Truth

Written by on March 18, 2014 in Commentary with 0 Comments

Truth
By: Christian Joore

Quote: “You can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.” – G.K. Chesterton; End Quote

Introduction

Truth is a funny thing. The dictionary defines truth as being; ‘In accordance with fact or reality’. And although there’s nothing strange about that, what’s strange is philosophers have debated the concept of truth for centuries. If truth is such a basic idea, what’s to debate?

Truth itself is quite innocuous; what is true, is true, as long as it keeps to its standards and criteria. However to what degree truth corresponds with a fundamental reality is something entirely different. This is what philosophers take issue with. And in this sense truth can become flimsy and provisional.

Take for instance the basic statement; snow is white. It seems incontestable, yet it’s truth is quite delicate. If you examine a single snowflake very closely you will find that it’s crystal structure is almost completely transparent, not white at all. So, the whiteness of snow is due to the diffusion of light as numerous snowflakes aggregate together on a surface. In essence, ‘white snow’ is a personal impression, not a complete external fact.

The observer then is a vital factor in the account of what is true. This makes truth conditional, or a quality rather than an undisputable fact of reality. Truth is then relative, and not absolute. This is my premise.

If you’ve ever marveled at a rainbow you should know that it only exists if three things are present; sunlight, rain and eyeballs. If any of these three factors are missing, the rainbow does not exist.

It is the interplay between objectivity and subjectivity blending together that forms a truth.

Objective reality is more elusive than you can imagine. The reason for this is any experience of ‘it’ is unavoidably second-hand, meaning that our contact with the world is always down stream from our sense of it, it is always filtered and then conceptualized.

A good demonstration of how vigorously we hold our conceptions for reality, recall the philosophical question; “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?” Your natural answer would be say Yes, but then you would be asserting that sound is sound unto itself, regardless of a listener. This is wrong. Sound is not sound when it is not heard. It is vibrating air molecules, nothing more. And just like the rainbow, sound is a subjective experience not an objective reality.

This has important implications; do you believe you’ve ever touched any ‘thing’ in your life? Do you believe you’ve ever seen any ‘thing’ in your life? You haven’t in an absolute sense. You have only ever gathered the echoes of these things from the repulsive atomic forces and reflected electromagnetic waves that incessantly bombard your senses.

Nothing seems more real than a walk on the beach, feeling the warmth of the sand on your feet. It makes you feel so connected to the world as if cradled deeply in the bosom of reality. The sound of surf is so tranquil, its rhythmic pulsations hypnotic and comforting. The heat of sunlight on your hair and skin is  soothing, the caress of the water against your skin is calming. Yet all the while the strange fact is your feet never touch the sand, your skin never touches the water. It is set apart from it all at a distance of one angstrom—or what amounts to; one ten billionth of a meter.

This experience seems like such a genuine contact with an essential reality, but in actuality it is highly conceptual. Don’t be saddened though, please go on and still enjoy the beach, I am not saying it’s not real. The truth of the beach is your truth, a relative truth. You are what make’s it real.

Speaking of atoms, atomic reality is so strange that it would seem like it were anything else but. However atoms constitute everything there is so it’s fundamental. If an atom were the size of a Football stadium, the most substantial part, the nucleus, would be about the size of a fly sitting in center field. This is true for any atom. Matter is mostly empty space. Any atomic distinction between you and the air around you or the ground you stand on is negligible at best. So even the truth of physical reality is somewhat ethereal. It has a conditional quality, not a fundamental or objective one.

Conceptualization

Truth in our lives comes to us through our experiences, what we’ve been taught, and from our culture’s influence. Moreover, truth is elucidated through language, which is ripe with subtlety and delicate interpretation.

For us, our experience of reality is very abstract and conceptual, and of course this is so, for it is impossible to be persistently cognizant of any and all degrees of abstraction. But just as we merrily ride along on our conceptions, sometimes we get confronted with paradoxes that challenge them.

The google dictionary defines Paradox as:
“a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory”

I’d like to introduce a famous paradox. This is from ancient Greek philosophy, some 2500 years ago:
Zeno & The Dichotomy

Zeno of Elea was a Greek philosopher that lived in the 5th century BCE. He was best known for his paradoxes on motion. One such paradox called ‘The Dichotomy’ explains how a fixed distance can be divided indefinitely as to make motion impossible.

What the paradox proposes is that for a sprinter to complete a 100-meter run, he must first get half way to the finish. Once there, he needs to complete the latter half, which incidentally can also be divided in half again. The trouble here is apparent; in that any remainder of distance that was previously divided will leave a portion to be divided again. And this can go on indefinitely, leaving the runner never able to finish the race, only getting infinitely close to the finish.

Zeno’s Dichotomy has provided so much amusement for philosophers’, theologians, and mathematicians over the centuries. It is so effective to anyone who comes across it because we mistake it for knowledge. It is not. It is illusory.

To cut right to the argument here, it is merely a logical illusion because a ‘half-way point’ of any distance does not exist. It is only an idea. In fact the start line and finish line in a race are also merely ideas. No matter how much care you take in scribing two chalk lines on pavement 100 meters apart, they will never measure 100 meters exactly. In fact there can never be an exact measurement ever made because it will always be subject to an innumerable tolerance. Therefor the distance is uncertain in an absolute sense, and therefor cannot be related to mathematical reason (like division by two). You can accept this notion, or not.

If you prefer a more practical argument then consider that the runner obviously crosses over the finish line, showing that the distance confined between the start and finish are only theoretical, and do not constitute any real boundary in the universe, only a conceptual one. If the start and finish line were actual physical boundaries of reality in the universe, I might concede that you would have trouble approaching non-reality. As far as I know these conditions do not exist.

Interestingly, Zeno was a pupil of another Greek Philosopher named Parmenides. The only surviving account we have of his philosophy is was in a poem called “On Nature”. In it he distinguishes two ideas: The unity in nature, what he calls ‘the way of truth’, and the variety in nature what he calls ‘the way of opinion’. His philosophy contrasts what is real with what is opinionated and illusory. This hearkens back to the idea of truth being either ‘relative’ or ‘absolute’.
Essentially, any paradox you care to name is only an enigma within its proposed conditions. If you consider those conditions as real and absolute, you will be drawn into its duality. However, if you open your mind and float above conventions, your thoughts can be freed.

Where is the truth?

The truth is out there, they say. And it is. But it’s completely out there, totally outside the realm of human experience. Our knowledge of it is limited because we operate within a limited range of awareness. This is orchestrated by our senses and in an abstract way by our physical size. It sounds funny I know, but if we were much smaller, near to the size of an atom, the world would a completely different place, obviously.
However, at that scale we would never be able to imagine being on a beach, feeling the warmth of the sun, hearing the sounds of joy from others. We would not be able to hear music, smell a flower, or to love. Although I’ve been speaking about truth as being relative, as if it were something negative, the bigger idea is we have the richest sense of the universe, as far as I am concerned.

To conclude: through out this document I have brought forward examples demonstrating the nature and limitations of truth. I have shown how you can live and incorporate this essence in your life. My message then to the reader here is the same message all of humanity has poetically carried forward across millennia; embrace truth lightly, and keep a clear view of the world. Being human is to carry ten thousand things on your head, lest we forget though to attend to them knowing the one-ness of things in our heart.

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