Absolute Truths

by Mike Sententia on September 10, 2014

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We’ll never understand the absolute truth behind magick. Parts of it will always be mysterious.

Some people say that as an attack: We’ll never understand everything, so we shouldn’t even try.

But me, I find it exciting. Because science isn’t about finding absolute truths, and there will always be new mysteries to explore. And those are wonderful things.

I was reminded of this in a recent interview in Scientific American:

Horgan: Can physics—or science in general—ever completely solve the mystery of the universe?

Rovelli: What is the “mystery of the universe”?  There isn’t a “mystery of the universe.”   There is an ocean of things we do not know.  Many of them we’ll figure out, if we continue to be somewhat rational and do not kill one another first (which is well possible.)  There will always be plenty of things that we will not understand, I think, but what do I know? In any case, we are very very very far from any complete comprehension of everything we would like to know.

Horgan: Can science attain absolute truth?

Rovelli: I have no idea what “absolute truth” means. I think that science is the attitude of those who find funny the people saying they know something is absolute truth.  Science is the awareness that our knowledge is constantly uncertain.  What I know is that there are plenty of things that science does not understand yet. And science is the best tool found so far for reaching reasonably reliable knowledge.

(Worth reading in its entirety.)

It also reminds me of a great Isaac Asimov quote:

When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

So, don’t be discouraged that we’ll never find the absolute truth. Embrace it. It means we never have to stop exploring.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

George September 10, 2014 at 11:47 PM

Great interview! The interview I have been waiting for. I’ve grown so weary of the ‘final solution to reality’, ‘one great equation’, ‘true nature of reality’ hyperbole put forth by even well-respected physicists. Stuff that the early 20th century guys would be embarrassed by.

Yes, there will always be unknown unknowns. That’s why it’s exciting. Not only don’t we know what we don’t know, but at any point a new piece of information could arrive that would re-contextualise the whole endeavour, reshape all our previous knowledge, re-chunk it into new concepts.

Indiana Jones: Archaeology is the search for fact… not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.

Add “and useful descriptions that work” then you’ve got science. And then we find that the Earth is sort of flat from one perspective, it’s just that space is shaped, and so on…

>So, don’t be discouraged that we’ll never find the absolute truth…

Indeed. Because *there isn’t one*. The ‘solid underlying’ to our experience – the ‘X’ – is something we’ll never access directly, and can only assume; we can only access the ‘chunking’ of our sensory experience in response, and corresponding concepts of our mind.

Fortunately, these have turned out to be super flexible, and for practical purposes seem to match ‘whatever it is behind the scenes’ pretty well. But then again, if they didn’t, we wouldn’t be around to talk about it…

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Mike Sententia September 11, 2014 at 11:56 AM

Well said. And thanks for the article!

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George September 11, 2014 at 12:30 AM

Meant to add, this article by Chrisof Koch on consciousness is also worth a read, entitled Is Consciousness Universal? Thought-provoking, regardless of one’s position.

Edit: My spamblock seems to have stripped the link. It’s http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-consciousness-universal/

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