This is differentiating. Many animals can communicate about reality - typically about food and danger - but, apart from us, none have conceived of intellectual property, scientific models, limited responsibility companies or religions. This ability has enabled sapiens to create organisations that span the globe, allowing the population of our genus to grow from a few million people struggling half way up the food chain to seven billion right at the top of it.  

Harari's explanation of our history is so clear as to be startling. He uses the word 'fictions' to qualify many valuable concepts that mankind has developed: nations, courts of law, money and even the conventions of physics, chemistry and biology. As Richard Feynman pointed out, ‘The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real’. A myriad concepts that we think of as real are, in fact, merely useful figments of our collective imagination.  

If you find some of the examples in the diagram surprising, then this reinforces my point: we confuse questions of truth with issues of right and wrong all the time. Often it doesn't matter, because we understand each other and no harm is done. But this is not always so, and I believe that the True/False-versus-Right/Wrong* confusion is a primary cause of conflict. It leads to coffee machine arguments and to world wars.

A thing can be simultaneously right and wrong, because we can consider it from two different frames of reference. Light is either wave or particle (i.e. 'It's a wave' = right or wrong), depending on the theory that we decide to use. Stoning someone to death can be right or wrong, depending on your framework of values and beliefs. This does not mean that truth is relative. It means that it only applies to the non-imaginary. 'The sun is up in Tokyo now', may be true or false, whereas, 'It's a nice day', can be right or wrong, depending on your point of view.  

If we only applied the concept of truth to things that exist, reserving right and wrong to our fictions - concepts that we have invented - then the world would be a more understanding place. The reflex of asking , 'Is this a question of True/False or Right/Wrong?', leads naturally to an appropriate response - investigation of reality in the first case and an attempt to understand someone else’s frame of reference in the second.  

Those who think that these are only words, and therefore not important, are 75 thousand years behind the times. Concepts, ideas, fictions - whatever you want to call them - are mankind's most important possessions and our ability to solve interesting and crucial problems depends on them.

  • In some valuable feedback, Jon Swaffield pointed out that the terms Correct/Incorrect might be more appropriate in some circumstances.