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 facts: ACTUALITY
(2): the state of being the case: FACT
(3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality
b: a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true
c: the 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.
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)!