Food for Thought – Matt Pham

How do we know what absolute truth is? We can’t use our senses to find absolute truth because perception is flawed. Sometimes, when a person is sick (or takes LSD), that person might hallucinate. S/he cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. Who is to say we aren’t living in an illusion right now? What if, when you woke up this morning, you actually just woke up to another dream? Why trust our senses at all if they can be so easily deceived? Perception, as weak as it is, is the only thing we have. I believe that this world is reality because it is the optimal truth, the truth based on all the available evidence I have. I COULD be wrong, but I have no reason to believe so. Erich Fromm wrote that “Scientific knowledge is not absolute but ‘optimal’; it contains the optimum of truth attainable in a given historical period” (“An Inquiry Into the Psychology of Ethics”).You might argue that we have more than just our senses, that we cannot perceive gravity, yet we still know that it’s there. However, we can perceive the effects of gravity. When I hold an object up and drop it, it falls. It’s testable. You might argue that we can use our minds to reach absolute truth. Unfortunately, there’s only so much you can learn from deduction and induction before you have to go back into the experiential world for understanding. We still have to use perception in order to gather knowledge in the search for truth. Since the senses can be deceptive, we cannot be 100% sure about anything that we perceive. I think the reason that some people reject this is because it introduces unknowns and intractable entities, and it is natural to be afraid of the unknown.

If absolute truth does exist, it is meaningless to discuss what is or isn’t absolute, because there is (probably) no way to verify it. For example, you can get all scientific and say that the color red is simply light with a wavelength of 650-700 nanometers, but even that is relative, and I’m not talking about Einstein’s Relativity. The length of the meter is relative to the speed of light (, which in turn makes the length of the meter dependant on not only the strength of the gravitational field but also the duration of the second, and the second is defined relative to a certain number of radiations from a certain isotope of cesium at ground level. So, even though measurements can be exact, they are still relative. It could be absolutely true that red is always light with a wavelength of 650-700nm, but the speed of light could change, or ground level could change, or cesium could just start radiating at a different frequency for reasons we can’t understand. You could also go outside the realm of science and say that gravity is caused by invisible, massless gremlins pulling objects down. You can’t disprove the existence of invisible, massless gremlins. It could be true, but it’s probably not, because no evidence leads us there.
There is so much that we don’t know that I think it is a little (for lack of a better word) arrogant to think that we know the absolute truth about anything. Below is an animated gif showing how small the earth is compared to some of the other things in our universe. You probably have to click it to get the full effect.


Carl Sagan had this to say about the Earth:

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”

There are a lot of things that we don’t objectively know, but we have to make decisions based on the limited information that we have and just hope for the best. Every decision is like a court case; sometimes the evidence is ambiguous or incomplete, but there must be a verdict (well, except for mistrials and dismissals, but no analogy is perfect). In the case of synchronicity and fate, no evidence has convinced me beyond a reasonable doubt that these things exist. Let’s say that fate does exist, and that fate controls everything. This would mean that the underlying reason I do not believe in fate is because fate willed it to be so. Either way, I still would not believe in fate.

This whole thing is quite interesting and I really wish I had taken a philosophy class here at UCLA, but on the other hand I do not want to write lengthy papers contrasting Paley’s watchmaker with Dawkins’. Ah, laziness.

Here’s a link to Gnome Theory, a close relative of Gremlin Theory:’t_exist,_its_all_about_Gnomes


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