I had a conversation with a friend about absolute vs relative truth, not much came of it, but a few nights ago I could not sleep and ended just thinking about it most the night. This is generally the type of stuff I keep to myself, however I decided to share.
I’ve noticed that my stance or thinking on a philosophical or any topic is derived from first thinking of a situation then applying that situation to what I consider a thought framework or stance on a topic. Often I draw a conclusion, based on situations without registering that I did so.
How do you think about relative vs absolute truth in the context of this situation?
“What is 2 + 2? “
What about this situation ?
“That is a beautiful girl”
What about this situation ?
“Old hag or young lady?”
The last example is where I initially formed my bases for understanding absolute vs relative truths. It shows a picture in which some see an young lady and some see an old hag. Class rooms have been shown this picture and argue over what she is, after some debate the picture is explained to them and they see the other side of the women in the picture.
Applying this situation to my thinking I thought: well each person has a relative view of the picture, but when they see the other side they are enlightened and understand the picture is an optical illusion. Knowing that the picture is an optical illusion and having seen both sides they now know the absolute truth about the picture.
My initial conclusion was then that:
There seems to be both an absolute truth and a relative truths.
This conclusion rubbed me the wrong way, as this “absolute truth” seemed a little to easy to come by . So I thought about another situation.
What if three men look at the sky two men say the sky is blue and one man who was born color blind says that the sky is grey. One day one of the ”blue sky” men goes color blind. He has now seen the sky in both a blue and grey, and has a richer understanding of the sky color than the two other men.
This thought drew me to a bit different conclusion about absolute and relative truths; as the man who had seen the sky as both grey and blue still does not have the absolute truth about the sky color, he has not seen the sky through the eyes of a bat, or through the eyes of man who can only see some colors.
My new conclusion was that:
There is an absolute truth that is unobtainable by humans, so we think in relative truths that have a nearness or farness from the absolute truth.
I liked this framework of thought, but as I piped various situations through it , the framework seemed to fail or at least be greatly lacking. The one situation that it really seemed to lack to explain the most was the most trivial in nature.
“Was it Owen Wilson or Luke Wilson that starred in the movie Wedding Crashers?”
I say Owen, my moron friend says Luke. There seemed to be such an absolute correctness here, no relative proximity to the correctness, there is no spinning this one, this was entirely and absolutely true – “Owen Wilson starred in Wedding Crashers.”
Thinking about this expanded my understanding greatly. I found that in most of the previous situations I was thinking about there was generally an entirely different interpretation of a truth, a different paradigm in which people viewed a situation that led them to draw different yet relatively true conclusions. The paradigm that the color blind man lives in leads him to believe the sky is grey, the paradigm in which the man who can see color lives in leads him to believe the sky is blue.
In the Wedding Crashers situation my friend and I are within the exact same paradigm of thought – we did not interpret anything in reguards to the sitution differently. We both had the same interpretation of what a “Star” in the movie was, we both speak English, we both were speaking about the same movie – ultimately our interpretation was the same.
This understanding began to lead me to understand how utterly far away we are from the “absolute truth”. The only reason we were able to have this argument is because we have some framework or paradigm of thinking. The understanding of this human paradigm and our complete depravity of knowledge was I think my biggest leap in understanding of all.
From that understanding I reworked my model of truths to that of a puzzle, a very big puzzle. A completed puzzle would be absolute truth.
As we live our life, we put down pieces on our puzzle that give us a better view of the absolute truth. The curious thing about a puzzle is that until it is one hundred percent complete we do not know what it is, and can only make statements as to what we see on the puzzle. Each of our puzzles looks very different, yet humans have all done some work on the bottom right corner of the puzzle.
So when a little child sees Santa Clause on the puzzle, that child says look it’s Santa, after putting a few more pieces down that child sees a different picture of Santa as being a fun character we created for a Christmas.
A boy who sees a girl and says she is beautiful, gets to know her a little (putting a few more pieces down on his puzzle) and says she is ugly. Then later gets stuck in a class with her (puts a few more pieces down on his puzzle) and thinks she the most beautiful thing in the world and marries her.
A religious man who says there is a God looks at his puzzle and sees a God. An atheist looks at his puzzle and says there is no God. That same atheist has a child and his puzzle changes drastically now he sees a God. The religious man discovers new information that puts more pieces on his puzzle and now the picture of God he saw turns into “Opium of the people”.
A man argues with a friend about who is the star of the movie, both men see a very similar puzzle. One man put a few pieces down on his puzzle that said Luke Wilson stared in Wedding Crashers because he looked at IMDB the other put pieces on his puzzle when folks said “look it’s Owen Wilson in that movie”. Both men’s puzzles grew after discussing the issue. We both now understood that for a brief period IMDB had put that Luke Wilson had stared in wedding crashers. Our puzzles became aligned, but still grossly incomplete. We did not know that on the day IMDB made this mistake – Jennifer a part time employee who had put the information up had done so on purpose after flirting with a boy in a class she was taking by claiming it was indeed Luke not Owen who stared in weeding crashers – knowing full well it was Owen. We did not know the that the boy thinking this prank was so clever began to see something in the girl he had missed before and ultimately grew to love and marry her.
Ultimately the thinking of truths as a puzzle will be greatly lacking, truth in this world is not a puzzle – it is what it is. Thinking about it this way however provides me with a better framework of thought than I have ever used in the passed.
Initially I thought that as individuals our goal is to expand our puzzle as best we can, continually seeking to get a better picture of the whole puzzle. Now I’m not so sure, I believe we choose most of the puzzle pieces we put down. Some pieces could show us a picture that could ruin our lives, other pieces may gives us the most wonderful lives possible. It seems we can not complete the puzzle, so the best option then would seem to be to try our best to put down those pieces that form a beautiful picture, even if they are not the whole picture.
I am however missing something about humans or myself, because I am adamantly determined to expand my puzzle no matter the impact to the well being of my life. And I believe that as humans we have in the past and will continue to expand our puzzle no matter the consequence. So that one day we will be able to answer the question “Where did we come from?” as we now answer the question “What is 2 +2?” .
See my other rantings including Sam Harris, David Pizarro , Tamler Sommers – very bad wizards.