The premise of truth

Who can say there is no such thing as truth without professing the truth of the denial?  It may be that we don’t see the contradictions locked into our truth narratives because they are mediated by something much closer to our hearts, something that serves as a subjective antidote to internal conflict and contradiction – belief.  Few people notice the contradictions within their own beliefs, because they believe otherwise.  Indeed, some believe that we now live in a ‘post-truth’ era, which they justify by appealing to the facts seen to verify ‘the truth’ of their claim.  Yet even ‘the plain truth’ is open to conjecture because the naming and telling reflects a subjective outlook striving to show that the facts are speaking for themselves when they are not.   It seems that we have always had a rocky relationship with ‘the truth’, which may be due to the unsettling fact that our objectivity is a state of mind – essentially, a creation of the imagination.

Most of us deal with truths in situ, believing that we obtain our understandings from what is ‘out there’ – from matters of fact that become understandable in terms of what they mean.  However, meanings, understandings and beliefs are facts we put into circulation, and no truth is evident without the accord granted of our recognition.  Likewise, the world is and is not imbued with meaning, only we would rather be at the nurtured end of the nurturing, which is why so much pathos gets attached to the ‘quest for meaning’ or the lament that we can ‘find no meaning to life’.  And we continue to wonder about the truth behind the compelling belief that there is something more ‘out there’ – a belief shrouded in the paradoxical truth that there is no ‘out there’ until there is an ‘in here’.  Hence we might need to explore the question of a wider reality by taking a converse look – to look at what we mean by ‘in here’ in order to ask: is subjectivity a greater or a lesser fact of existence – in the recognisable order of its becoming.

On the whole, belief augments the understanding of things we don’t understand.  Collectively, we exist in a peculiar reality, as a feature of existence trying to understand itself.  Arguably, ‘reality’ is not a fixed state of existence and just as realities change and grow, so can ‘the truth’.  For instance, life did not previously feature in the chemistry that now includes it – so what are we to believe about the nature of life?  What if there is more to reality than the here and now – that everything is in a state of becoming more than it was, including ‘the truth’ – including ourselves?  Perhaps there is more to existence than the ‘external’ facts by which we behold it – because the beholder, unwittingly or not, introduces a new reality of observation into a world that never before observed itself.  So the perception of truth is fraught with the same difficulties as the perception of ourselves – the problem of gaining an inclusive point of view – the problem of understanding the subject by way of the meanings we express through the glimpses we obtain as a part of something bigger than the focus of our attention – even as that focus rests upon ourselves.

Mike Laidler


Is science never right?

Is it true, as said, that ‘science is never right’?† Then is there something that goes beyond the fact of the ‘scientific facts’, calling into question their propriety, which might also call into question scientific findings in fields of study ranging from medicine and psychology to economics and climatology? Does it mean that there is more to knowledge and discovery than science can offer and that our scientific methodologies have their limits? Or does it mean that science is above reproach – because it has already taken account of its fallibilities and has dispensed with belief, especially the dogma of believing totally in itself? Might this allow scientific opinion to form the bedrock of opinion about matters touching upon explanations of fact, including the nature of existence; therefore we can be assured that non-scientific opinions are inferior – for what can those opinions amount to if even the rational sciences can’t profess to being absolutely right – ever? But is it possible that there is more to the universe than its scientific firmament, and who is qualified to say? Who is the impartial questioner of the facts? – not science, if science deems that those questions can be valid only when they are framed scientifically. 

If physicists are ‘never right’‡ then does it mean that governments are being approached to fund scientific projects on false pretexts, with promises of results that cannot be trusted? Does it mean that the famous Higgs boson is not necessarily real just because physicists say it is, or that it may be when they believe otherwise – because the evidence to contradict or redefine their findings is always round the corner? Are scientists claiming that the evidence tells them what to think, when it is their thinking that directs their attention to ‘the evidence’ and its selection? How important is the weight of evidence if it stands to be overturned by facts that hitherto weighed lightly in the minds of scientists? Perhaps explanation is but a technical way of expressing theories loaded with meanings that cannot be finalised – meanwhile discovery involves something more than a factual retrieval exercise. Perhaps it means that the real world is bigger than science and that science remains as it was at the outset – a methodological philosophy of nature. Perhaps ‘nature’, so called, amounts to a theory about something that is bigger than our grandest ideas about what it is – including the idea that it is a thing in existence definable by advantage of its observation.
Mike Laidler

† Interview with the scientist Brian Cox on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, 16 June 2016. (Vide: ‘The science paradox’.)
‡ Per Professor Brian Cox speaking on ‘Start the Week’, BBC Radio 4, 19 December 2016.