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I know this much is true...
September 19, 2001 10:59 PM   Subscribe

I know this much is true... For years, I have said that the greatest thing about the modern state of the US is that we hold nothing as "True". I was wrong. Apparently our "Truths" were just sleeping; now everyone seems to have some, and they're proving to be as divisive and factionalist here as elsewhere. So - apart from any particular issue - are there "Truths", or are there just perceptions of an issue? And, just to keep some edges sharp, in answering, are you at all religious?
posted by Perigee (77 comments total)

 
(The secondary question is no knock on religion; simply a method defining if the belief in Universal Truths for the respondent stems from an initial belief in one, Great Truth which defines other truths in its teachings.)
posted by Perigee at 11:03 PM on September 19, 2001


The one good bit of anything I got out of Stranger in a Strange Land was the concept of a perfect witness. Point to a house on a distant hill and ask a normal person what colour it is and they might answer "blue". Ask a perfect witness the same question and they might answer "This side appears blue".

It's a way of phrasing things that I have tended to adopt. Unfortunately it typically results in sentences too wordy to keep most people's interest and makes me appear more uncertain about things than the average ignorant idiot.

(FYI, I am an atheist.)
posted by krisjohn at 11:29 PM on September 19, 2001


I think the reason that people start talking about Truth again when terrible things happen is that when there is suffering, we see something straightforward and incontrovertible: a person in pain. No attempt to deny it, or to start talking about "points of view" ever seems to make pain and suffering go away.
posted by Orkboi at 11:33 PM on September 19, 2001


Universal truth is based on a 100% decision by humankind on what is right and wrong, if you don't believe in God that is. This is simply impossible... for what one human may call wrong, another may find joy in. Whether you believe killing children, raping women, etc...are things that can be deemed wrong by the world, the fact that it is occuring, proves that some simply do not uphold that "truth".

I believe there are universal truths....but not determined by humankind. The universal truths have been determined outside this universe....GOD. Since we all have different lives, different perspectives, different opinions, we are in no position to come up with universal truths...for we look at all life through a warped view. Only an infallable, unchanging, everlasting, all-knowing God would be able to establish such truths.
posted by Sonserae at 11:33 PM on September 19, 2001


Yeah, I'd forgotten about "Stranger in a Strange Land". What a great book. Out language wasn't made for precision (though it can be adapted to the task). It's made for the messy world we happen to live in.

...and I'm a Catholic. I think it's a good religion for messy people.
posted by Orkboi at 11:35 PM on September 19, 2001


I wrote a 20-page paper on this in college, 20 years ago. After thinking though all the various scenarios (and being a huge science fiction geek, which helped tremendously), I came to the conclusion that the only things I could "know" with absolute certainty were internal. "I'm hungry", for example. That's a feeling that I feel, and I feel it whether I'm awake or dreaming, whether there are wires attached to my head stimulating those feelings or not, whether my stomach is full or not. No one can contradict that or convince me it isn't true. It can't turn out to be false. At that moment, I was hungry.

Everything else is something that you "believe", rather than "know", even if you believe you know it. I believe in God.
posted by JParker at 11:38 PM on September 19, 2001


Yes, universal truths can be internal. God can write them on our hearts. When we see something or do something that goes against that truth, we "feel" badly or guilty. I believe we are all born with this "knowing"...but evil and separation from God numbs our conscious of the universal truths.
posted by Sonserae at 11:42 PM on September 19, 2001


I'm a relativist. I'm an agnositc.
posted by willnot at 11:57 PM on September 19, 2001


Surely our 'knowledge' of what is 'true' does not restrict the 'reality of truth'.

Example: I could look at a particular car and say it is red.
Someone else might look at it and say it is fully maroon.
Someone else might look at it and say it is burgundy.
Someone else might look at it and say it is blue (at which point you would have to wonder whether they were colourblind!?)

However, the car is in fact a specific, particular colour regardless of our individual perception of that colour. It cannot be red, maroon, burgundy and blue all at one time (unless each particular part was a different colour which is not the case in this illustration- the car is all one colour).

Whilst I might perceive the car as being red and you might perceive it as being blue, the physical car is in fact either red or blue or neither. It cannot be all at once.

Our postmodern society seems to have forgotten that. We define truth on a 'personal' level (ie. what is true for you is 'truth'). There is no longer any objectivity in truth today- it is all subjective... in which case nothing can be true.

Whether we 'perceive' a truth or not does not dictate the 'reality' of the truth itself.

(PS. I'm an evangelical christian)
posted by Danielle_T at 11:59 PM on September 19, 2001


Ask a perfect witness the same question and they might answer "This side appears blue". It's a way of phrasing things that I have tended to adopt.

I'd email you this if you had a public address but you might find a lot of interest in E-prime and General Semantics. E-prime (English Prime) essentially does away with "is" and goes for more subjective and relative statements. I don't think its terribly unwieldy when used properly.
posted by skallas at 12:03 AM on September 20, 2001


Truth is relative. Relative is relative. The only universal truth is that there is no universal truth. Of course, this is relative. (Aggressive Postmodernism is not only fun, it is also annoying.) I believe there is an Answer, which may be relative to other Answers, but we will never know any of them. Which makes me guilty of assumption, but I get out of jail free because I craftily assume an unknowable.
posted by Opus Dark at 12:07 AM on September 20, 2001


Danielle_T...Excellent....you said the same thing I was trying to say.

p.s. I'm an evangelical Christian as well...
posted by Sonserae at 12:07 AM on September 20, 2001


Opus Dark...You just contradicted yourself. By stating "there is no universal truth" you were trying to state a universal truth.
posted by Sonserae at 12:09 AM on September 20, 2001


Opus Dark...You just contradicted yourself. By stating "there is no universal truth" you were trying to state a universal truth.

