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What is Truth

  1. Jun 12, 2009 #1


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    Generally I'd like it if we could get some opinions on what truth is. Anyone offering an accepted or personal definition or description is welcome to do so as well.

    Personally my take on what truth is... is two fold.

    • One there are absolutes when it comes to truth....

    • two... there is a truth for every moment in time and for every person experiencing it.

    So, objectively, truth must be an absolute. While subjectively, truth is continuously changing for the person experiencing life.

    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2009 #2
    Truth could be said to be a measure of the correlation between a proposition and reality.
  4. Jun 13, 2009 #3
    The only proven statement is "I think, therefore I am", which is better said, "There is order". So we can say it is true that there is order. Everything beyond that are just axioms.

    I strongly suspect that there is no set of super-rules that has guided the growth of reality. Rather, it seems that ALL POSSIBLE RULES are, in fact, real. However only non-paradoxical rules/events have evolved far enough above that chaotic foundation to be recognizable (like "I think, therefore I am"). So by viewing the most fundamental interactions, we might get a glimpse of true randomness (which is what all-possible-events (including paradoxical ones) would look like to orderly beings). Thus QM is a statistical theory and ~maybe~ there are no hidden variables. What's also really interesting is that ANY non-paradoxical idea you can think of must be real! Note that I'm not saying any statement you make is real. I'm saying any non-paradoxical statement you make, is real. For example it is not paradoxical for me to say something that, if true, would be a paradox--like "there's a giant space potato orbiting mars" when a later examination shows no such potato. Anyway, this rather opens the door for some interesting possibilities in the realm of what we often call "supernatural". There are some supernatural theories that are not paradoxical. And remember that nothing is proven except "I think, therefore i am".
  5. Jun 13, 2009 #4


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    Does truth have to be spoken or does it simply exist as a state or is it the "measure".?
  6. Jun 13, 2009 #5


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    What is true one moment may be false during the next. Is this a paradox or a truth?
  7. Jun 14, 2009 #6
    The common definition is that a statement is true when it matches reality. But I disagree I think truth is a deeper concept than reality. While reality for one observer will be something else from the reality of another observer, until these observers meet again, the fact that we can agree upon this is the concept of truth. If there was no truth there would be no real way to have our two opinions finally meet.
    Sorry if this sounds like a very functional definition of truth.
  8. Jun 15, 2009 #7

    Fundamental mathematics are the only real truths that I've been able to conceive. Even Descartes was misled by making the assumption that he must exist. Our perception is not evidence of existence, merely evidence of perception. Basing reality on perception is about as flawed a concept as exists (or doesn't!).

    In order to operate in our reality we compromise. We settle for what we believe are truths. We come to agreements on things that we feel are true. For a working model it serves its purpose. We agree that what goes up must come down. We agree that the universe around us is physical and real. We agree that the sun is yellow, the grass is green, and the sky is blue. All of these things are agreed truths. We cannot however prove any single agreement that has ever been made, regardless of how true it may seem.

    So what is truth? Considering the concept of truth is manmade I suspect it's fair enough to use the the definition of agreeable. If you're seeking "real" truths, well I believe that is beyond our scope. We are unable to see the forest through the trees so to speak. If our entire existence is nothing more than illusion then who's to say what lies behind the curtain of Oz?
  9. Jun 15, 2009 #8
    And those proofs in turn rely on other axioms. For starters, you'd have to define what you mean by "I", "think", and "am"; then you'd have to prove that you, in fact, think. Following that, one would need to demonstrate that if something thinks, then it exists. None of these have been proven without relying on other "obvious" statements. You can't prove something from nothing. Ultimately, something needs to be taken as self-evident and not in need of proof if you plan on proving anything. Of course, your initial assumption would then be open to question.
  10. Jun 15, 2009 #9
    Mathematics is true by definition, but it is abstraction, generalizations, so it corresponds to nothing concrete.
    How is this flawed?
  11. Jun 15, 2009 #10


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    I wanted to list some of the types of truths that have developed over time, among humans.

    Basic Truth = I drink therefore I am (without water I would be dead within 8 days)

    Half Truth = the sun also rises (from our perspective it appears to rise so this is half true since the whole truth is our planet rotates our position to a point where we can see the sun)

    Personal Truth = Personal truths reflect physiological attributes, psychological tendencies and the learning and experiences of an individual.

    Social Truth = A social truth is what a distinct group perceives to “be so.” Social truths reflect group history, customs, and values. For example, to group “A” it may be true that the neighboring group, group “B,” is the enemy and thus a threat. But group “C” might not find this to be so.

    Universal Truth = A universal truth is one that all sufficiently intelligent and educated observers, from this planet or any other (should they exist), would conclude to “be so.” For instance, the proportion of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is 3.141592 ( . . . ). This is a universal truth. Any capable, unbiased individual could verify that truth. Similarly, that energy is equivalent to rest mass times the speed of light squared, is also a universal truth.

