Finding true-ness in taste, beauty, happiness
Insights toward truth, better strategy, and more meaningful technology
In A Future So Bright, I wrote about the future of trust and truth. Algorithmic content optimization has changed the way we all experience ongoing information about the world, and our perceptions of what we see shape the collective environment of trust and distrust.
As I wrote then:
”We don’t yet know what the consequences will be of living in a time with so many conflicting ideas of what is true. We are going to have to learn how to navigate our human understanding of trust and truth with more nuance and sophistication.”
— A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism and Meaningful Innovation Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World
Since writing about these themes, I’ve had the opportunity to explore multiple facets of the future of trust as it pertains to some of my clients’ work in information management, regulations, digital payments, and more. Blockchain technologies, for example, pose an interesting way to attempt to codify trust through digital tools. Meanwhile the future of truth hasn’t come up as often, but it has remained one of those subjects I’m fascinated with, and it keeps popping up in my reading.
So let’s unpack truth a bit, and see where it leads us.
Of course, we have to make our way there.
We can ask:
How do things acquire their sense of true-ness? Can things become increasingly true over time?
Perhaps in exploring truth and true-ness, we might start what informs what we think is true, like our tastes, our sense of aesthetics and beauty, and what makes us happy.
We start with an observation about tastes, and how they differ from culture to culture:
“The truth is rather Dr. Seussian at the end: We may like some combinations here, but not there. That is, North American and Western European cuisine show a strong tendency to combine ingredients that share chemicals. If you are here, serve parmesan with papaya and strawberries with beer. Do not try this there, however: East Asian cuisine thrives by avoiding ingredients that share flavor chemicals. So if you hail from Asia, yin/ yang is your guiding force: seeking harmony through pairing the polar opposites.”
— Albert-László Barabási, Complex network scientist; Distinguished Professor and director of Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Network Research; author, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do
as excerpted from This Explains Everything: 150 Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (Edge Question) by John Brockman
I love this idea that taste pairings are acculturated; that in some regions we prefer taste combinations because they complement what is missing, while in other regions we prefer tastes that are adjacent to one another.
It’s a helpful reminder that not everything that seems appealing to us is appealing to others, and that could be for a variety of reasons.
Of course, we use the word ‘taste’ to refer to our ability to detect the flavors in food as well as the vague appreciation of refinement and beauty. When you go from taste to beauty, it gets even more interesting.
What insights might serve us as we consider how we rationalize what we find beautiful to believe that it is true?
"Important lessons: look carefully; record what you see. Find a way to make beauty necessary; find a way to make necessity beautiful."
— Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces: A Novel (Vintage International)
"It was Stendhal who offered the most crystalline expression of the intimate affiliation between visual taste and our values when he wrote, ‘Beauty is the promise of happiness.’" — Alain De Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
So now we have happiness in the picture.
What does happiness suggest to us about truth? That if we’re happy, or at least content or comfortable, that there must be something true about the situation?
What might this suggest about strategies for products, for technologies, for innovating what matters and what is going to matter?
How might we build different products for different cultures, different demographics?
How might we cross over people’s understanding of what is beautiful, what is tasteful, and what is true with ideas that might broaden our consensus? How might we expose ourselves with empathy to where others find taste and beauty so that we might better align our experiences to create more meaning?
I offer these questions as thought-starters, not assignments. If you take them and turn them around in your mind, in discussion with your teams, you might find an opportunity that makes itself clear, and that just might lead to more understanding being fostered through the experiences you create. Here’s hoping.