Truth is a complex idea, and Stephen Colbert’s truthiness construct reveals just how painfully funny it is that truth must be taken so seriously. To simply write about such an idea leaves something to be desired. Paradoxes are nutritious but lack in flavor. Bland, boring, cream-of-gray-matter stuff. A room-full of PhD’s or a clever columnist surely could (and regularly do) whip the idea of truth into a fluffy meringue — enough to elevate the blood sugar but not to sustain a person.
Embody truthiness in a complex character like Colbert though, add a dash of political analysis and a smidgen of satire, and what emerges is a piquant recipe for human insight. Add a first course of Jon Stewart, and you have a well-rounded, satisfying meal.
I am here to point out that the other side of truthiness, for those who relish (pun intended) not only its nuances but its irony, is fictionality, by which I mean:
It is possible at times for fiction to better represent reality than that which is writ large as real.
Colbert won’t talk about fictionality, but it is easy for those of us who suspect him of as much to revel in. His duplicitous discourse challenges not only the interpretation of the pseudo-reality he creates, but the one presented by the Media he imitates — that which is writ large. Historical fiction and conspiracy fiction like The DaVinci Code are more specialized examples of fictionality at work.
Scientists (writ large) like to think of themselves as playing by a special set of rules, guided by the special pretenses of the scientific method and rational analysis. Once you are in the club, the rules say you can leap bias in a single bound and are capable of superhuman feats of paradigm shifting. A lot of grandstanding with little grounds for being exempt from criticism as far as I am concerned. In this regard, hardly different from the politicians, corporate wonks, and “real people” Colbert pokes fun at.
All people, advanced scientific degrees or not, have the ability to understand the logic, reasoning and inspiration behind insights, scientific or otherwise. Whether they exercise the ability or not is another issue. The nuances are part of the fun for those who do. Those talented purists who hold the Truth-is-a-lock-and-________ (God, logic, science, FSM)-holds-the-key ideal no doubt find such ideas distasteful to think about. Yet truthiness and fictionality must not be relegated to the empty halls of thought. They should be elevated to food for the soul. Truth and Fiction are just bland ideals without truthiness and fictionality to spice up the rations we get.