Hey, I brilliantly equivocated with "Of course, this is relative". Wiggle room is one of the things I know best!
posted by Opus Dark at 12:14 AM on September 20, 2001


I lay great store by Kant's Categorical Imperative: "Act so as to use humanity, whether in your own person or in others, always as an end, and never merely as a means.". To spice up my example, I declare myself to be an atheist (strictly: a humanist), but provide a definition of the categorical imperative from the Catholic Encyclopaedia. My interpretation of Kant views man as an end in himself, the Christians as essentially subordinate to God. Having thought about it for a long time, I find I can (or understand why I should !) do all of the things regarded by Christians as being 'good', without requiring all the apparatus that comes with Christianity.
posted by RichLyon at 12:16 AM on September 20, 2001


Whilst I might perceive the car as being red and you might perceive it as being blue, the physical car is in fact either red or blue or neither. It cannot be all at once.


Perception is not passive its active, what color is the car when its driving and night under yellow lights? A red car in different situations with different witnesses can be any color. If we can't isolate the car and examine it its going to be indeterminate. When you do isolate it you still have to make concessions for lighting and definitions of what maroon or red really looks like etc. Atoms don't even have color, color happens because of their interaction with certain wavelengths of photons. Its a process. A process that would be invisible or unreal if we had slightly different sense organs.

There is no longer any objectivity in truth today- it is all subjective... in which case nothing can be true.

Was there true objectivity ever? Has anyone truly perceived reality? No. All we can claim is that external signals after complex processing in the brain can be described as reality.
posted by skallas at 12:18 AM on September 20, 2001


Welcome to the Pomo pinball league, skallas.
posted by Opus Dark at 12:25 AM on September 20, 2001


*tilt*
posted by juv3nal at 12:44 AM on September 20, 2001


Perigree, are there "Truths", or are there just perceptions of an issue?

Depending on the case, that’s either moral relativism or anti-intellectualism. I think both are disgusting, frankly. There are natural and moral truths, otherwise all opinions would always be inherently meaningless. I’d be able to kill you without any reprecussions. But there are repercussions. The most important being that you are no longer alive.

Sonserae, I’ve got a problem with that. I don’t believe in a higher power, so I have to rely on other sources to answer these questions. (Not — so very not — trying to start a higher-power existance debate.)

JParker, No one can contradict that or convince me it isn't true.

Can they not reach you because you don’t know how to effiecently communicate with them, or because your personal truth is more important than the possibility that you’re deluded?

That’s not a shot.

Skallas, time exists without anyone’s ability to percieve it. We can make cute and useful ways of having it symbolized to us, but that doesn’t mean it goes away if we stop paying attention.

Opus, more, more!
posted by raaka at 12:44 AM on September 20, 2001


A red car in different situations with different witnesses can be any color

Yes, but there is the point- the ultimate truth is that the car is red. Or to use your example, the car at night might appear to be a dark maroon. The real colour of the car reacting with the light (or lack there-of) morphs our perception of the real colour to a different shade. But that shade is still, in reality, one shade- not five.

In any case the "colour" illustration is just that- an illustration.

You could just as easily use another one:
A news weatherman says "Tomorrow will be fine and dry, with a cold front moving in towards the evening".

Because I was vacuuming the living room when he said it on TV I might have heard "Tomorrow will be fine and dry, with no cold front moving in towards the evening".
Or someone who is deaf and is seeing it translated into sign language might 'hear' it as "Tomorrow there will be a cold front after a fine and dry day".
Or someone who was channel surfing might have only heard the first part of the sentence and when someone asked them that night what the weather was going to be like tomorrow answered "The weatherman said 'fine and dry'"

However, the differing perceptions of the 'message' don't negate the reality of the truth of the message. The weatherman still said "Tomorrow will be fine and dry, with a cold front moving in towards the evening" regardless of how others might have interpreted or perceived it.

Has anyone truly perceived reality? No
That doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist.
posted by Danielle_T at 12:48 AM on September 20, 2001


The only universal truth is that there is no universal truth. Of course, this is relative

So it is universally true that universal truth is universally relative?

As many linguistic and mental contortions I do with that one it doesn't stand up- either relatively or universally ;-)
posted by Danielle_T at 12:59 AM on September 20, 2001


Danielle_T, interesting points but you claim "the ultimate truth is that the car is red." First off, because color distinctions are arbitrary agreed upon there can be no ultimate truth about something as revativistic as color. Why does the word 'Red' conjure up the image of an apple? Its cultural. I can see an argument that the car is red because we know what red looks like through socialization, but like I mentioned color is a phenomenon and the car composing of atoms has no color. Thus no ultimate/universal/metaphysical truth.

