Skip navigation

Because the pesky word is on the blog’s title, i keep talking about it. In fact, the very first post cited Popper’s argument that truth might not exist as fact but nevertheless it was an important motivator for science. That, in other words, though people never experience truth or never ever get to know anything that is really, really true, truth is a goal that is important.

Now i did accept the argument. For a long time. But it is just mistaken. It is simply not how things turn out to be. If you want, it is simply not true.

I am not alone there, either. Alan Kay, in an interview, says (emphasis is mine):

Science today is taught in America as a secular religion. But science is not the same as knowing the things learned by science. Science itself is a stance in relationship to knowledge. In order to do science, you have to give up the notion of truth. Because we don’t know the world directly; we know the world through our mind’s representational systems, which are like maps. Science is a map that is always incomplete, and so it can always be criticized and improved. And that’s why it’s so effective at, say, treating diabetes, or whatever. Because the map is incomplete, it can always be improved, and so it is the best way to deal with what is.

The stance is more important than the thing known, and any reference to truth in this context at best preserves the thing known and throws away the stance.

This becomes almost painfully obvious once you stop and really think about the “big guys” in science. Think Galileo. Think Newton. Think Darwin. Almost universally they are famous for their disrespect for what was know at their time. They didn’t care what others knew. They tinkered on their own.

Now this is misconstrued in Popper’s argument as if they were longing for a “truth” that was not available to them then. The problem with this way of reading the story of science is as follows: the basic experience of those guys was not respect for what is true but curiosity for what is still not seen and known. “Curiosity” and “Truth” are two concepts that do not really mix, when you think about it.

The important thing about science is not that it “is a map” (in Kay’s quote), but that it is “always incomplete”. The religious dogma that guided the inquisition to put Galileo to the flames is a map too. And so are the Totemic religions that Durkheim talks about. The only difference is that in science it is OK to say take the most respected part of this map and write over it — and that is what those “big guys” i was talking about did at their time.

Take Einstein for example. It is a good example. His “Annus Mirabilis” papers each had a different conception of the world. Each proposed a system for understanding (or mathematizing) the world that pretty much ignored the other ones. This stance can’t be made to agree with a desire for one truth. At best it could be said that he looked for a multi-layered and plural truth.

And still, Einstein was realist. That is, he claimed to believe that science is not merely useful, but also truth. He rejected the possibility that ideas are only instruments. But this is just because he didn’t understand the theory of language to grasp the full complexity of the issue. What’s more, his attitude denied his claims, as he never refrained from making science that he couldn’t corroborate with evidence and that was confirmed only much later and through the most indirect of means.

The whole problem is that it is impossible to find any operational definition of “Truth” that does counsel you to doubt it. In fact, the bare minimum operational definition of truth is “something you do not doubt”.

{All the other possible definitions (that what is| thing in itself| a priory knowledge| deflation| closeness to reality| that what you perceive directly} actually plant a seed of lit-crit in the very heart of realism, for they are all metaphysical, and not at all operational.}

The idea of truth is really only understandable when you compare it to the idea of lying. Truth is not at first a-thing-from-epistemology, but actually a-thing-from-discourse. A kind of action, a type of talking. And it is a type of talking that we only see when we have become clever enough about language to see that we can lie. Truth only exists as not-lie. And that, in turn, shows that “Truth” is a thing that only exists in language. There exists no “Truth” when there is no language involved. There is no truth to goldfish, goldfish never ever touch or find or know truth. Pre-verbal children do not know truth.

Realists believe that Truth only comes about when you distil “sincerity” even further, something like:

lie sincerity truth

But that is pure nonsense. That is even not what they want, they want something to the effect of:

lie sincere

Which is even more nonsense, for when you divorce the concept-of-truth from language you also rob it of any experienceable content, you take from the concept any consequence that a real person can live and deal with. That, again, turns realism into a strange kind of lit-crit.

Truth-as-a-concept is only relevant in contexts where language is dealt with. So truth is not about reality, but about language. That is, we can probe and tweak and experiment with reality without the concept of truth. We do not need it as a goal.

And if we have too much regard for truth we will definitely be hampered in our capacity to go out and try new and different things. Like Galileo would never have made anything useful if he was not able to disregard the “Truth” that things fall down and stuff.

Truth is not something you rely on. That, in an operational-definition way, is not very different to saying that it does not exist. It means: in your direct life, truth is not something of consequence. It does not pay to give too much attention to it.

Truth is not a goal. Truth is a misunderstanding. Truth is people who do not have interest in language theory talking about language.

Which obviously backfires on them. It is all about education, as Kay says.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: