well, but this is an addition and not the single instance of absolute truth that we are referring to.

René Descartes may have been referring to this, it is hard to tell. It is generally put in English as "I think therefore I am" "Cogito, ergo sum" and the idea of thinking rather than experiencing has been taken as the basis for his argument and most subsequent discussion. His argument was that all things could be subject to doubt except that one is doubting (taken as a kind of thinking) when one is doing it. This misses the point because thinking is not a proof of one's existence - we cannot prove 'I am' from thinking any more than we can prove it by pointing at our body. To whom would we be proving it to? The observation that 'I am' is unshakable is the more profound. Whatever Descartes intention, the arguments around this gave rise to the field of epistemology - the study of how we know what we know. They perhaps missed the singular nature of the exception of knowing one's own being.

One quite legitimate response to "I think therefore I am" is "Yeah, so what?" Descartes was trying to find a solid footing for knowledge and found this as an undeniable root, yet most people would be ready to accept that he existed without much fuss. The 'is-ness' of others we do tend to accept. This is a verdict of course, only our own singular awareness is directly and absolutely true. What consequences this exception has are explored most readily by the mystics, saints and gurus. But we should be capable of joining that enquiry without assuming mysticism is incompatible with rational thought.