Daniel Waltrip — The truth of the matter is…

It was rather amusing to watch how a lecture on memory and consciousness morphed into a full-fledged debate last week. I suppose Professor Vesna was only trying to spark some controversy and awake those students who were dozing, and I think it did the trick. The issues of truth, synchronicity, and meaning in life are not something people take lightly. However, I greatly enjoyed seeing the wide array of responses.

The idea that instigated the debate was “perception”. The professor went into significant detail on the differences in how individuals perceive and interpret the world in front of them. An individual has different characteristics and certain biases that cause him to view instances with a unique perspective. While we all may be present at a certain event, the memories that we carry away with us will vary greatly, as will our feelings and opinions regarding the event, depending on these differences. This makes sense logically; I think everyone can agree.

How does this relate to truth? Well, if one suggests that truth is based off perception, then my memory of an event in time (a.k.a. how I “perceive” that occurrence) will be different than another person’s, and thus we will each hold valid but not equal truths. I liked the example given about the colorblind person. If this person views an apple and describes it as a certain shade of gray, while those with normal eyesight see a green apple, who is to discount them? They see a gray apple, and no matter what anyone else does, the apple before their eyes remains gray. In a similar vein, Vesna also described how attempting to locate fragile sub-atomic particles such as electrons actually causes them to shift from their supposed observed positions (or something along those lines). Basically, the act of observing an object can change the truth about the object. Quantum Mechanics at its finest. I admit I don’t fully understand how this works. But I can grasp the concept this theorem supports. Depending on the observer and their perception of an object/event/occurrence, the truth regarding such instance can vary.

I hope I did a decent job describing the subjective nature of truth and perception, because I will now proceed to argue why I find such notions somewhat ridiculous (and often a bit hilarious). For example, the apple will continue to reflect the exact same wavelength of light, regardless of whether the observer is colorblind or not. It is true that people’s perceptions of events are vastly different, but this is only because each of us sees and remembers only fractions and pieces of an event’s entirety. If we were to consolidate all the memories and perceptions of everyone together (minus the personal biases/spins), a complete, factual picture would emerge. A singular truth would be revealed. The idea that everyone can hold separate and mutually exclusive truths or ideas makes no sense logically.

The idea of absolute truth can be somewhat scary. By definition, many people will be inherently wrong in what they believe or in how they perceive things. And who is to say what this absolute truth actually is? That much is beyond me. But I do know that there can’t be multiple correct answers. Maybe I am slightly biased, being a math major. Math problems will give a direct, objective answer every time, and that is undebatable. Oh, and yes I know that quadratic equations have two solutions… (ok, bad math joke, I won’t do it again, I promise). Claiming that you know the one absolute truth is a very bold statement, and also causes many people to tune out, because an inherent part of such a statement is: “I am right, and you are wrong”. No one person has complete knowledge of the absolute truth in this world. Many people may be on the right track, but we will never know for sure.

I’d like to close with one statement. I understand the point Professor Vesna was making about tolerance, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept the beliefs of others. One can respect the views of others and honor whatever value they may hold, and still hold fast to what he believes to be true. It’s an issue of respect and kindness, not tolerance.

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