Its highly relativistic and because we're talking about cars the final authority is not some witness or physics its going to be the company that mixes paint.

Has anyone truly perceived reality? No
That doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't exist.


I never claimed it didn't. Not being a solipsist I mentioned external signals in my last post. I'll agree that there are things outside of you that we can make sense of, but unless we have perfect perception we can't be sure what's really out there. We just have to rely on our brain and its workings (which is a whole other mess) to provide what we think to be an accurate picture of reality.

raaka:


Skallas, time exists without anyone’s ability to percieve it. We can make cute and useful ways of having it symbolized to us, but that doesn’t mean it goes away if we stop paying attention.


Actually we do perceive space-time. Walk around. Second, I wasn't advocating solipsism. I was trying to explain that arbitrary distinctions attached to words like 'red' cannot have some ultimate metaphysical truth, instead we respond to color signals and their names because of socialization and experience.
posted by skallas at 1:08 AM on September 20, 2001


Skallas,

Perhaps I have misunderstood your argument (which would definitely not be a first).

My main point is that regardless of our 'perceptions' of something as true there lies an objective true reality. I suggest that the reality of truth is not reliant upon our perception of it, even though we ourselves may never actually know that reality.

Perhaps the "car" illustration doesn't work as well as my second illustration (although I do think the principle is the same since all things being equal two people who are in the same position at the same time with no factors such as colour blindness have no reason to see something other than what we define as 'red' when looking at the car)
posted by Danielle_T at 1:15 AM on September 20, 2001


Yes, but there is the point- the ultimate truth is that the car is red.

Actually no. It’s more likely that the paint or coating on the car is red, and even then – no. In this case, color is perceived based on EMF that gets absorbed and not reflected back at you relative to the EMF that does radiate back to you. If you shine different radiation on it, then the color will very specifically be different. If you look at it at different angles or with organs that perceive different parts of the spectrum (UV, Infrared), then you’ll obviously be seeing something very different the red you think is the truth.

But you say, ultimately the properties of the car or the paint or whatever and its ability to reflect radiation are immutable, so ultimately even though the color may be different, in different situations, when viewed by different observers, the car itself has some inherent truth.

In fact I don't understand quantum effects to a level I would like (where's Steven Den Beste when you need him?). But, I'm pretty sure there are people who could argue quite effectively that in reality the car might not even be there, and that there is no specific truth of the car independent of our observations of it.

Even if science couldn’t make the case that the car isn’t there, many philosophers can and have.

I know you said that the color was merely an example, but it is an instructive one that speaks to the point. The observer changes the thing that is observed.
posted by willnot at 1:20 AM on September 20, 2001


I can see an argument that the car is red because we know what red looks like through socialization, but like I mentioned color is a phenomenon and the car composing of atoms has no color. Thus no ultimate/universal/metaphysical truth.

Atoms might not have color, but molecules have color because they reflect/absorb specific ranges of wavelengths/frequencies of light. That's somewhat relative, of course.
I could probably see myself to agreeing with your assertion of no u/u/mp truth, but I fail to see how atoms having no color is any kind of proof for it...
posted by juv3nal at 1:25 AM on September 20, 2001


Danielle_T writes
As many linguistic and mental contortions I do with that one it doesn't stand up- either relatively or universally

The entire statement is relative to the my self-declared relativism, which renders the statement itself meaningless.

The statement might be relative to the universe in which it was forged, my mood at the time of its forging, and the four forged horsemen of the apocalypse. It is your processing of the statement which gives it any meaning to you, and thus you are forging your own problems with it. It was, IOW, a forgery.

Of course, since it is your opinion that everything has a single, unambiguous, ultimate meaning, you knew all of this already, and you are just just playing mind-games with me.

Right? ;)
posted by Opus Dark at 1:34 AM on September 20, 2001


Perhaps the "car" illustration doesn't work as well as my second illustration (although I do think the principle is the same since all things being equal two people who are in the same position at the same time with no factors such as colour blindness have no reason to see something other than what we define as 'red' when looking at the car)

I'm not picking on you, I promise. But the weatherman analogy is pretty bad. The color problem is that we take an experience and give it an arbitrary name, a word, semantics.

The weatherman on the other hand is speaking in words - semantics. His words are just that. Now color phenomenon isn't semantic like the words of the weatherman. Its our job to turn that phenomenon into words. Imagine if I showed you a color chart and randomly picked 10 spots. You'd be hard pressed to say what colors those are. You could say something like "that's kinda purple-mauve-lilac" and be accurate in a sense that some but not all will agree with you, but you'll be wrong at the same time because of disagreement.

Now we can just replay the weather man's taped report and hear the words. The job is done there. No need for further processing.

I hope that helps. My main point is that words are not reality and the case for ultimate reality or ultimate truth is just a metaphysical Aristotelean hang-up.
posted by skallas at 1:36 AM on September 20, 2001


[...] otherwise all opinions would always be inherently meaningless.

I am willing to accept that as truth. Of course that's just my meaningless opinion, and I understand that your opinion is different (and I imagine not meaningless?). You see how much fun this moral relativism can be?

I’d be able to kill you without any reprecussions.

So it would be wrong for you to kill me? Wrong because killing is wrong or wrong because society has agreed that it is better for most people to prohibit this?

If killing is inherently wrong is it wrong when a praying mantis kills its mate to nourish its offspring after mating? Will the mantis be punished in some way?
posted by willnot at 1:39 AM on September 20, 2001


A==A
posted by dagny at 1:49 AM on September 20, 2001


I could probably see myself to agreeing with your assertion of no u/u/mp truth, but I fail to see how atoms having no color is any kind of proof for it...


No molecules don't have color either, they're composed of atoms. Imagine if you could see into the infra-red you'd say "my computer is full of heat" Which is equally false on the atomic scale, atoms don't contain heat, heat is a function of how quickly atoms are bouncing off each other. Its a process, like color is really photons showing us what bands absorb into the material they're reflecting off of.


I'm trying to illustrate that everyday observations are fine for everyday uses, but the macro world has little to do with the micro world and if you're going to use the macro world to describe the metaphysical ultimate reality you are simply the proverbial blind man feeling only part of the elephant.
posted by skallas at 1:50 AM on September 20, 2001


No molecules don't have color either, they're composed of atoms

I hope that isn't a statement of universal truth or true objectivity Skallas ;)

*lol*

PS. I'm not picking on you either ;)
posted by Danielle_T at 1:58 AM on September 20, 2001


A==A

The cat has Graucho Marx eyebrows?

No, that's actually a very elegant argument dagny. But I still have to think that to understand that a is equal to a you still have to understand the concept that "a" represents and the concept of equality. So while this is likely to be the best argument for an absolute truth we're likely to see in this thread (math is math regardless of semantics), I still feel that it's all contextual.
posted by willnot at 2:04 AM on September 20, 2001


you are simply the proverbial blind man feeling only part of the elephant.

Yikes. Not covered by most insurance...

Danielle_T, I'm most certainly not picking on you. I'm not an evangelical anything.

This is an ancient argument - it usually comes down to both sides agreeing not to sweat the small stuff, and the big stuff seems to distill into a Faith-less or Faith-full stalemate. Very few people switch sides - they just get in some batting practice.
posted by Opus Dark at 2:05 AM on September 20, 2001


Truth appears to be relative.

I consider myself an agnostic apatheist.
posted by walrus at 2:14 AM on September 20, 2001


I hope that isn't a statement of universal truth or true objectivity Skallas ;)

Naww its a working model that I will quickly be disposed of when I encounter a better model.
posted by skallas at 2:17 AM on September 20, 2001


A==A

Given, absolute truth can hold within limited rule-based systems.

There is no direct evidence to show that A==A has any meaning outside our brains, however.
posted by walrus at 2:17 AM on September 20, 2001


Interesting. The relativists appear to be more secular while the absolutists appear to be more faith based. The latter makes sense to me. In order for there to be a God, there must be some absolute truth. Why the former do you suppose? Quirk of the people reporting here or do you suppose it's just that a willingness to accept alternate views/realities defeats faith in some way? Or might there be some other reason?
posted by willnot at 2:26 AM on September 20, 2001


Naww its a working model that I will quickly be disposed of when I encounter a better model

*lol*

Well anyway, if anyone is interested in hearing my thoughts on the issue (written a few months ago with a bit of a religious slant) take a look:
http://www.web-therapy.com/truth.htm

Feedback is welcomed but right now I am off to merrily make wedding invitations (no- not mine).

Thanks for the input peoples!
posted by Danielle_T at 2:37 AM on September 20, 2001


The relativists appear to be more secular while the absolutists appear to be more faith based.

I've seen my fair share of secular people whose allegiance to materialist scientific cosmology could teach Falwell a thing or two. I think its a natural human drive to have a cosmological picture in one's head regardless of one's religious stance. I think its also unhealthy to belive in anything too strongly, those with all the answers have the least credibility.

Then again this is your typical agnostic statement. Not too surprising coming from me.
posted by skallas at 2:53 AM on September 20, 2001


[and a deep philosophical discussion breaks out .... ]

re: "the relativists appear to be more secular": I think relativists tend to be skeptical in general. Maybe b/c if you doubt objectivity you tend to doubt everything. So it makes sense you'd then doubt God.

in general: it's very hard for me to see how you can justify a claim regarding any sort of absolute truths, outside of mathematical tautologies (like A=A, as suggested). If you push far enough down, it is very hard to explain what justification you have for believing anything beyond your immediate sensations (as JParker wrote early in this thread).

It's ironic to me that discussions on this issue often end up being discussions of properties of scientifically conjectured objects. If we have any cause to believe in atoms and molecules in the first place it's really b/c of our perceptions of the results of scientific experiments. Actually, for most of us, it's b/c of our memories of our perceptions of text books and lectures. Not exactly a firm foundation for any claims about absolute truths.

[My own personal theory happens to be that the 20th century love affair with scientific theory as "truth" has its basis in the notion (from early in the century) that every system of thought should be formalized and derived from basic principles. Since science is essentially an attempt to define the objects of the world and their behavior formally (i.e., you can use equations to describe them), philosophers, following Russell and Whitehead et al., naturally believed that it was somehow more "true".

