What is truth in a complex Universe?
Truth, according to the dictionary, is what is actual or real—the truth of a situation is how it “really is” (not just conjectured or distorted)—and according to Plato that means that truth has to be unchanging and absolute (so that it does not depend on anything else). After all, what good is truth (Plato asks) if it changes on us right when we think we have it figured out, or, if it’s merely conditional and we might change our minds about “how things really are” later on?
So let’s imagine a kind of truth which contains no referencing, and which isn’t about how one event can fit with another, and which never asks, “In what sense is it true?” It just sits there being right all of the time in an absolute way (and it is this kind of truth which can exist fully and completely in an immediate moment). Such a truth might work fine for an unchanging world where we can then deduce from our absolute answer to know what to do. (We can say, “If the truth is that there is gold in the West, then we should go west”). But what about a changing world? What about after the gold has been plundered from the West?
Let’s look closer at the characteristics of such a truth that’s based on this immutable kind of world, so that we can ask ourselves if it is adequate to make our decisions.
In addition to not changing, such a truth traditionally hinges on the word “all” and therefore on the uniformity, rather than the diversity, of the subject matter. (If all children are innocent, and Johnny is a child, then Johnny is innocent—absolutely, without nuance, regardless of details—because we’ve derived it from a syllogism about “all” children). Such is the version of truth that we inherited from Plato and the Western tradition in philosophy. But we can wonder if it’s really so truthful to pretend away the diversity in the Universe (another kind of truth might doubt that, as well as question if what is ultimately real is stasis). Shouldn’t truth show us “how” the world is changing rather than deny that it is? And we might further suspect that the truth of a situation should be about its possibilities, not just about what happens automatically based on original premises. (If you “could have” avoided an accident, that speaks to the truth of your culpability as much as what happens actually). Finally, if the world contains biasing, then we might wonder if truth should be able to explain how events are “enabled” to happen even when they “don’t have to.”
So the question becomes how to make our way in a world that is full of change, possibilities, context, diversity, indefiniteness, impermanence, and random chance. Can there be a kind of complex truth to go with such a complex world? Is there a way of seeing truth (perhaps in a non-Platonic form) so that it creates a capability for dealing with any of these quandaries?
And in answer, we can take a hint from science, because science deals with all of the above-listed bugaboos, and more. There is much that has been misattributed to science, but I believe that with a renewed understanding of it we can see how it has been dealing with a complex Universe all along.
So let’s look closer at how science approaches the world to find its own kind of truth in it. And as we do so, we’ll see how its approach is one that is consistent with natural biasing as I have been describing it.
[We’ll see how truth is neither absolute nor relative, but complex, and that science uses the words “absolute” and “relative,” but not in association with the word “truth.” Also, truth can be complex, for instance, by having “potential” mixed in with it, rather than being “what is” just in an absolute immutable sense. And truth can be about what is “fitting together” in a special way that science describes.]