Truth Revisited

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery none but ourselves can free our minds.” If Plato’s allegory of the cave could be described in a few words, the above quote by Bob Marley would do it perfectly.  Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, along with his divided line analogy, seems to be a state of mind that ideally should begin as an infant and improve, as one gets older.  However, this is not the case.  Knowledge, to Plato, is not something that can be achieved through experience.  It is an innate ability; it is therefore fair to say that Plato thought that knowledge could be achieved at any age since it is always in us.  Truth---or rather the pursuit of truth and knowledge is always changing, therefore knowledge itself is never final. I think knowledge should be thought of as a journey and truth as it’s destination. 

I use the terms present truth and final truth to help explain what knowledge and what truth as I see them.  Present truth is similar to knowledge.  Consider this: if a cake exists and half is consumed, then half of what is left is consumed and so on, will the entire cake ever be consumed? The answer is no, a piece will always remain, no matter how miniscule the portion gets or how much it resembles pure energy. Some may argue that the cake does not exist, but the ‘truth’ of the matter is that  it does. Lack of knowledge can be compared to the portion of the cake that remains unconsumed. In science for example when an unstable element goes through radioactive decay, it does so by half-life periods (half of the atoms in the nuclei decompose).  There is never a time when all the parent material is reduce to a stable daughter product.  However the parent material becomes so small that it is essentially undetectable, and the daughter product is declared to be stable. Final truth can be compared to a completely stable daughter product (although scientifically impossible). Final truth cannot be illusive, it remains unchanged and will withstand all levels of scrutiny but  by definition it is impossible to achieve.

Knowledge as Plato describes it is impossible to obtain while we still reside in the physical realm. In other words, there has to be some supernatural occurrence to gain knowledge and truth. I am in disagreement with the impossibility of gaining knowledge while we are by definition, living humans. If there had to be some transformation to a non-human state, what is the use of knowledge at a metaphysical level, if there is no way to communicate it back to the physical level? For example, to make the transition form a physical realm to the realm of forms to find the knowledge on the cure for cancer, what would be the point? One can attain knowledge but never attain a final truth, because we exist in an infinite universe and possess only finite mental capacities.

Although the level of our intelligence appears to increase exponentially in nature, it is highly unlikely that the growth of intellect will continue indefinitely. We only know that we live in an infinite universe and with humans and humanity being so finite it is physically impossible to know everything. This is based on the premise that to have absolute knowledge and thereby possess absolute and final truth, one would have an understanding of everything past, present and future. This requirement is further complicated by the ‘fact’ (and here the term fact is used rather loosely) that the universe itself is infinite. Therefore, there will continually be new facts and knowledge to be discovered, even as known ‘truths’ remain unchanged. However, these known ‘truths’ are relative and subjected to the discovery of new ‘facts’ and would constantly have to evolve and by definition absolute and final truth is constant.

The pursuit of knowledge is simple in its complexity and there are a few concepts that have to be kept in mind as we seek knowledge:

(1) Knowledge is a continuous process and proclaimed ‘truths’ at the beginning of a journey may not necessarily change or may not necessarily stay the same at the end of a pursuit.

(2) It should also be noted that the end of ones pursuit for knowledge does not  necessarily mean that a final truth has been discovered.

(3) One should never seek knowledge simply to discredit someone else’s claim; this taints the experience and eliminates the possibility that the change to the knowledge may be so miniscule it’s not readily seen.

Through the pursuit of knowledge and truth people now know that the earth is not flat and that cigarette smoke is not harmless.  The knowledge that exists today about these two things is not a final truth because everything is not known about the present, past and future of these things. However they have been enough testing to be called a ‘stable knowledge’ (as compared to a stable daughter product in radioactive decay). Why many people fail to seek knowledge is a nonchalant attitude about its importance and possibly, laziness.  Think of a student in a class who just accepts what the professor says; does that student gain any knowledge? Or do they just regurgitate what the professor says in order to get through the class?  Yes, they actually do gain knowledge, even if there is no original thought or opinion they have gained knowledge in its simplest form (brainwashing). Learning can be independent of analytical reasoning. It is through this process that we learn to speak and eat.  We simply imitate what we observe in our environment and replay our version.  It is the basic form of learning that initiates the process of seeking a higher level of knowledge and an increase in reasoning ability.   

To seek truth is to desire to get to the point were knowledge is almost unquestionable. For instance when uranium breaks down into lead, the parent material is not completely broken down, but the presence is almost undetectable.

The method of dialectic as presented by Socrates, is an excellent means of gaining knowledge and discovering truth.  The only drawback of his method is aporia.  The careful and compelling search for truth will facilitate increased awareness and reasoning ability. If aporia can be eliminated the method would be perfect.  However, if it cannot be eliminated then the level of awareness should surpass the level of aporia, and individuals would become more aware of their lack of knowledge and thereby continue the process of seeking “stable knowledge”.  In order to get pass our limitations to the pursuit of truth and knowledge we must be liberal in our thinking.  That is, we must open our minds to new possibilities, be willing to ask questions to gain a broader understanding of topics.  Test each topic to get our own answers and even then we should test our findings. There is no conclusive evidence that limits the possibilities of our mental capacity. Many people previously believed that we only use 10% of our brain; if that were true, think of the possibilities if someone used even 20%, think of the possibilities if we used 100%.  Knowledge of today tells us that scientists believe that we used all our brain, its just that at different times, different areas perform the core tasks so it seems as if the rest is not being used. A few decades ago the 10% theory was believed to be true but today it’s the 100% theory. This just shows that what we sometimes think is truth is simply knowledge.

The most significant aspect of my idea is examining knowledge as a journey and truth as its destination.  This belief allows us to continue the journey on the path to truth and continue to discover new things.  Seeking knowledge and final truth is the first step in the emancipation of one’s mind. If one were to seek knowledge simply to discredit someone else’s claim they would dismiss the possibility of the other claim being ‘true.’  It is important to seek truth for truth itself. If truth were easily attained, then people would simply do what the Sophists did, make a statement and try to convince as many people as possible that it is a ‘truth.’ There would be no need for research and experiments, one would simply embark on a mass brainwashing scheme.  The idea that connects truth and knowledge will change how people receive information; it will change how people approach questions and ultimately how they respond to questions. Everyone who asks a question and receives an answer would be aware that what they heard is a present truth or knowledge and they can confirm, change or modify it with their own pursuit of final truth (however impossible it may seem.)

Posted on December 10, 2013 .