As for why so many non-philosophers seem to think it makes sense to think theoretically constructed "objects" are real, not to mention more real than cars and trees etc., I'm at a loss. (All the scientists I know could care less about whether their theories are in fact "reality" (they just care about grant money and publishing papers (heh heh)).)]
posted by mattpfeff at 2:59 AM on September 20, 2001


A==A
But I still have to think that to understand that a is equal to a you still have to understand the concept that "a" represents and the concept of equality.


The concept of equality dictates reflexivity, that is, a=a is a valid statement, symmetry, that is, a=b implies b=a, and transitivity, that is, a=b and b=c implies a=c.

But that's not the point, is it? The point is the car analogy. The car has definite, measurable (that's very important to me) reactions to the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation (light), and so it only has one color at any one time from any one point of view, and the english language and our inexact viewing mechanisms (eyes) mess that up.

The basic problem here (that is, if there is a problem), is, as has already been mentioned, postmodern deconstructionism -- "it means whatever you want it to mean." The fact is, unless the creator of whatever you're looking at (art, a book, etc.) was distracted or crazy, they had something in mind when they made it, and just because you have a different interpretation doesn't mean that you're right. In fact, it means that you are wrong. And even if the author's intent was that different peopel interpret it differently, then that's what it means. It just makes it postmodern.

And I'm an agnostic leaning towards atheism for comfort.
posted by j.edwards at 3:02 AM on September 20, 2001


skallas, walking around doesn’t prove the existence of time. It proves you can walk.

Yet, you seem to understand that time is something inherent to your life; that it is something so simple as to be self-evident by moving one’s feet.

Opus, if you quote Kroker I’m gonna get turned on.
posted by raaka at 3:14 AM on September 20, 2001


The basic truth I believe is that every action causes it's own future, making multiple futures.

Example:

If a person takes his 44 and attempts to "swallows a bullet" in some futures he will have died, in other futures the gun malfunctioned and didn't fire, and others the injury wasn't fatal and the person lives with injuries etc.

From an absolute view all these futures are created. The person doesn't know which future is the one they will end up in. From a relative view, in this example, I suspect if that person were me, the future I wound up in involves injuries of an undetermined degree.

A more immediate example, I may choose to post this or not.

Anyone grok this?

BTW: chicken atheist here (agnostic).
posted by DBAPaul at 3:15 AM on September 20, 2001


skallas, walking around doesn’t prove the existence of time. It proves you can walk.


Time is an antiquated concept, you can experience time-space because you live in it. Second, one can tell when time has gone by. The human body was built in rhythms to regulate sleep and waking. Are you saying because we don't have built it clocks, an artificial mechanism, we can't know anything about space-time? For a dramatic effect of how space-time works, walk near the speed of light, slow down and go back home.

I don't see where you're going with this time business, or are you purposely ignoring space-time to make some paradoxal point?
posted by skallas at 3:20 AM on September 20, 2001


follow-up, re: time specifically.

Let's say you geniunely wonder if time exists. How can you possibly come up with any evidence? All you have are your immediate perceptions and your memories of past perceptions. You do not have those past perceptions to talk about (not unless you're already assuming time exists). You just have your memories of them.

Sure, you think you had those perceptions in the past, but that's part of the memory of those perceptions, nothing more. So all you have is your experience of the present moment. The only argument I think you can try and make is that you experience your perceptions as somehow changing. But I think that also assumes you believe in time to begin with -- isn't it possible that you just remember having experienced your perceptions as having changed (until the present moment)?
posted by mattpfeff at 3:28 AM on September 20, 2001


A more immediate example, I may choose to post this or not.

Anyone grok this?


I don't know if you can truly grok infinite worlds, but you're describing the Everett-Wheeler-Graham (EWG) theory which was used to discredit non-local phenomenon.

In this particular possible universe you chose to post and I chose to reply.
posted by skallas at 3:29 AM on September 20, 2001


DBAPaul -- I think I grok.
Two things. First, there was a really good short story whose name has escapaed me where this guy finds a way to jump between possible futures.
Second, your example being the standard one, you have to realize that it is essentially predetermined whether or not the gun will fire, based on calculable factors. Most events are determined within small error bounds shortly before they happen. Now, perhaps the divergence of possible outcomes occurs anyway (my point certainly doesn't exclude it), and I am not trying to flame or anything (I'm nice), but what effect does this have on the nature of truth? If the alternate futures "exist" or not, it doesn't have any effect on us and so (from my nasty realist point of view) might as well not exist.

And I like your religion. I think that when Steven King wrote as Richard Bachman, he claimed his religion was Rooster Worship.
posted by j.edwards at 3:30 AM on September 20, 2001


Let's say you geniunely wonder if time exists. How can you possibly come up with any evidence?

A good started would be the various experiments used to test relativity.

isn't it possible that you just remember having experienced your perceptions as having changed (until the present moment)?


Oh, you're never know if solipsism is true or not.
posted by skallas at 3:36 AM on September 20, 2001


There are of course universal truths, but they originate from God, and we need to discover them. So, first you have to acknowledge that God exists, which is straightforward (there had to be an act of creation because everthing that exists today had to start somewhere- either as matter or energy, there was that first act of creation from nothing. It is logically impossible for anything to exist for eternity without having that moment of creation at some definite point.)
posted by Counselco at 3:46 AM on September 20, 2001


you never know if solipsism is true or not

True, true. So then, similarly, can you ever know if time exists or not?

That is, as soon as you ask if the world really exists or not, and you take the question seriously, you realize, what you say about solipsism -- you can never know.

All I'm saying is I think you can't ask if time exists, either -- not in the context of this "truth" stuff. Sure, some dimension called "time" is an essential aspect of our modern physical theories about the world. And those experiments designed to test relativity will help discover many of its properties. But I guess I feel all that's just theory, it's hard to see how it pertains to questions of whether anything's real or true or whatever.
posted by mattpfeff at 3:49 AM on September 20, 2001


Well, creation is outside of any current logical system, and since physics has identified the ever-popular "big bang" back to within (anyone want to help me with this figure?) 10^-30 seconds of the actual event, God could only have manipulated the universe up until then, and while He is Omnipotent/Omniscient (violating Heisenberg and therefore rendering the universe deterministic and us without free will) and certainly could manage to do everything necessary in that time, creating a superheated soup of elementary particles hardly gives him the authority to tell me whether or not I can adulterize... And if he takes that liberty anyway, he doesn't sound the kind of guy I want to bother placating.
posted by j.edwards at 3:53 AM on September 20, 2001


[I have said that the greatest thing about the modern state of the US is that we hold nothing as "True". ]

Where you got the idea that the US doesn't hold anything as true is beyond me, unless you discount this :

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
posted by revbrian at 4:08 AM on September 20, 2001


various experiments used to test relativity

Tests happen in the past right?

Also, the C in E=mc2 is the speed of light. Well, you can’t have speed without space or time.

Are you saying because we don't have built it clocks, an artificial mechanism, we can't know anything about space-time?

Not at all, not at all. Quite the opposite. That we use time constantly, without really thinking about it much, is proof of its own existence. Time is self-evident; we don’t need an artificial measure or collective opinion to back up that assertion. We all know it’s true.

Regardless if a car is painted red and twenty other people think it’s blue, they’re all taking a certain amount of time to arive at their decision. It doesn’t matter if they think a different amount of time has passed, because they all know it has. They can’t prove it, they just intuit.

Now, if collective opinion turned into, “Time doesn’t exist.” All you’d have ask is when that statement was made. Which means time isn’t based in the mind of the person percieving it. Everyone is experiencing it.

I don't see where you're going with this time business, or are you purposely ignoring space-time to make some paradoxal point?

I’ll get to the point: phenomena exists that everyone, always, experiences, regardless of their perception of it occurring. That time exists (and space, but I’m just talking about time right now) in a linear fashion is a universal truth which all humans inherently know.

Time is a “Universal Truth.”

(Space, too. Its more interesting, because you can’t even talk about emptiness without driving yourself nuts. One just has to accept that it’s (not) there.)

This made me think about what else is inherent to an objective reality.
posted by raaka at 4:09 AM on September 20, 2001


But I guess I feel all that's just theory, it's hard to see how it pertains to questions of whether anything's real or true or whatever.


It really depends on what role you want to play, philosopher or scientist. Theory is the end of the scientific method, models are all science has. Its funny hearing how something is just a theory.

Real, truth, etc is best left to philosophy. Science just one tool of many. If you don't like it there's nothing necessarily wrong there.

Counselco, why God? Why not Goddess, Polytheism, Malicious god(s), impersonal forces, etc. If you're going to pigeon hole something to explain the big bang its only fair to represent everyone. Or are you just rationalizing western christian myths in an unoriginal attempt to reconcile scientific cosmology and religious cosmology? The religious assumption isn't so bad, but what bothers me is the hubris people have to assume that the universe is just for them and some transcendental being would be human-like with feelings and goals. The popular depicition of an old white male just makes it worse.
posted by skallas at 4:16 AM on September 20, 2001


phenomena exists that everyone, always, experiences, regardless of their perception of it occurring. That time exists (and space, but I’m just talking about time right now) in a linear fashion is a universal truth which all humans inherently know.


No. Look at how time was considered in Newton's time as compared to how relativity treats it. Einstien killed absolute time and time because a completely different creature. Time is a theory and open to revision and had a complete re-write last century. Time can't be a universal truth if its revised.

It sounds like you're going for a kind of pop understanding of things. I could do the same. Every (living) human breathes, so breathing is an absolute truth. What do we know about breathing really? A few hundred years ago next to nothing.

Breathing and time may be experienced by all but that doesn't mean we understand it. In a few years there might be another theory that redefines time again. So where's this metaphysical truth? If its out there we certainly can't assume that this current theory is the ultimate truth.
posted by skallas at 4:28 AM on September 20, 2001


anyone want to help me with this figure Well, strictly, the universe actually passed through time 0 from an equal and opposite state at the point when the 11 current dimensions of reality (only four of which, of course, are manifest at the macroscopic level) were related to their pre-big bang states at the point of unity. And which of the two putative extant time dimensions are you guys assuming here anyhow? (see The Elegant Universe as, indeed, I will again to check whether I've got this blather even half right from memory).

A Christian approach to the observabable and speculative universe must have been a lot simpler when Natural Philosophy confined itself to wondering why apples fell on people's heads. The shareprice of Ecclesiastical Wisdom Inc. started falling shortly after Copernicus blew a hole in the geocentric model of the universe. And truth? Those things we are required now to determine the truth of have become more abstract even than the nature of truth itself.

