What is truth?

In preparation for todays XFiles Friday, I’d like to take up a couple of philosophical questions that have practical, and important, answers.

1. What is truth?

2. How can we distinguish between real-world truth and that which is not truth?

A decent philosopher could probably write a whole book about truth, but for our purposes here we will limit ourselves to real-world truth, and practical answers. Truth is reality, i.e. that which exists independently of our perceptions of it, which is self-consistent, and which has a significant impact on our experience independent of our wishes and/or perceptions.

This is a somewhat oversimplified definition, naturally. For example, it could be perfectly true that in some far distant galaxy, some small, subatomic particle is interacting with some other small, subatomic particle in a way that will never have any significant impact on anybody’s experience. That’s fine; this definition of truth isn’t meant to be all-encompassing. I’m just highlighting those aspects of the portion of the truth which is relevant to the subject of apologetics. There may be quite a bit of truth somewhere out beyond the realm of that which will ever have a meaningful impact on our individual experiences, but as far as this discussion is concerned, it is sufficient to point out the connection between truth and objective reality.

How can we tell the difference between real-world truth and that which is not really true? I’ve hinted at the answer above: genuine, real-world truth exists outside of our subjective perceptions, is self-consistent, and has a significant impact on our experience regardless of our perceptions, desires, fantasies, etc. That means we can distinguish between truth and untruth by looking first and foremost for consistency.

Truth is consistent with itself, which means (negatively) that it won’t contradict itself and (positively) that it is interconnected with other truths in a constrained manner, such that our knowledge of one part of the truth can reveal the existence of more truth that is consistent with what we know. This is the principle upon which all valid science is based, by the way.

There are a couple other principles which also stem from the nature of truth: if truth is that which exists independently of our perceptions, then we should be suspicious, at least, if we find some alleged “truth” which depends on our individual, subjective perceptions for its existence and character. Such things may be “subjective truths,” if you like, but they’re not necessarily real-world truth (i.e. truth that has a significant impact on our experience regardless of our perceptions and desires).

Likewise, if real-world truth is that which has a significant impact on our experience apart from our perceptions and desires, then we should be at least skeptical in the fact of any alleged “truth” that has no possible impact on our experience apart from perception and desire. This is not to assume that such things are automatically false, but they need to be examined to see if they are indeed consistent with objective reality, or if they are merely pleasant but irrelevant fantasies (or unpleasant but groundless fears, etc).

Notice that the above answers do not arbitrarily eliminate what might be called “spiritual” experiences. Suppose, for example, that there exists some spiritual being who, having no material component, cannot appear in physical form. Yet people claim to be able to communicate with this being, subjectively. If our subjective perceptions are the only means we have of interacting with this being, does that mean we cannot determine whether this being actually exists?

Not at all. Truth is consistent with itself, and real-world truth exists independently of our perceptions. All we need to do is to see whether or not the behavior of this alleged being is consistent with that which exists independently of our perceptions. For example, take two people who claim to be able to communicate with this being. Separate them so that they cannot communicate with each other (except via this spiritual being), and then give one of them some short passage of text to relay to the other via the spiritual being.

If the communication takes place, and the message is successfully transmitted, that would be consistent with the idea that the spiritual being actually exists. If the believers are forced to consistently make excuses for why the communication failed to happen, that would be consistent with the spiritual being not actually existing in the real world, outside of the believers’ perceptions.

Truth can be a tricky business. Sometimes you don’t have all the information you need, and sometimes you misperceive the information you do have. In the long term, however, the truth tends to make itself known because of its inherent consistency with itself and with the real world, and untruth tends to make itself known by the accumulated need for additional speculations, rationalizations, fantasies, and other self-deceptions required to maintain belief in the face of increasing self-contradictions and inconsistencies with reality.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “What is truth?”

