The Meaning of Truth

John K Clark (
Sun, 16 Feb 1997 22:35:39 -0800 (PST)


I very much enjoyed Gregory Houston's <> post and even
agreed with much of it, but you're causing unnecessary trouble for yourself
because I think the concept of "THE TRUTH" is functional and so should be

>Our language determines our perception of reality. Words such as the
>following engender a black and white percption of the world instead
>of a greyscale perception: Is, are, was, equal, equate, exactly,
>proven, intrinsic.

I need these words to talk, you used a number of them yourself, even more
important, I need these concepts to think, because sometimes a black and
white perception is the way to go.

>Conditional statements taken to the extreme continue in infinite
>regress. The idea here is just to incrementally strive for more,
>to go a little further along the causal path.

If your ideas are correct then as you progress down the causal path toward
pure mathematics things should become more black and white. I think they do,
but rather than doing away with truth I would just say that in a complex
world you need a lot of conditional statements.

I agree with you that functionality is not the same as truth, Einstein may be
truer but Newton is more useful in some cases, such as building a bridge or
sending a rocket to the moon.

>whenever I become aware of myself making an absolute statement, I am
>going to attempt to make it more of a conditional statement, and
>more of a statement of degree [...] Many might argue that this will
>needlessly complexify my thought, speech and writing.

You will have to stop the conditionals at some point, otherwise all your
statements would be of infinite length and you would never be able to
complete a thought.

>Many people complain about making things to relative, but we haven't
>even hardly begun to move towards relativity, not to mention to find
>a balance between it and absolutism.

Even in Einstein's theory not everything is relative, the speed of light is
an absolute.

>The statement, "I think therefor I am", is more useful than the
>statement, "I am".

How about "I think therefore thoughts exist"?

>Reverting to truth in this case would be like taking Einsteins
>theory of relativity which is created in terms of pure geometry and
>trying to revert to Newton's terms of forces.

As speeds become slower and the gravitational field becomes weaker,
Einstein's results and Newton's become more and more similar, if they did
not then nobody would bother with Einstein's theory. We already know that
Newton's idea works beautifully under everyday conditions, so if Einstein
didn't reduce to Newton at slow speeds then it would be wrong. In the same
way your theory must reduce to true or false statement as things get simpler.

We may not ever be able to find "THE TRUTH" but that doesn't mean it's not
a useful abstraction, because some things are truer than others. Newton's
Physics is far, far truer than the physics of Aristotle, and Einstein's
Physics is Truer than Newton's. Even Einstein is not "THE TRUTH", we already
know it breaks down when things get very small.

Actually, what our theories do is explain how some sense sensations relate to
other sense sensations. For example we receive information from our eyes,
we interpret that information as a rock moving at high speed and heading for
a large plate glass window, we invent a theory that predicts that very soon
we will receive another sensation, this time from our ears, that we will
describe as the sound of breaking glass. Soon our prediction is confirmed so
the theory is successful, but we should remember that the sound of broken
glass is not broken glass, the look of broken glass is not broken glass,
the feel of broken glass is not broken glass. What "IS" broken glass?
It must have stable properties of some sort or I wouldn't be able to identify
it as a "thing", I don't know what those ULTIMATE stable properties are,
but I know what they are not, they are NOT sense sensations. I have no idea
what glass "IS". The sad truth is, I can point to "things" but I don't know
what a thing "IS" and I 'm not even sure that I know what "IS" is.

What are the practical implications of all this? Zero, near as I can tell,
it's just fun to think about. Appearances are what's important, ultimate
reality is for philosophers. As long as I can get the universe to SEEM to
obey me and operate in a way that pleases me, that's good enough and I'll be
a happy man. That's not asking too much, now is it?

John K Clark

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