I’m a truth with a small-t kind of guy. In science, everything is conditional. An object in motion at a constant velocity stays in motion at a constant velocity if and only if it is not acted upon by an outside force. For the statement (“. . . stays in motion . . . “) to be ‘true’ the condition (” . . . not acted upon . . . “) must be met. Science works this way. My mind, it seems, does as well.
The Χians will tell us the Truth of the Redeemer, the Musselmen will counter with “Allah akbar”, and Lao-tse will give us The Tao. Truth with a big-T kind of stuff. Interesting, to be sure, but hard for my materialist brain to swallow whole. It’s not that science has all the answers—far from it—but rather it has the best questions. Finding the ‘truth’ in science is finding out what is testable, and what results are repeatable. That’s a lot of stuff. Certainly nowhere near all the stuff, just focused on the knowable stuff. And that’s the appeal for me, deciding what is knowable and what may not be.
The mystics tell us we can know God. And perhaps they are right. But it seems to me what they’ve really been saying all this time is that we can know ourselves. God is within us, just as He/She/It is in the Universe. We are part of a Whole, and knowing The Self is the same as knowing The Whole. Take a look at the history of mystical practices: they involve self-abnegation and a retreat from worldliness. This is designed to do just the opposite, that is, teach you about your ‘true’ self. And the remarkable thing about mystical literature and tradition is the commonality across cultures and religions. All mystics say the same thing, and describe the mystical experience similarly. The mystical types tell me this means it’s ‘true’, that is, this shared reality must be ‘real’ if so many people have felt it.
Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just another ‘madness of the crowd’ phenomenon. When encountering the mysterious we often rely on the words and thoughts of another who has been there before. We all know about bias, and how we can prep ourselves to like or dislike something before we ever see or feel it. Our language and our prejudices are handed down to us from our forbears, we aren’t original in thought or deed. Just because we regurgitate what we are told doesn’t make it any more ‘true’ than anything else.
These days we’ve been arguing about “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Politics is a rather odious undertaking as what is said is not near as important as how it is said. Issues are just packages wrapped appealingly for consumption. Politics doesn’t deal with the complexity of the world but instead reduces everything to binary yes/no schemes when little in life is so simple. Lower-case truth is raised to the status of upper-case Truth simply by declaring it so. Is it any wonder that arguing is the only real political activity most of us engage in? Pick your tribe, embrace their rhetoric, and beat your adversary over the head with it. Don’t learn, don’t grow, don’t open your mind to new ideas, just cling to the safe phrases that prevent you from actually thinking about something.
These things—”fake news” and “alternative facts”—are, for better or worse, the fruits of the Information Age. I can sit here at my keyboard and use this lovely software to spew my opinions about the world for any and all to consume. So can millions of others. Now my own personal reality can be yours, too. It’s in our nature to coalesce around the comfortable and the familiar. If someone says things that reinforce your view of the world you find safety in numbers and sign on with them.
So I’ll stick with small-t truth. Science may find itself the handmaiden of government or corporate interests, just like any other human endeavor, but in the end it’s about the two things that matter most to me. One is uncertainty. In science you have to quantify your uncertainty. Since most of the universe is uncertain my mystical quest, if you will, is to embrace it. The second is humility before the facts, that is, the results of the experiments. We don’t have to like what is revealed, but we do have to accept it. Nature is what nature is and we can re-organize it in our heads to make it more palatable, but we still have to gag it down.