    If you have some categories to add to these ones please feel free to do so.
  12. Jun 15, 2009 #11
    I would be careful with the universal truth. There is a difference in saying that it exists and that you know what it is. The last statement has paradoxical monsters waiting for you.
  13. Jun 15, 2009 #12

    Reality as we experience it is merely perception. If you want to argue this point, you'd be advocating 19 century physics that is most certainly very wrong. I don't think you meant this so maybe i misunderstood your point. You are right that mathematics is an abstraction, but isn't our whole classical world with its incredible human drama just an abstraction embedded in a quantum field, manifested by the 4 fundamental forces? Surely, one could claim that it had existed long before we appeared here, but the evidence of reality's abstract nature has been overwhelming. Even the notion of time, that gives us the security that everything has existed long before us, is smeared all over the place as if reality is trying to slip away from every endeavour to place it within fixed limits(it's an important point and i don't remember this having been discussed here).
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2009
  14. Jun 15, 2009 #13

    For me, there is only one truth - the ultimate truth - what is reality and why are we here? The rest is just minor details that facilitate and make the ultimate truth possible.
  15. Jun 15, 2009 #14

    The so-called objective realism paradoxes. How sad really.
  16. Jun 15, 2009 #15
    Truth is not the name of anything, but your question presupposes that this were the case.

    A less biased question would be "in what circumstances is it correct to use the word 'truth'?"

    But that's an easy question that we all know the answer to. The philosophical problem of "what is truth?" occurs because the grammar of our language forces 'truth' to be a noun, and we reify all nouns, if those that should not be such as 'truth', 'space','time', etc.

    This is was L. Wittgenstein's approach, in the book Philosophical Investigations. The example he develops in detail is that "'pain' is not the name of anything." L.W. tells us that "the meaning of the word is its use." L.W. treats philosophical questions such as "What is truth?" as part of an illness that comes about by a misapplication of language, and the goal becomes finding a way to cure ourselves of these problems.
  17. Jun 15, 2009 #16
    I couldn't resist; it sounds like you're advocating 20th century physics that is most certainly very wrong, from a early 22th century (equal time gap) point of view. The point is this: quantum fields, four forces, etc are just a model, how can you say that this abstraction is any more real than the human experience? After all, the proofs of these scientific theories are in the experiments, but the experiments are nothing other than human experiences. Therefore the standard model can never be more certain than our experiences (the certainty of our experiences is an upper bound on the certainty of any non-mathematical truths). Therefore it is illogical to ignore the reality of your own experience but embrace the reality of abstract scientific models whose validation is based on other peoples experiences (i.e. experiments).
  18. Jun 15, 2009 #17


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    If the truth was spoken and there was no one there to hear it, does it exist?
  19. Jun 15, 2009 #18


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    This is an interesting take on the idea of truth. I'd tend to agree with L Wittgenstein's view of our misapplication of language... except that I would imagine that we are the top authority when it comes to each of our languages. Whatever language that may be. And how we use our language is how the language is supposed to be used.

    It's not up to the linguists to decide how a language should be used but for them to study how the language is used and to make note of this usage in the history and structure of linguistics. I know that words have been bastardized and completely diluted in their meanings by media or by popular culture... but this is not an illness. It is communication and proof that each individual is not alone in their thinking or in their actions. Proof that our truths and our ideas are not illusion, but communicable parcels of information.
  20. Jun 15, 2009 #19


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    I don't think it has to be spoken or written to be truth. I don't think truth even has to be observed to be a truth. Don't ask me why but I think whether there is nothing or everything there is the truth of that state "taking place".
  21. Jun 15, 2009 #20
    I'm not sure what you mean by '19 century physics', but I'm going to assume you are making some sort of ontological argument here. Descartes was not. 'I think therefore I am' is an epistemological argument.

    I would argue that reality is based on perception, but we clearly have an ability to create abstractions and models from perception, mathematics is an example of this.
    From the perspective of what exists, ontology, yes. But 'quantum fields' and 'fundamental forces' are really just human explanations, and predictions, they are concepts, based on our limited, if often extrapolated, 'classical' level of experience. The 'physical' reality beyond our senses can be represented to a degree, but even a theory of everything would only be a description of everything, not the actual existing everything.

