Is There Such a Thing as Absolute Truth?

Is There Such a Thing as Absolute Truth?

Americans and Addictions

Nothing is more American than addictions. Think about it. If you've ever known an American or by chance are one, you may have noticed this. People are almost always addicted to something. Alcohol consumption in the USA rivals that of the Irish, not just because it makes us feel good, but because we are still bitter about the US Government making it illegal, or our parents and church youth leaders telling us it is a sin.

Those who aren't addicted to alcohol are addicted to coffee, evidenced by our prevalence of brown teeth. Ironically, alcoholics anonymous meetings serve coffee by the ton. They trade one beverage addiction for another that might affect your sleep in the opposite direction. The most ironic addiction is that of the coffee drinker who drinks decaf and is addicted to telling you he is addicted to nothing, and that he drinks decaf because he just likes coffee that much.

Addicted to Freedom, Drugs and Punishment

For a more controversial form of addiction, consider illegal drugs, also known as narcotics. Drug rates are higher in the United States than many other countries, and even those who have never tried an illicit drug are addicted to our drug problems by being addicted to being superior and belittling those who get addicted, placing them in prison at higher rates than any other country and at a higher cost to the public than the cost of drug treatment and rehabilitation. Hey, you voted for it.

Speaking of voting, no addiction is more American than the right to vote, and telling people that we or one of our relatives joined the military, say, in the early 2000s, roughly 213 years after the right to vote became a thing, so they could protect our right to vote by policing countries overseas for economic leverage. We're addicted to arguing about who to vote for, and who is completely correct and who else is completely incorrect. It's either the "Yes we can!" guy or the "No they won't" guy. One is going to take all of your guns away and the other is going to make sure every preschool teacher is packing heat. One is going to kill all the babies and the other is going to make you drink bleach to cure you from coronavirus.

The Greatest Addiction

For Americans, it is always binary thinking, with no in between and no room for discussion. If possible, we want to shut down new information and call anyone presenting it some kind of mean name to make sure we protect ourselves from hearing a new perspective. This brings me to the most wide spread addiction of them all. If we aren't at least addicted to having a piece of bread on both sides of our meat, or blaming the French for our very American fried starches, we are most definitely addicted to certainty.

The addiction to certainty is perhaps the reason why we vote the way we do. We have to be 100% for everything that someone stands for and be completely sure that all of their policies, their intentions and their oval office meetings with interns are completely and 100% righteous. At a minimum, they are definitely better than the other guy (which by the way could be a girl too!).

People enjoy being right, but mostly, hate being wrong.

When it comes to certainty, it's not so much the addiction to knowing something, but the addiction to the idea that there is something to be known, with no nuance or gray area. Of course philosophers and stoners argue all the time about whether truth can be absolute or not. The everyday Joe or Jane, on the other hand is more reckless about the notion of absolute truth. You've seen the type. They are those who assume there is such a thing "just because" and don't even take the time to examine their own foundation of knowledge. This is because finding out you are wrong is more deflating than not being right.

Certainty usually depends on matters of numeric value, like measuring the exact length of a hot dog. The problem is that the hot dog is made of compressed meat particles, and it may expand when cooked and further expand in your stomach. That expansion is not limited to the digestion process though. Everything in the Universe is constantly expanding, including your nutritious hotdog.

Truth Depends on Clarity

Truth does not exist if we don’t know what it means. Truth depends on clarity. Most of all it depends on us to work from the same understood definitions. In order to agree on what we mean by absolute truth, I'd like to unpack the concept a little.

First, when we say 'absolute', we mean firm and precise. I'm not talking about looking at a stadium and saying "oh, there's about 30,000 fans there!" No. I mean when you count the jellybeans in the jar, you not only get it correct that there are 736 jellybeans, but you also include an asterisk explaining that one of the jellybeans was cracked and remains only a portion of a jellybean, which means the absolute number is actually 735.333 jellybeans. So when I say absolute, I mean to be accurate like the way a hipster measures the ground bean-to-water ratio in his pour over coffee.

Second, 'truth' obviously means that the thing that is being called true is not false, but in this context we want to be a little more clear than that. Truth in this context means that one point of view has an exclusive on trueness. This means that not only is a particular claim itself true, but so is the perspective or intellectual framework from which that trueness has been identified. Furthermore, any statement that differs from the thing which is true would be, without question, not true.

Okay, so now that we have that clarified, we can get to the topic at hands. Yes, I said hands plural, because this topic is so big that it requires both.

Truth is in Language

It goes without saying that truth comes only in the form of language, which means that it actually does NOT go without saying. The point is, if you want to identify something's truth-fullness, it has to actually come in the form of words and specifically within a given language, and language is where this all gets complicated.

So let's say I wrote down a true statement (and for the sake of this article, I want you to just trust me that it is true). The statement might be something like the following:

"This room is cool"

Okay, now let's say that I wrote this down in the 1930s, but someone reads it in like 1996. It may be that what I said was true, but what was I actually saying? Was I referring to the temperature of the room or was I referring to how intensely good the fashionable decor in the room was? Furthermore, since you don't know what I looked like in the 1930s (I looked awesome), you don't know whether I was of thicker or thinner skin, so you don't know at what point I would identify a temperature as "cool" or cold or hot or comfortable or something else.

I know this is not a perfect example. I’m sure you've caught an obvious problem with this example though. The word "cool" does not have a numeric value. I know this. And this truth was not lost on me when I began using this example. Cool is not "when the temperature in the room is 56 jellybeans". When it comes to coolness as an expression for style, it is not something that can be captured in an equation such as "long beard + tattoos + 36 grams of single origin coffee beans = cool".

Coolness is Whatever You Think It Is

This is the problem with language. Everything someone says is first a thought, it is then stated, then heard and then interpreted in another thought. Even the numeric concepts have problems, because who's to say which jellybean brand is the proper measure of the finite mass of a jellybean? We all know that there is one brand that while they have many flavors, they are very small, and you need two matching ones to appreciate any given flavor.

And what about the broken one in the bottom? At what point does the partial jellybean lose its jellybean essence? Or how about when all the ingredients of a jellybean are in a jar, in exact portions but they are not mixed to create a jellybean form? Are there no jellybeans in this case? Or is this a scenario where the plural is like the plural of fungus and sounds more like jellybai, sort of indicating volume instead of a count of individual items?

The point is, language is complicated, and language changes over time, beginning with the first time someone interprets the true statement.

The Conclusion

So is there such a thing as Absolute Truth? Basically, my conclusion is "I don't know".

It may be possible that there is such a thing as absolute truth, but in all actuality, it doesn't really matter. There's no doubt that absolute truth would be convenient for some. For many. The thing is, we don't have such a thing. I don't mean that it doesn't exist, I just mean that no matter how much we want it, it is almost inaccessible. Even the precise length of an uncooked hotdog has an asterisk next to it because the Universe and everything in it is constantly expanding. In those scenarios where you think you've identified an absolute, I suggest you enjoy it, because it is fleeting.

Enjoy the journey.