Witnessing Truth


(A small room with a window overlooking the ocean; Z. and A. sit across the table from one another; a vase containing flowers rests on the table.)

Z.
‘Reality, and the experience of reality, are separate phenomena. Reality exists outside the boundaries of perception.’

A.
‘I agree. (pointing to the vase of flowers) The flowers in the vase, the vase on the table, the table, the window, the ocean, will live out their lives separately from our perceptions of them.’

Z.
‘Yet, we only know what our perceptions tell us.’

A.
‘So then, what can we really know about the nature of a thing, such as the flowers on the table?’

Z.
‘We cannot know for certain that the flowers are in the vase, on the table. Only statements about things are true, or false. And just how true or false a statement is depends on the precision of the words as they relate to the thing in question.

We can make statements about the flowers in the vase, on the table, etc. And we, or others, can attempt to determine the merit or truthfulness of the statements through available means of verification, such as consensus, critical analysis, evidence checking, or peer review. But we cannot simply assume that the flowers are in the vase, on the table. We cannot verify that things are true, outside of the context of language.

It is language itself that provides us with means to consider whether something is true or false. There is a significant difference in stating that something is true or false, with its implication of flexibility, and maintaining that it is true or false from an inherently determined position.’

A.
‘Naturally, this is an intriguing idea, and one with philosophical precedent. I especially appreciate the emphasis on the precision of language.’

‘For myself, I consider anything that is real to be true. The many and varied activities taking place around and within us define reality, independent of human perception, and are therefore true.

All things, events in the universe are both real and true. The act of deception, for example, in an ironic twist, is part of human nature, part of reality, and therefore true.

Discovering truth is another matter. All known creatures are limited in their understanding. Humans, who speak and think, must rely on representational systems of verbal and written language, mathematics, and visual symbols to explore and define reality. We use these symbols to great advantage for the purpose of communication. At the same time, symbolic language presents formidable challenges in the pursuit of truth.

In the end, we must rely on our perceptions. And our perceptions are not always a reliable gauge of reality. However, when I look at the vase of flowers on the table in front of me, the window, the ocean, I enjoy a more or less true account of those things, depending on how closely my symbolic brain represents the patterns of energy and matter that define them.

A statement about an event may be true or false, but the event itself is consistent with nature, real, true.’

Z.
‘So, do you think this puzzle on the nature of truth and reality is one in which we may ever agree?’

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