  1. Evangelical Realism XFiles Friday: The Philosophical Dating Game « Says:

    […] first of all, the two questions which do not appear on this list:  What is Truth, and How can we distinguish Truth from Falsehood? You’d think if you were writing a book […]

  2. Mike Says:

    “Truth is consistent with itself, and real-world truth exists independently of our perceptions.”

    Bingo. Therefore, is not the way to find truth simply to be more aware? Perceive without judgment or belief? “See through uncorrupted eyes?”

    http://mikeelias.wordpress.com/2007/08/28/get-naked/

  3. mporterswaid Says:

    Imam Jafar al Sadiq requited that those who do not believe in what they cannot see are worse off than the average slacker because what! they disbelieve in what they cannot see?

    How so? You cannot see it and therefore disbelief in it is truly a form of ignorance posing ignonomously as reason.

  4. mporterswaid Says:

    Oh and btw, “truth” is a tautology.

    You cannot define it and trying to do so only points to a lack of knowledge regarding sic tautologies like logic.

    Try Wittgenstein.

  5. The Professor Says:

    Oh and btw, “truth” is a tautology.

    You cannot define it and trying to do so only points to a lack of knowledge regarding sic tautologies like logic.

    Is that the truth?

  6. mporterswaid Says:

    Yup.

    Have you not looked into the Tractatus lately? Did you not understand the logic of the affair called linguistic definition?

    It is the oh so usual sign of the fatiqued philologist.

    Truth. What is Beauty. Evil and all of that rot.

    Ignorance is what it is. Ignoring something that IS within the grasp of another who will, I assure you, grasp it in your stead. That being of course, Allah and all that entails. Arrogance on the other hand is forcing the rest of us to believe that your ignorance is better than the knowledge of the pious. Sometimes the arrogant use bombs to do that you know. That is called oppression.

    I think it is best to avoid trying to define tautologies and instead, develop truth by trying to define the basics instead.

    Like oppression. Like arrogance.

    You know…most people throw around the word “facsist” and don’t even know what it means. Shocking.

  7. mporterswaid Says:

    You also might want to look into some of the ideas surrounding Bell’s Theorem and notice that those who actually study “matter” have postulated that our logic might just be “all fouled up” and when that happens i.e. you study things from the wrong theoretical framework then the stats just turn into mush.

    Seems there are more than a few ways to skin Shrodingers KittyCat.

    Peace :)

  8. The Professor Says:
    Oh and btw, “truth” is a tautology.

    You cannot define it and trying to do so only points to a lack of knowledge regarding sic tautologies like logic.

    Is that the truth?

    Yup.

    How do you know it is the truth, when you cannot even say what “truth” is?

  9. mporterswaid Says:

    http://www.thriceholy.net/flatearth.html

    Here you go. Here is a factoid. A non muslim (which I imagine you are) is not a muslim. That is a fact. A muslim is a given set of things. A monotheist is not a muslim although I have little doubt that many of them nowdays are wondering why it is they differ on some fundamental issues (much like the other two brands differ i.e. Jews and Christians).

    Here’s the logic for you. A non muslim no matter how hard they try cannot connect the dots in the Quran. Just cannot be done. In order to enter that gate one has to at the very least not HATE Allah. If one hates such a thing, then the only thing they will find in the Quran are the things Allah means for specifically them. Like wife beating which is one of my favorite examples. Because the Quran limits the “abuse” a man can inflict upon his wife, non muslims have decided that the Quran invented spousal abuse when in fact, the Quran limits it. No choking, biting, stabbing, burning, etc. If it was not mentioned then men who slapped their wife might be sentenced to the same punishment that many things are equated with in Islamic jurisprudence and that would be: amputation. Even more unusual is the factoid that women are not limited in what they can get away with in regards to husband slapping.

    The Quran in other words, doesn’t invent crimes but rather, it describes them because let’s face it: OJ SIMPSON exists.

    So…does the Quran teach a flat earth policy? Well no, it doesn’t. It advocates a return to the flat earth policy i.e. the one in which all of our sensory perceptions are eliminated and truth in that case will rest on the precursors to the event i.e. Judgement Day when the case is closed at what is called The Hour i.e. death or whatever other extinction might occur prior to an individuals case closed event happens.

