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

J. McVean (
Mon, 20 May 96 16:34:29 MDT

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

Perhaps there is some confusion about what I mean by "objective
truth". Quantum mechanics and relativity are certainly strange,
non-intuitive theories (which leads to there abusive use in
mystic arguments) but at their hearts are mathmatical expressions
and a few simple rules. The fact that both theories allow us to
predict things that were previously unexplainable means to me
that they are improved expressions of some objective truth. They
may not represent the absolute truth (and as someone pointed out,
we wouldn't be able to tell if they did) but until we can
disprove them, they are at least pretty good approximations.

Getting back to the strangeness of the theories... The reason QM
and relativety are so disturbing is that it tells us things that
seem counter intuitive. However, that just means that our
intuitions aren't accurate. And our intuitive understanding of
the universe is pretty subjective and hard to apply to things
with which we have no contact such as the behaviour of
microscopic particles or extreme speeds and accelerations.

> 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.

This may be the crux of our disagreement... if we in fact
disagree. There are different levels of description of the
An example of one extreme: in the past it was thought that
we were able to view the world by virtue of "light" leaving our
eyes, traveling at an infinte speed, and bouncing off of our
surroundings back to our eyes. This was simply wrong and there are
many ways of demonstrating it. We now have a much better theory
but it is conceivable that it will also be shown to be wrong. But
the point is that we are able to make judgements about the
veracity of these theories by comparing the theory's predictions
to what we observe.

But at the other extreme: there are many much higher order
"rules" that are societally based such as "love makes the world
go 'round" or "death before dishonor". These kind of statements
are pretty vague by the standards of physics and math and aren't
really assailable by starting from first principles such as "the
speed of light is constant in a vaccuum". Therefore, until we
have some means of proving or disproving such statements it is
reasonable for different societies to have different opinions on
them. In short, we don't have the means of measuring the accuracy
of these types of statements. In this realm, we can't determine
an objective truth (yet?).

And in between, things are gradually changing realms. For
instance, creation myths have been pushed aside by evolution as a
means of explaining how we got to be the way we are. Many still hold
to their creation myths but they are choosing to disregard huge
amounts of objective evidence in favor of believing stories with
no objective evidence to support them.

We may never know if it is in fact better to give than receive,
but that doesn't mean that there aren't objective truths.