Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Eye of the Beholder

I have a close male friend whose taste in women is clearly different than mine. I say this because he will describe a woman to me as "so beautiful" in rapturous tones, and then I'll meet her and find her to be . . . plain.

What I am saying here is that while some truths are true for everyone, some truths are only true for one person. Gravity? No matter who you are, let go of a ball and it falls to the ground. Beauty? What's beautiful to you could be beautiful to others, but it's unlikely to be beautiful to everyone and may only be beautiful to you.

Which is why the argument that science is useless for determining truth is rather silly. Science's truths are the only truths we can all share.

There is a tendency in the modern age to think quite the opposite. There is a tendency to think that "truth" means what can be empirically proven to have some physical existence, and that anything which can't be reduced to its physical components must not actually be true. Even though there are plenty of moderns who will voice exactly that, there are few willing to take this hideous notion to its terminal points--for if truth equals empiricism, then tragedies and histories, poetry and art, emotion, reflection, memory, and all such things are not really an experience of what is true, but only a pleasant sort of fiction which each person decides upon for himself, based on a few random biochemical reactions entirely out of any person's control.

I wouldn't say that poetry, art, and emotion are pleasant fictions, but nor are they universally true. One man's true love is another woman's stalking. One man's heroism is another man's barbarism. One woman's safety is another woman's oppression. Outside of science, nothing is true for everyone.

That is why science is, or should be, so attractive. There are at least two sides to any story, usually more, so give me math and well-designed studies, give me experiments and test results, and please, please don't stint on the empiricism.


  1. Yes, that's right, the Universal Truths of art, literature, and poetry... aren't actually universal. (If you haven't read it already, I heartily recommend Shakespeare in the Bush for a look at how great literature transcends culture. Hint: it doesn't.)

    These people need to get out more.

  2. Perfectly put. I just posted a similar discussion about beauty being subjective. I wonder if religionists are unable to understand these things or just choose not to.

  3. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Science doesn't deal with Truth. It deals with the best explanation that fits available data, and unlike the fantasy unchanging Truth of religion, the explanations are contingent on the data and ready to change at any moment if the data changes.

    So you're both wrong, but PF is only a little wrong, compared to
    “seems to me that the only way for the whole notion of Truth to make any sense at all is to see it not as some abstract and beautiful ideal or quaint and old-fashioned notion, but as a Person.
    A Person, who knows each of us and loves us beyond our imaginings.”

    The wrongness there is downright fractal.

  4. Actually, I did kind of anticipate that, but "truth" can be used in the sense of "explanations that fit available data" and in the sense of "personally relevant to me".

    I both love and abhor the plasticity of the English language.

  5. You may be able to find support your false definitions, but they are clearly in error, for it is written:

    TRUTH• noun. 2 That which is true as opposed to false.

    No true English speaker would believe otherwise. We cannot simply pick and choose what parts of the dictionary to have faith in. Do we really have the wisdom and understanding to say that this definition is true while this other definition is false? We cannot go cherry picking for the parts that make us feel good about our own speech.

    As English speakers we must submit to the authority of the Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Edition, Mar 2010 Revision. All others are false, and will lead us astray. Please stop your blasphemous attempts destroy civilization. Thank you.

  6. Misdefinitions destroy civilisation? This I have to see...

    Intelligent: adj. Of, or relating to, Ray Comf- BLAARRRRRR!!!

    It works!

  7. I don't think I would ever call any science "truth". However, it is certainly our best (and to date, most successful) attempt at getting to the truth.

    Additionally, the truth science uncovers is also not "universal" but rather from a particular point of view. The good thing, however, is that this point of view is almost always completely defined (through mathematics), and open for everyone to see.


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