    Causality. Now that is the question.

    Do you hear a tree fall in the woods when you aren’t there?

    Does Shro’s cat live or die? Old arguments but valid all the same when it comes to the supposition in the Quran:

    Allah created your shadow and THEN Allah created the Sun as a proof for it.

    Do you in fact have a shadow in the dark..the absolute dark which is completely devoid of light? Can you actually study such a thing? Probably and I’ve little doubt quantum physicists do exactly that. Problem is….it is only mathematical. The universal esperanto of the Creator.

    So…you cannot prove that the sun actually creates a shadow. What can be proven is that shadows can be seen when there is light. It’s all about light you know.

    In Islam…we simply call all of that: Ghaib. The world of the unseen. And the more physicist study matter and the universe, the more they turn up with more questions.

    Inevitable.

    We wait and you wait. That is the waiting game. When that game is over however…..well. It’s over.

    Peace and I’ll stop by more often maybe. Keep up the good essay writing. It’s refreshing to see people try.

  10. mporterswaid Says:

    And you can “say” whatever you like about truth my friend.

    How on earth do you expect philologists make a living?

    :)

    We wait and you/they wait. How it is.

  11. mporterswaid Says:

    Here is some truth:

    The Creator states in the Quran that everything is made clear. The Law iow.

    Then, people are left to their own devices (for over 1400 Lunar years now) so that the Creator will manifest the proof to them via their own actions that are a result of their free will.

    You can see it happening all around right now. Why do you think people are getting so upset about all this “hypocrisy”.

    What gets me is nonmuslims try to “like” the Quran (oh…all religions created equally (not) and all of that) but they’ll say:

    “But I don’t like the way it is worded.”

    Well of course not. ANYONE who is defying the truth which is a fundamental/literal part of the clear law isn’t gonna like it.

    That is why it is called: submission.

    Peace again and peace out. Got to tend the garden. Duty calls.

  12. The Professor Says:

    You’re giving me some great material, thanks. Should be good for a blog post or two.

  13. mporterswaid Says:

    :)

    I’m looking forward to it.

    Peace

  14. mporterswaid Says:

    Hey Prof…you got a name? Mine is Meg.

    Yer gonna love this. As is the usual…I study Quran quite a bit, reflect on it, yada yada. So…I said let me find something a little nice for you about this so called truth of the causality of the shadow and voila. Few seconds later here it is:

    http://www.galactic-guide.com/articles/2U14.html

    I haven’t read it myself yet…will right now and no doubt it will send me on a wild excursion that inevitably will prove what the Quran says is true.

    That is where it is at right now. A long time ago we as humans weren’t capable of finding these things and describing them. Now that we are, the Quran is revealing even more and more and more. Like I said…Allah doesn’t leave anything unproven. We just get a little ahead of ourselves and think we are so darn smart. And we are…in some ways but in others obviously we are messing up and how!

    But things will be made manifest to everyone. And everyone will eventually follow Islam “willingly” or “unwillingly” and I don’t mean by a show of force from Al Q or something like that. It is the case that if we “submit” we follow willingly and if we don’t…we have to follow anyhow by taking it on the chin i.e. suffering the consequences. That’s all fine and good on this planet/paradigm because often times those punishments seem quite bearable (well…depending on what you are used to). The afterlife though…(and that is one of the fundamental “pillars” of Islam even though it isn’t one of the ones you are used to hearing drummed out by the legions…Judgement Day…eternal damnation and all.

    Hmm.

    But there it is for you: Shadowlight. A special light frequency of the dark. Imagine that!

    Try reading the Sura called “al Nur” or “The Light”. In that one…a light bulb is described believe it or not. I ain’t kidding you. Even though I’d studied Quran for twenty years or so I questioned that one phrase and then someone pointed it out and I went: WELL I’LL BE!