Is it True?

Is it true? Peter Ralston's book, The Book of Not Knowing, addresses this question in great detail throughout its 600 pages. Raltson's approach is very different from the typical trio of questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Instead, Ralston invites his readers to filter information (and stories) based upon whether they are based upon knowledge or belief to develop a clearer understanding of what is "true".

Ralston is inviting us to look at the quality of our information
before attempting to pass judgement upon it.

I like Ralston's approach because it has the potential to shift a conversation before it even begins. From a Buddhist perspective, the strategy of bucketing information (and stories) into "knowledge" and "belief" encourages one to insert a slight pause — enabling one to shift from reacting in judgement to responding with thoughtful awareness. But how does one separate "knowledge" from "belief"?

Ralston takes an exclusively experiential approach to this dilemma. Under the framework he proposes, "knowledge" is rooted in direct personal experience, whereas "belief" is anything that comes to us from second-hand sources. As Ralston states:

As you start to look into the issue of knowing, and carefully observe your own mind, perceptions, and experiences, you’ll probably find it surprising and a bit unnerving to realize that much of what you think you know is actually just a belief. It may be true or it may be untrue...

The key to this paragraph is Ralston's statement that "It may be true or it may be untrue..." From my perspective, Ralston is emphasizing the simple fact that individuals base much of their lives upon belief. This "belief" is neither inherently good or inherently bad — it just is.

Admittedly, the approach outlined by Ralston is not for the faint of heart. But those that choose to explore this approach of separating experiential-based "knowledge" from second-hand "belief" will find it to be quite a powerful tool. On a personal note, I have found Ralston's approach immensely useful to begin untangling the great "cosmic hairball" or "ocean of information" that represents the current hallmark of modern civilization.