Re: Postmodernism and Truth (was Re: virus: Simulacrum)

Bill Godby (
Sun, 19 May 1996 17:53:21 -0400

At 11:58 AM 5/19/96 MDT, J. McVean wrote:

>Obviously, if truth is something defined by a culture, then there
>can be no objective truth. The question is whether thruth is in
>fact so defined or if there is some underlying set of truths/rules
>that all of these culture operate within and (presumably) try to
>understand and express (perhaps in a very round-about way) with
>societal knowledge.

In response I immediately think of Structuralism, i.e. Clause Levi-Strauss.
The idea is that the human brain imposes structure to the world, and that
these structures are identifiable and universal, although manifesting
themselves very differently. Levi-Strauss looked at mythology and recognized
that there were aspects of it's functionality that appeared universal,
arguing that the myth itself was not really the issue, (Joesph Campbell also
points this out arguing that the key issue is metaphor). To quote Levi-Strauss:

the kind of logic in mythical thought is as rigorous as that of modern
science, and that the difference lies, not in the quality of the
intellectual process, but in the nature of things to which it is has always been thinking equally well; the improvment lies,
not in an alleged progress of man's mind, but in the discoverey of new
areas to which it may apply its unchanged and unchanging powers (Structural
Anthropology p.230).

I think this comment has some great relevancy to memetics, supporting the
view that it is our software, our memes, putting on the show so to speak,
creating the multifaceted world we inhabit. I certainly buy into the
argument that there is uniformity to our brains, but I don't agree that it
supports arguments regarding the existence of truth outside of the brain.
I'd like to hear a clear argument presenting evidence as to what consitutes
objective truth or truths and how memetic theory supports this.

>Did we get closer to the objective truth when we shifted from
>Newtonian gravitation to Einsteinian gravitation or have we
>simply adjusted our societal knowledge set to a different but
>equally valid set of rules? I'd say that since the new theory of
>gravitation has yet to be proven wrong while the former theory is
>inaccurate in many circumstances, we have improved our
>approximation of the truth... or at least the rules that seem to
>govern it.

You forgot to mention quantum mechanics, which certainly is wreaking havoc
on all approximations of truth, and I would say it has convincingly affected
western views of objectivity. In all cases, Newtonian, Einsteinian, and
Heisenbergian there certainly existed/exists the belief that a closer
approximatation of objective reality/truth was being reached, that's the
nature of the game. However to recognize the nature of knowledge is another

>To say that those who believe the earth is flat or that it rides
>on the back of a giant turtle are correct in the context of their
>own society seems silly to me. I think we are entirely justified
>in saying that they are wrong (and here are ten reasons why...).
>Our theories may not represent the ultimate truth but they are
>certainly more accurate that the flat-earth/turtle theories. And
>if they are more accurate, doesn't that imply there is some
>ultimate truth by which various theories are judged?

You need to look into other cosmologies a bit more I think and you'll
discover that your being very reductive. There is much more happening than
you might think. Joesph Campbell presents some very, very worthwhile and
cogent comments on mythology. My statements above certainly apply here as well.

A last thought is that we musn't forget that there is an everyday life that
all people must live. What does that involve regarding truth? How different
are the "truths" that I incorporate into my life from those of someone
living in Bangalidesh, Mali, Liberia, or Papua New Guinea? There are things
about life that are certainly universal, no doubt about that. Are these the
things we're talking about? If so consider them carefully and how
contextualized there are to each culture. For example, being male or female
is universal but what it is to be a man or a woman is culturally defined. So
even though there are appearances of univerality, I believe it is only that.
I don't subscribe to solipsism (pure subjectivism) however, we must live our
life and that involves infered truth and knowledge. I am very much in
agreement with the comments made thus far that have argued the practicality
of pomo theory; that it's very good for revealing hegemonic structures and
for revealing the complex social workings of language and meaning. I remain
unmoved so far that there's some "X-filian" truth out there to be obtained.
Bill Godby