Where does that leave me? Back in utility theory, civilised by "do unto others as you would have done unto you".
posted by RichLyon at 5:31 AM on September 20, 2001


"The fewer dogmas, the fewer disputes; the fewer disputes, the fewer miseries: if this is not true, then I'm wrong." Voltaire: A Treatise on Toleration
posted by jill at 5:34 AM on September 20, 2001


Now, if collective opinion turned into, “Time doesn’t exist.” All you’d have ask is when that statement was made. Which means time isn’t based in the mind of the person percieving it. Everyone is experiencing it.

If everyone felt time didn't exist, then why would anyone ask "when?" That word alone already acknowledges the concept of time, and the way it is normally used even acknowledges the rather strict mechanical definitions we have invented to "tell time."

But now I'm being difficult. Some other thoughts:

You can ask "when," but the answer you get means something different to you than it means to someone else. Even if we all believe we experience time, we clearly do not experience it in the same way. For instance, when I was a little boy waiting for guests to come over for Xmas eve, I experienced waiting for a very long time, while my mother experienced not waiting at all, feeling that she was running out of time to make preparations and that the guests came very quickly. A clock on the wall might have suggested that the "truth" was somewhere in the middle - using clock standards, let's say I felt I waited for approximately three hours, my mom felt she waited for approximately 20 minutes, while the clock said we "actually" waited for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Think about this: If I drive from Baltimore to New York, it may feel like it takes a long time (let's say it feels like 5 hours). I arrive and look at my watch, and it indicates that the trip took 4 hours. I then say; "it felt like it took 5 hours, but actually, it only took 4 hours."

Why do we trust such a highly abstract mechanical instrument more than we trust our own senses?

That time exists (...) in a linear fashion is a universal truth which all humans inherently know.

This is the general everyday assumption (mine too) because it's easier to organize events that way. But everyone dreams, and within dreams time does not always adhere to a linear format. Then there's the experience of deja vu which many people have felt. Even in everyday situations I do not always feel that time is linear - at least it does not seem to progress in a stable, smooth fashion.

Finally, on the subject of time, I used to wonder as a kid: The world record for running 100 meters keeps improving. A few decades ago, the fastest time was 12 seconds. Then the fastest time was 11 seconds. Then 10. Now 9, right? (sorry if my numbers are a bit off). Where does this stop? Will someone run 100 meters in 5 seconds? 3 seconds? How about 0 seconds?
posted by edlundart at 6:03 AM on September 20, 2001


American relativism as defined in Federalist Paper no. 1:

"So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as the on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so thoroughly persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy."

-Publius (Alexander Hamilton)
posted by quercus at 6:11 AM on September 20, 2001


its a working model that I will quickly be disposed of when I encounter a better model.

And such is life.
posted by rushmc at 6:19 AM on September 20, 2001


It is logically impossible for anything to exist for eternity without having that moment of creation at some definite point.

Is it now? Then where, pray tell, did God come from?
posted by rushmc at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2001


Brilliant, quercus. Here's another variation I like:

The circumstances of the world are so variable, that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one.
--W.H. Seward
posted by rushmc at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2001


I hold this much to be true: that there is no limit to the amount of crap that can be posted on an Internet chat board.
posted by Summer at 6:34 AM on September 20, 2001


And here's a religious perspective with which I can happily agree:

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
--Buddha
posted by rushmc at 6:36 AM on September 20, 2001


I remember having a book that sectioned off truth into three categories:

1. Coherent: What one believes to be true. (ie. in 1492, Columbus sailed etc....)

2. Coexistent: What one witnesses to be true (ie. My chair is green)

3. Pragmatic: A truth from logical progression (ie. My TV and lights turned off, the fuse must have went)

I'm a little rusty, but I believe this is what I read. Although all this talk about truth makes me think I dreamed it up. It does sound Marxist if anyone wants to back it up.
(btw, I don't actively worship...but I don't believe we are a fluke. And the secret to life is 42)
posted by samsara at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2001


I hold this much to be true: that there is no limit to the amount of crap that can be posted on an Internet chat board.
posted by Summer at 6:40 AM on September 20, 2001


Ooops. Didn't mean to put that twice, much as I stand by it.
posted by Summer at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2001


Why do we trust such a highly abstract mechanical instrument more than we trust our own senses?

"Because [our senses] are easily tricked. You may be a blob of mustard, a piece of undigested cheese. Yes, there's more of gravy than of grave about you!"
A paraphrase from memory, but there are basic constants relating to time, and that quote, representing human fallibility, is indication of why perhaps we should trust those things to some other construct, like a cesium atom.

The world record for running 100 meters keeps improving. A few decades ago, the fastest time was 12 seconds. Then the fastest time was 11 seconds. Then 10. Now 9, right? (sorry if my numbers are a bit off). Where does this stop? Will someone run 100 meters in 5 seconds? 3 seconds? How about 0 seconds?

