I’ve noticed that I’ve been using the words ‘insight’ and ‘insightful’ frequently lately. I’ve found them to be very useful terms, as they suggest that something essential has been revealed without tying this essential something down to something scientifically verifiable. When you want to say that a person has said something valuable but you don’t want to get embroiled in matters of objective truth, ‘insightful’ is the description to go for.
Insight has some interesting properties. The fact that it exists as an idea, and the way the word is used, show that we think it is possible for a person to see inside an issue and draw out a special, revealing aspect of that issue through talent or intuition. On the other hand, if we attribute insight to a person, it means we recognise that thing they have found out as being valuable – it strikes a chord in us.
This relationship is seen in the relationship of reader to writer in literature. The writer tells us something that is not verifiably true – it is in the context of fiction after all – and yet we recognise that something is described of which we already have some awareness, in the depths of our minds somewhere. The author makes it explicit. Of course insight is only one of the gifts a writer can have. There was a recent article in Brain Pickings that identifies memory as another, here.
Why have I been using the word ‘insight’ so much? Maybe I’m scared of the word ‘true’. There is clearly a link between saying something with insight and saying something true. However, I was reminded recently that ‘truth’ is a disputed concept. There was a long conversation on twitter disputing it, which if you are interested you can trace by looking at my twitter feed around about 23/8/14 – @MarianRuthie.
Inspired by this discussion I picked up the following book:
One of its selling points is that it can be read on a commute. Well I commuted from London to Birmingham without finishing it, and the commuter on the cover doesn’t stand much chance. But I can say that it starts well, by pointing out that truth, once the jealously guarded property of religion, has been rudely grabbed by science. So we are back to disputes.
Truth has been coveted by many, but is a slippery thing. I intend to review the book. If this slim volume gives me some insight into truth I will let you know.