This is how I learned about the atom in school: a teeny tiny solar system inside everything from Antimony to Zirconium. It’s a great model; easy to understand, easy to explain and easy to believe.
That’s the problem with the truth: it’s hardly ever plain or simple.
Suppose you want to describe a beautiful sunset. You know the sun doesn’t actually ‘set’… the earth turns. But ‘Earthturn’ (while true) is awkward, whereas ‘Sunset’ (though false) is effective; a ‘useful untruth’ that lets us get on with our day.
It’s a choice between a difficult truth and a convenient lie, a choice we’re making all the time.
Over the years we form a worldview built almost solely from these myths; our traditions, prejudices and religions are filled with notions that are false, but functional. That’s fine, so long as we don’t confuse them for the truth. But of course, we do.
In fact, people are more likely to embrace a simplistic lie than a complex truth. It’s a huge problem for science communicators who struggle to express the intricacies of say, climatology to a public who have learned to reject anything they can’t immediately understand without having to think, especially when there are so many convenient falsehoods on offer.
Sometimes we need to hear the whole truth and when we do, we need to be ready.
Because it might not be plain or simple.
And that’s the truth.