What is Truth, and Can it Be Known?

The following essay is quite the far reach for me! I am not trained in philosophy, nor epistemology, and therefore am totally out of my depth. That being said, I believe I raise some fascinating questions. My hope is that some of my friends and readers may enlighten me as to the subjects of truth, what it is, if it can be known, etc. IF, that is, they can make sense of the following ramble.

***

My good friend, Michael Moen, has recently introduced me to the writings of Eastern thinker, Krishnamurti. One of his ideas I’ve become fascinated with has to do with the subject of truth. Krishnamurti claims that if truth is a living thing, then it must continue to change and evolve, such as all living things tend to do. Therefore, what is true today may or may not be true tomorrow.

Yet can there be a difference between truth and our perceptions of the truth? Perhaps it is our perceptions which are living things, which change depending upon new information and attitudes. Perhaps truth is “a dead thing”, forever remaining static and unchanging. Or perhaps not! We shall hold our judgement until we have collected further evidence to form a decision.

We may bring up innumerable examples of changing perspectives, of course. Once upon a time, humankind believed the Earth to be flat. Although there had been theories of a round Earth as far back as Pythagoras (6 BC), it was not until Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the Earth (1511), that we had conclusive evidence to say the Earth was, in fact, a sphere.

Although human perception had declared the Earth to be flat, had declared that it was “truth” — the actual truth remained – regardless of our beliefs about it. My assertion here is that truth does not need to believed, such as lies do – truth merely needs to be understood. I venture to say that no one believes in a round earth anymore – they either understand it, or they do not.

So what is this “truth” thing, anyway? Some claim it does not even exist. Perhaps. But let’s look at a definition of truth from the online Merriam Webster, just for kicks:

 

1a (1)the body of real things, events, and factsACTUALITY

(2)the state of being the caseFACT

(3) often capitalized a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality

ba judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true

cthe body of true statements and propositions

 

Well, fair enough!

I am particularly fascinated with definition number three, which states, “a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality”. Now, why might the truth be transcendent? Obviously because truth is beyond human biases, human ignorance, human beliefs – we may say it is even beyond being human. Truth, after all, seems to have a quality of remaining itself, since it is unaffected by what we humble creatures would like it to be.

Here I will dare to tether together a more succinct definition: truth is a factual state of reality which is indifferent to the cares of consciousness, human or otherwise.

Such “factual states of reality” indifferent to ourselves include:

The state of the Earth being round.

The state of our planet being in constant orbit, as opposed to the outdated perception that it is stationary and the center of our solar system.

The state of space-time being curved, allowing for gravitational attraction.

Ad infinitum.

 

In order for these truths to be ascertained, they require not our belief, but our understanding. Either we understand the Earth is round, or we don’t, and believe other posits. Either we understand the universe has gravity, or we don’t, and find ourselves mysteriously unable to remark on the results of jumping out of a twelve story window.

Let us return back to the question posed at the beginning of this essay. Is truth a living, changing thing? Let us take up a truth and observe if it changes or remains static.

Truth: The Earth is round.

The Earth has been round for approximately 4 billion years, which is far longer than Homo sapiens have been alive. Yet during Earth’s initial formation, it was not round at all. At its beginning it was positively jagged! It was only until enough material had been accreted and there was enough time to pass, that the forming planet began to “round out” under the laws of gravity. The Earth will also cease being round sometime in the next 4 billion years, as the Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with Andromeda.

Thus, a truth such as “the Earth is round” will eventually change into, “The Earth is non-existent” or “The Earth is a gaseous and rocky soup”.  Yet, so what? The facts may change, but this does not mean they will become lies. That would be quite a jump indeed. I think we may do well to keep in mind that the future does not negate, nor erase the factual circumstances of the past.

Let us take the universal force of gravity into account. There seems mountains of evidence in support of the theory that space-time is curved, which is what creates “gravitational attraction”. Now, we may in the future discover information which makes our current thoughts about gravity narrow, primitive and outdated. But this new information will not negate the truth of gravity – if anything, it will expand that truth and allow it a depth and grandeur we had not previously understood.

Perhaps we may discover that our universe is merely a bubble located in a fast soup of infinite, bubble universes, popping in and out of existence for eternity. A giant God dips a spoon into the soup, downing a trillion universes in a single gulp. If such an astounding idea ever be granted evidence, such truths as “the earth is round” and “there is such a thing as universal gravity” will not cease to be true — even if our little bubble-universe goes ‘pop!

So it seems as if what is true today will remain true tomorrow, just as much as it was true in the past. Our perceptions, of course, will change constantly, whether we are reading Krishnamurti, or engaging in amateur epistemology (for which, of course, yours truly is undoubtedly guilty)!

14 thoughts on “What is Truth, and Can it Be Known?

  1. “Amateur epistemology”, Tylor? I’d have to say you’re a gifted amateur then! Some of the concepts you’ve expressed are right in line with the majority of professional philosophers today. Only your language is a bit different.

    For instance, “indifferent to the cares of consciousness” is a beautiful way of expressing the notion that some philosophers get at with words along the lines of “beyond the power of the will to alter or effect”. And others use other terms. Same idea, different language.

