Thursday, July 10, 2008

So we know - do we?

Someone showed me an intriguing mental exercise once. They wrote a shape on paper, basically like the letter H - except the way they wrote it was with plain straight lines, no font or style, and then asked "What is that?" One obvious answer is that it's the letter H. That is, if you use the same Alphabet that we do in English. To someone who spoke and wrote Russian, and used the Cyrillic Alphabet, it would be the letter that signifies the sound 'N' If you write the name "Nicholas" in Russian it starts with what we use as the letter 'H'. Right. So suddenly it's not so simple. Then again, it could be a drawing of rugby football goalposts. It could be a picture of a tree trunk with a piece of rope tied round it. And without going on too long, the point is this: what you make of it depends on what your mind has already been trained to see it as.
If someone said to you, "Ich bin auschlander. Nicht verstehen" then you might not know what to make of it at all - unless you speak German, in which case you know that it means: "I'm a foreigner. I don't understand." (Apologies if my spelling is not perfect in German).
Try this: (and again, the spelling could be a bit wonky) "Shin,a'weel, a'nish."
If it means nothing to you, that's not surprising. I've been told that it is a Gaelic phrase, from Scotland, meaning "That is the way that it is," said as a fatalistic expression of acceptance or exasperation.
You know what it means if you speak the language. The point here is that you have to know some things before you can understand others. And for that reason, it can be quite wrong to say, "The facts speak for themselves." What happens is, the facts speak according to what you already know.
And people can be misled. The people of Ancient Greece were intelligent and inquiring; they sought to find the explanations for things; and they theorised that waste material and rubbish gave rise by spontaneous generation to flies, because that was how it seemed.
More recently, it was believed that stomach ulcers were caused by stress or bad diet, and diet was the only way to correct them. Not long ago, researchers found out that they can be caused by a bacterium, and can be treated with a specific medicine. It was good too, because for years people afflicted with ulcers had to live on this bland miserable diet of things like boiled fish. I can remember one of my aunts having to live that way. Not fun! But here's the point. Very intelligent and qualified people were mistaken in what they believed.
I could admit to some of the dopey mistaken ideas I've had at times, too, but then I'm not an expert who got believed by thousands of others.
It was once believed that if a human being travelled at over forty miles an hour it would kill them.
It was once taught that the Earth was the centre of the Universe. The best minds of the time thought they had deduced that, and it was accepted as knowledge.
Once it a while, what all the best and brightest told us has been found out as incorrect. It's worth keeping in mind. Of course, we have to rely on some things we're told or learn, or we can't get on with life. But sometimes what is "Truth" seems to undergo change.
I wonder if one day it will be shown that the human species did NOT evolve from other life forms?


Bart and/or Ari said...

Andrew, thank you for the book suggestion. I'm always looking for new ones. In response to this particular post, I'd like to suggest a book called "Music of the Spheres" by Elizabeth Redfern. It deals with similar thoughts and you might enjoy it (although it is a rather depressing book, lacking hope. You've been warned). Good luck in your writing.

Culpster said...

Well put Andrew. It’s difficult to understand true knowledge because all knowledge begins with a belief. Science begins with a belief that everything is rational and our finite minds can make contact with what is reality. Unfortunately, that is not a fact; it is a belief. I have often found that the best things in life are not rational. Things like love, beauty, and humor are what make life worth living. I can’t understand why I laugh, but neither do I want to. I just want to laugh.

Logic is only logical when all the facts are known. As you said, it was at one time logical to believe that the earth was the center of the universe. When new facts came about, it was no longer logical. How can anyone ever be sure they have all the facts? If you can’t be sure of that then you can’t be sure you are actually being logical. Thus, logic is extremely limited.

Every person believes in something that cannot be proven. I believe our goal is not so much to prove this or that but to ask what is worth believing in?

Marshall Art said...

Are you distinguishing truth from fact with this post? I recently had a guy at my blog dispute my assertion that truth is truth no matter what. He began bringing up Aristotle and such. (This guy fancies himself a deep thinker, but...) My first example of truth, though I haven't yet gone back to that post to present it to him, is that to murder is wrong. I think that's a truth claim that cannot be argued against without changing the definition. I can't, off the top of my head, think of how any new facts could change this truth.

Yet, indeed, what we know to be a fact is only truth so long as new facts don't come to light that change the original premise.

I'm getting a headache.

Andrew Clarke said...

It can be exhausting, I know, to try analysing how we decide on what is "truth". As you say, it's a headache! But then to say each person has their own truth is to make nonsense out of the concept of truth. It gets to be like saying a word means whatever you want it to mean, and then you have no coherent language that can be used to communicate. It could be that we end up admitting: there are certain problems beyond the ability of humans to solve. Those who object to that suggestion might do so out of pride, or reluctance to admit that there is a God they must come to terms with. Thank you for your comment. It is important to hear and say these things.

Culpster said...

If something is a fact, it should be a truth; however, I have found that what many people call “facts” are not always true. So, when I use the word “fact”, I am mostly mocking the certainty of what the logician thinks is a fact. When their new “facts” come along, the old “facts” are no longer true. The point being that the logical conclusion of false facts is actually illogical.

Truth is truth no matter what, but it is our comprehension of the truth that is the problem. Truth can only be believed; it cannot be proven. Murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. Therefore, murder is wrong because it goes against a law. What if the law changes? What if the US government decides to make it legal to kill anyone you please? If I go next door and kill my annoying neighbor, is that wrong? Or what if you consider God to be the Lawmaker? How do you explain God killing Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5? Isn’t that murder? But if God does it, is it still wrong?

Personally, I have found that the best way to discern what is true is a God infused heart. It provides the head with the best perspective to look at what is reality. Many may laugh at that, but I laugh at their “facts”.