There's actually a theoretical cutoff in another second or two based on the limits of the human body itself, but it'll take a lot of steroids to get there. And then, we'll just race cyborgs.
posted by j.edwards at 6:51 AM on September 20, 2001


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but if you don't believe in a Creator does that mean you forego all those inalienable rights? Ah, but then if you don't believe in a creator, you can't believe that you were "created" equal, for that matter. Oh, what a tangled Deist web our forefathers wove! They meant for atheists to have no rights at all--or at least not those who are into modal logic.
posted by vraxoin at 7:00 AM on September 20, 2001


Man, I thought that I was finished with these discussions after my last philosophy class. Not that I didn't enjoy them, it is just difficult to discuss with relative humanists who see everything as gray. Me, I don't see how life can exist without abosolutes. Geometry, for example, is something that we can prove to be true through mathematics. Physics demonstrates order within the universe. Why not ethics? It seems that if we live in a world filled with physical truths (that is once you get past the, "how do I know that I exist stage" of metaphysics) it follows that there are moral truths as well.

Second question, I am a Christian. I think the best argument I have heard (other than experience of God through faith in Him) is Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" which demonstrates that there can be no knowledge without experience. The argument that there are many religions (three blind men describing the elephant) doesn't, in my opinion, hold water. It seems that if there is an omnicient, benevolent God that He would want to share Himself with His creation. The fact that humans worship God, have experience of His benevolence, and experience knowledge beyond "I am hungry" points to Him. Now, I know that the above argument is weak, that is why I am an accountant and not a philosopher, but if there are any people out there that are better at highlighting this point, please do. If you disagree, ignore the weaknesses in my argument and try to defend against its strengths.
posted by Uncle Joe's Brother at 7:06 AM on September 20, 2001


There's actually a theoretical cutoff in another second or two based on the limits of the human body itself, but it'll take a lot of steroids to get there. And then, we'll just race cyborgs.

Was that theoretical cut-off always the same? It is often the case that we declare something to be possible only to a certain limit, until we discover something or develop further to the point that our theoretical cut-off point must be altered.

there are basic constants relating to time, and that quote, representing human fallibility, is indication of why perhaps we should trust those things to some other construct, like a cesium atom.

There are certainly practical benefits from trusting the telling of time to a clock, but I'd argue there is also reason to try to look away from our watches and just experience time the way it feels. And to trust THAT as a "truth" at least as much as the mechanical "truth" a construct such as a clock offers.

Summer, this crap is some of the best crap I've seen in a while.
posted by edlundart at 7:16 AM on September 20, 2001


>>Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but if you don't believe in a Creator does that mean you forego all those inalienable rights? Ah, but then if you don't believe in a creator, you can't believe that you were "created" equal, for that matter. Oh, what a tangled Deist web our forefathers wove! They meant for atheists to have no rights at all--or at least not those who are into modal logic.<<

Ahh but why does the creator have to be a sentient "God" rather than a "Universe." At any rate, our forefathers pretty much clarified the issue in the Constitution. (Article VI. Clause 3.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2001


Well, to answer the original question, I think a Pragmatist view of truth is probably the most accurate one. Certainly there is an external reality (although conditions in that reality are rarely eternal) that shapes our experiences but our ability to know that external reality is subjective. I'm less concerned with what is True than what is useful and therefore provisionally true.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2001


The world record for running 100 meters keeps improving. A few decades ago, the fastest time was 12 seconds. Then the fastest time was 11 seconds. Then 10. Now 9, right? (sorry if my numbers are a bit off). Where does this stop? Will someone run 100 meters in 5 seconds? 3 seconds? How about 0 seconds?

No, but we will probably end up comparing runners in a race at higher resolutions. Improvements measured in thousandths, ten thousandths, one hundred thousandths of a second - rather than the current hundredths.

Or in a more formal sense, an infinite series can converge to a finite value.
posted by normy at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2001


No, but we will probably end up comparing runners in a race at higher resolutions

That's an interesting point, normy. I've seen this happening. In alpine skiing for instance, I remember when the transition was made from measuring 10th of a second differences to 100th of a second. I'm sure when they went from just measuring seconds, to including tenths, a lot of people thought it was getting ridiculous because "you know, if two skiers get to the goal in the same number of seconds, they are really both winners." I don't think anyone questions the validity of measuring the races in tenths now, or even hundreths for that matter.
posted by edlundart at 8:48 AM on September 20, 2001


Even if we all believe we experience time, we clearly do not experience it in the same way.

The acutal measure is irrelevant. What you agree on is that everyone in your example has to deal with time in some way.

skallas, Our understanding of time may have been revised in the last century, but I can assure you it wasn’t killed. If it was, why can’t I bring Sid Vicious out of the past and hang out? There are certain properties to time which may be theoretically manipulable, that doesn’t mean they are.

And if I wanted to, I could stop breathing. Try as I might, I cannot stop time.
posted by raaka at 3:22 PM on September 20, 2001


1. Coherent: What one believes to be true. (ie. in 1492, Columbus sailed etc....)

2. Coexistent: What one witnesses to be true (ie. My chair is green)

3. Pragmatic: A truth from logical progression (ie. My TV and lights turned off, the fuse must have went)


Nice. From a more subjective/artistic perspective, I also like this distinction:

1. Authentic: Objective, observable, demonstrable.

2. Valid: "Truth" of a more personal yet still meaningful nature. This is where religion fits, I guess, for those who find anything to it, but many other experiences are best described here as well.
posted by rushmc at 8:13 PM on September 20, 2001


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