    Descartes was no describing what exists, he was talking about the nature of knowledge. From a modern perpective Descartes is often hard to understand, because he didn't have much use for empirical philosophy, on which science is so based. But what he was discussing is still essential to science on a foundational level. Gravity for instance, may be fundamental to physics, but Descartes was concerned with what was fundamental to knowledge, itself.
    Time is slippery.
  22. Jun 16, 2009 #21

    Well, you have to take into account that ALL of our physical model are approximations. They are not truths, but they are slowly gliding us to the Truth. Every new experimentally verified theory is a better description of what 'exists'. Newton's model is still correct, but to a point and from a particular point of view. Einstein's model is a yet better description of what's 'out there'. A 22nd century model will likely be an even better description. And because modern physics has been pushing us away from the reality portrayed by our 5 senses, we now know that what we appear to be perceiving is not the real deal. Even to a disinterested in physics by-stander, it would be clear that something is 'wrong' with our perceptions just by looking at the models that theoretical physicists are building to explain reality:

    1. Universe being a projection(hologram)
    2. Universe being 11-dimensional
    3. Consciousness creating the universe
    4. Universe consisting of a single electron going forward and backward in time
    5. Near infinite number of worlds created at every instant
    6. A purely mathematical universe
    7. The universe being informational(it from bit)
    8. The universe being created by a quantum fluctuation in a space-like medium
    9. ......

    All these theories are of course not evidence that brilliant ultra-smart physicists are going insane. These are evidence that scientists are reaching much deeper than the surface.

    If what is visible on the surface is a sufficient for you, OK.

    So? Aren't we trying to explain our experiences by digging deeper into what has proved to be a far wider and more mysterious reality that it seemed a little more than a century ago? What can be be said to exist with 100% certainty, apart from our experiences?

    This is wrong. What we experience is almost completely irrelevant to theoretical physics. Ask any real physicist if they require realism to be able to probe far beyond the realm of sensory experience and build working models of how everything is functioning. Or ask him if they care about human perceptions and sensory data at all?

    If you want the Truth(what is reality and what is our place in it), you can't rely on the 5 senses, counter-intuitive as it may seem, we'd still be thinking the Earth was flat, not round. Your 5 senses are just mildly scratching the surface, often in a very deceiving way.

    The most commonplace things - the difference between yesterday and tomorrow, between here and there - continue to baffle the greatest minds in science, not because physicists lack the intelligence to put into words what sensory experience is feeding them, but because it is not the whole story and because reality simply refuses to be framed. In the words of one of the greatest physicists of our time Brian Greene in The Fabric of the Cosmos:

    "The over-arching lesson that has emerged…is that human experience is often a misleading guide to the true nature of reality….much of what we experience physically…turns out not to be the reality of the world…"

    If i had to sum up what 20th century physics says about reality it would be close to - “reality” remains ambiguous, ill-defined, flexible and fluid-like until it is experienced.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2009
  23. Jun 16, 2009 #22
    This is clearly incorrect. The position that the earth is spherical-like was reached by the evidence of the senses. What you are opposing are hasty conclusions regarding the evidence of the senses, rather than an attack on the validity of the senses. Further, you are instantly faced by a large amount of contradictions. If the senses are invalid, you cannot take part in a rational discussion, since rational discussion presupposes the validity of the senses. If you cannot trust your senses, then you cannot trust that you are reading the text I wrote when reading this post, or that I am reading the text you wrote in your post.
  24. Jun 16, 2009 #23

    Read what i said - "If you want the Truth..." meaning a thorough description of reality(as explained later in the same post). I never said all senses are incorrect at all times. If anyone ever said such a thing that's you, in your above quoted post. You are taking my words completely out of context, making a mumbo jumbo of them and declaring that i've said something that i clearly have not.

    I don't know how i can say this simpler - Sensory input and perception is a misleading and wrong description of reality. If you can't comprehend the meaning behind this statement, i think you have to move on or find some other thread. I also speak German and Russian, if that would be of help.

    Where did i say this???

    When i said:

    it goes without saying that when reality is experienced(by the senses- How else???) it is no longer ill-defined and ambiguous and we get the correct picture of what's what, location, time, etc parameters. If i have to write lengthy explanations to every sentence i put together, reading the forum contents would be quite a strenuous task.
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2009
  25. Jun 16, 2009 #24
    Truth is an assessment, I don't think you can so easily divorce 'truth' from point of view.
    That is simply not true. Just because a theory fits the facts doesn't mean it is correct, let alone, better than a previous theory.
    Actually one of the things that Newton used to emphasize, was that he was simply describing reality, not explaining it. This is one of the problems with QM, the math works, the experiments work, but the explanations are nonsensical.
    Or that they are out of their depth.
  26. Jun 16, 2009 #25


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    Our senses are always correct. They are simple,biological functions acting as receptors and transmitters. Its our interpretation of what our senses pick up that is either correct or incorrect.

    This shows how truth is inherent in all phenomenon because the phenomenon is the truth "of the matter". Its only when a phenomenon or truth is interpreted incorrectly by our "intellect" that inefficient "assessments" are made. When we use the word truth we are talking about the actuality of a situation or phenomenon. Not the inevitably wrong interpretations or the blatant manipulations of its "true" actuality.
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