The Truth is there is no Truth

How can one word have so many meanings?

How can a concept such as truth be reduced to a single word?

It can’t, truth goes beyond words.

Truth exists outside of language and so while words can be used to describe a truth, it still remains only that individual’s version of the truth or better still, their description of the truth.

Everything I read and see lately seems to be questioning the nature of truth and how, in the end, it is relative.

I attended an interview with Dubravka Ugresic for ABC radio, as one of the events for NSW Writer’s Week. I listened to her talk about many different topics and yet the recurrent theme was always truth. In this instance she discussed the truth of the woman as she ages in our society. She spoke about the truth of history. Ugresic watched as her homeland was destroyed, emulsified and reassembled. History was literally re-written in what seemed an overnight transformation of her culture and her country’s identity.

I couldn’t imagine how that would feel. To see the history that was taught to you being disregarded and replaced with another.

It is no wonder her faith in the meaning of history has been obliterated and her faith in the meaning of truth has been dissected and diluted.

Does this mean that truth does not exist or is that truth simply means something else?

Perhaps the meaning doesn’t change, it just becomes more complicated and open to interpretation.

It means many things and it means nothing.

I am reading Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, and I came across this passage that sums up so perfectly the nature of truth.

‘Oh if only it were possible to find understanding’, Joseph exclaimed. ‘If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn’t there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?’

The Master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said; ‘There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The deity is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught.’

The Master is saying that no one, singular force or order of human knowledge can prescribe the truth.

Life is not that simple or that easy.

Moral relativism is something that has been thought about as soon as humankind was given a moment to think.

The Greek philosophers wrote about it. Modern philosophy still struggles with it. Religion simply disagrees with it.

But the scope of moral relativism isn’t big enough. We all know that morals are subject to individual perceptions, but what about other kinds of truth?

What about physical truths?

How do you know that you see the same thing as the person standing next to you? It is known that visual perception differs from person to person.

What about emotional truths?

What might be horrid and revolting to one, might be humourous and delightful to another.

What about spiritual truth?

Who is right, the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Atheist?

When even the simplest, most benign concepts are subject to perception and interpretation, then how can we allow such complex and dangerous notions as morals and spirituality, taste and expression to be defined as truths?

Image taken from Escape into Life

Artist: Steven Kenny

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One Response

  1. The truth, at least in history, is always defined by the victor. But in life, the truth is also very subjective. Two people can witness the same event and each has their own interpretation — their own truth. Perhaps the objective shouldn’t be to find the truth, but to find what is true to oneself.

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