What is truth?
It’s one of those deep questions one tackles in Philosophy 101, the perfect class for a college freshman who thinks she knows it all.
As any humble 45-year-old will tell you, one learns how little one doesn’t know as one ages.
And yet, we ponder such concepts, and I heard a most compelling radio program about truth and purpose while running this morning when “On Being with Krista Tippett” interviewed Janna Levin, author of “A Madman Dream of Turing Machines” (note to self: put this title on “Books to Read” list).
Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy, discussed the illusion of “convincing feelings,” those concepts we just know in our hearts and minds to be true. For example, one might be convinced human beings can exert free will — they choose to act this way or that way and that no one else, or no other power, controls them. Levin said this about convincing feelings:
Levin: It might be that this convincing feeling I have — I am executing free will — is actually because I’m observing something that is there. I just can’t understand how it’s there. Or it’s a total illusion. It’s a very, very convincing illusion, but it’s an illusion all the same.
Ms. Tippett: So for you, as a scientist, you said this convincing feeling, you simply can’t, you can’t take that as seriously as a calculation that you can prove no matter what?
Ms. Levin: No, I can’t — and no matter what. You know, our convincing feeling is that time is absolute [though physicists know time to be relative and curved, with past, present and future in fluid interplay]. It is a very convincing feeling that time is absolute.
(Read the whole transcript or download the podcast here.)
Having experienced a bit of life by now, I have been convinced of certain truths that I later learned to be false. I was convinced, for example, I was marrying the right man for a lifetime commitment when I married the first time. But I was wrong. I was once convinced I was working for the right company that protected the interests of its employees. But I was wrong. I was convinced when I bought my house it would eventually increase in value. I was wrong.
Truth is not solitary, immovable, unchangeable. Truth, like time, is relative and fluid.
This truth — that truth itself is malleable — is difficult for a control freak to accept. And yet, it reveals how tiny we are in this great universe; for me, it points to the existence of God and gives meaning to the cliché “Let go and let God.”
What is truth? Truth is unknowable.