Theories of the Universe

It's a Matter of Opinion

At this point I want to include two of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein. They're very appropriate for this section on truth:

  • Every man has his own cosmology and who can say that his own is right.
  • Whoever undertakes to set himself up as the judge in the field of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

So is that it? Is truth only in the eye of the beholder? What is true for me may not be true for you? Truth is just a relative thing? If that's the case, is it really the “truth”? Let's take a few examples to see if we can find out.

Universal Constants

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The only good political opinion is an informed political opinion.” To be informed is to have genuine knowledge of the issue at hand based on research, facts, and firsthand knowledge. In other words, you have a good handle on the truth. Like Socrates said, “The Wise person is the one who knows that they don't know, while the fool will claim knowledge about that which they really know nothing.”

If you ask a Moslem or a Christian whose religion is the true religion and they both reply that theirs is, then which one is true? Can they both be right? If each claims that what they believe is the truth, how can it be the “truth”? How do you resolve this type of dilemma? I'll come back to that question in a little while. Let's look at another example.

What about politics? Of course many of us might reply that there is no truth in politics, so why even bother addressing this? Okay, then let's talk about political opinions, which may be as close as we can get to discussing truth in politics. The central force motivating a democratic society is supposed to be the “will of the people.” Our elected representatives are considered to be the voice of the people. Is this the truth? Have they been our voice? Some people think they are, others think they aren't. Everyone has an opinion. But are these opinions based on true knowledge? Are they informed opinions? In many cases they aren't. As humans we have a tendency to react to things from an emotional place, and emotions can sometimes have very little to do with what is true. Emotions can and do obstruct clear, focused, critical thinking and will potentially prevent an understanding of what the truth really is. (And this has nothing to do with men being from Mars and women from Venus.)

That's not to say that there is anything wrong with emotions. I'm not advocating being Mr. Spock from Star Trek. (I find that a rather amusing statement, Captain.) But what I am saying is that emotions have their place and function, but they don't always work very well in trying to ascertain the truth when it comes to issues that we are too emotionally close to.

Degrees of Truth

Cosmonotes

The experience of truth was equated by Greek philosophers to the experience of beauty. To know what is true, one needs to experience it. This is not an emotional experience, nor is it strictly a mental one either. It's actually a rather difficult occurrence to explain. It's been described as thinking with your heart or feeling with your mind. It involves a level of knowing that transcends either the emotional or the mental by themselves and is more a combination of both. For lack of a better term, it's also been called inspired intuition or direct cognition. How often has that occurred in your life?

To get back to the original question of truth being in the eye of the beholder, instead of truth being relative, many think that there are varying degrees of truth. What do you think? Perhaps there is a point where subjective and objective truths meet? If that is so, then there must be an intimate connection between truth, belief, understanding, and our experience of reality. Maybe the division between subject and object—or in other words, between ourselves and the world around us—is really not a division at all. Experts in the field of human consciousness research suggest that the experience of subject and object is only a reflection of a specific state of consciousness and that we have the potential to experience the world in other ways than how we usually do. This suggestion and the accompanying theories will be explored in more detail in chapters to come. For now, let's take a closer look at degrees of truth.

Why do we consider something to be true? The only source we have for that is our experience in the world, our daily lives. Truth is ultimately based on our beliefs, and our beliefs are structured from our life experiences. This seems simple enough, but it also has numerous implications. Since each of us has had our own unique life experiences, the beliefs we have all developed are also, in the end, just our own. It's the level and application of understanding that has or hasn't become part of our paradigm that reveals truths to be of a lesser or greater degree. Understanding, like truth, seems to manifest in degrees of comprehension. Which statement do you think reflects a greater measure of understanding: “My religion is the only true religion” or “all religions are true”?

If you believe that scientific knowledge is the only true source of knowledge about the world, that doesn't leave much room to acquire knowledge from other areas. The realization of the nature of truth as a dynamic, expanding process goes hand in hand with increased understanding. And both just don't happen, each has to be sought after. If truth becomes fixed and crystallized, it will break like a dead branch when the winds of change blow.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Theories of the Universe © 2001 by Gary F. Moring. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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