Policeman Charles M. Fremgeen is submitted to a lie detector test at Fordham University. (Keystone/Getty Images)
In the second installment of our series on truth, we dive into the science behind truth. How do we define it, how do our brains process it and why do we fight over it?
Adrian Bardon, professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University. Author of “The Truth About Denial: Bias and Self-Deception in Science, Politics and Religion.” (@bardon_adrian)
What are the different parts of the brain that are important to understand when it comes to our processing of truth?
Jay Van Bavel: “The first thing that’s important is thinking about sensation. So humans have five senses: vision, touch, taste, smell and hearing. And depending on what we’re presented with, it affects the sensory cortices associated with that type of scent. So right now, people are listening to us. They’re hearing the information come in through their ears. It’s being sent as electrical signals in their auditory cortex. And then they’re trying to make a sense — often through visualization, and memory and other parts of the brain — to understand the concepts that we’re discussing on the radio right now.
“… So that’s the first phase. So most of sensation is how we experience the world, as long as our senses are intact. The next stage — and this is where truth can be debated far more — is at perception. That we might hear something. But you and I might have different interpretations of what we heard. So this came out with a lot of great illusions. One of the most recent ones that went viral was ‘Laurel vs. Yanny.’ I’m not sure if you heard that one, but the same sound is interpreted differently by different people. And so somehow the sensation is working, but the perceptions are far off.”
When the brain is processing something that’s true — for example, I have a cup of tea next to me — what does it look like in my brain when I process that truth?