    Depending on how you categorize them, there are currently five major Theories of Truth. The oldest, simplest, and most widely accepted of them is the Correspondence Theory. Maybe the easiest way to explain it is to ask you to think of a map and its terrain. Now, the map itself represents statements or propositions (e.g. “The earth is round”). The terrain on the other hand represents reality. Never mind for now what “reality” is. Let’s just leave it at “that which is indifferent to the cares of consciousness”.

    Now, here’s the subtle part, Tylor. Truth is neither the map nor the terrain, but the relationship between the map and its terrain.

    Note how that’s not the most common definition of “truth”. In the West, ever since Jesus said “I am the Truth”, people have thought of “truth” as synonymous with “reality”. In other words, in the popular mind, a truth is a reality. But just about everyone who studies these things — whether they are philosophers or not — thinks of truth as the relationship between a statement and a reality.

    The statement, “The earth is round”, is true if it accurately corresponds to a reality (i.e. a round earth). Just as a map is true (or accurate) if it accurately corresponds to its terrain.

    There are about four other theories of truth, but that’s the big one.

    Give me a moment and I’ll post something about Krishnamurti.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul, I should let you know that I’m impressed with your erudition and knowledge on a continual basis. In no way am I being facetious when I say that I aspire to the abundance and keenness of your mind! Thanks for introducing me to Correspondance Theory. Your summary of it makes a lot of sense, and I look forward to reading more about it soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for your very kind words, Tylor. Coming from you, they mean a bit more to me since I believe you deeply value what you’re talking about.

        Here’s something that makes me smile these days. As people like you and me get older, our peers start praising us for the very same reasons we once annoyed them. Go figure!

        Not everyone, of course, but enough to make ti amusing.

        Like

  2. I think it’s wonderful you’re reading Jiddu Krishnamurti. May I ask which of his writings you’ve been delving into?

    Just a preliminary note. In my experience, Krishnamurti can be read and reread over decades and you will get more out of him with each reading.

    When K speaks of “Truth”, he is using the word in the popular sense of “reality”. But reality for K is very different from reality for most of us. To K, there is an apparent reality and a transcendent reality. The apparent reality is what most of us think of as “reality”. The things we can sense plus our thoughts and feelings, etc.

    The transcendent reality is what K now and the calls “they mystery”, “god”, “Love”, or some other term. Please do not think by “god” that he means anything like the Judeo-Christian God.

    “God” for K is something that can be — and sometimes is — experienced by people. K is a mystic, and like all mystics, he thinks there is a transcendent reality that can be experienced by people. Not all mystics call that reality “god”, and K himself most often calls it “Love”. You and I might describe K’s notion of “love” using words like “unconditional”, “absolute”, “altruistic” etc.

    So here’s the question — if god, love, the mystery, truth, etc can be experienced, then how? What must you do to experience it?

    In his answer to that question, K is almost alone among mystics. Most mystics say things like, “meditate if you want to experience transcendent reality”. Or the Buddhist “eight-fold path”. Or the “meditate and study koans” of Zen. Or the “pray your butt off” of Christian mystics. But K is different.

    For Kay, transcendent reality is a moving target. Therefor there can be no fixed path to it, no sure fire works every time method for experiencing it.

    In fact, it is such a moving target that you cannot experience “god” today and then go on to predict what your experience of “god” tomorrow will be like. “God” for K, is always new, unpredictable, etc.

    Does any of that help to clarify his views?

    P.S. https://cafephilos.blog/2017/04/04/mysticism-is-a-whore-allow-me-to-introduce-you/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that does clarify his ideas a bit more for me, thank you! The book which my friend, Mike, lent me is, “Freedom From the Known”, a slim yet profound volume of his work taken mostly from lectures that he gave to audiences in the mid 60’s.

      One thing I particularly admire about Krishnamurti is his focus on independent searching and knowing, as opposed to relying on the ‘expertise’ of gurus, holy book,s and other theological/philosophical authorities.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One of his best books, by all accounts.

        I so agree with you about Krishnamurti’s focus on independent thinking. That’s actually typical of nearly all mystics. Very, very much like that, most of them.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “The pursuit of truth shall set you free, even if you never catch up with it,” –Clarence Darrow (I took the liberty of quoting Darrow’s truth here because of falling short in my pursuit of something better to say) 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I was just now taking a look at your wonderful paintings. You don’t allow comments on that page, but I just gotta remark on how powerful they are. Quite the accomplishment, I think. And gutsy to pick such a raw, disturbing style. That’s not they aren’t deranged. I believe they are. But as you yourself have hinted so very often (and I agree with you) art should be authentic above most everything else. So I’m thinking, “Bravo!” You go, Tylor!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul! Thanks very much for your gracious compliment and acknowledgement of my paintings. Coming from you, whom I regard as no less than a great painter, that really means something. I must admit that my “style” is also my limitation… due to my lack of skills as a painter, it’s all I know how to do! Also, I didn’t know the comments were disabled on that page. Will have to go back and fix that. Thanks again. I hope you’re doing well and the writing is flowing wonderfully.

      Liked by 1 person

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