Random Thoughts / Gedanken

Relativism

My Dad has always been a teacher-personality, although that is not his profession (he is an engineer). I often remember him giving my siblings and me "lectures" in any matter that he deemed important, whether it was health, relationships, or education. Thankfully, he never imposed his views on us, but always presented them as advice and left it up to us what to make of it.

One of the things he chose to stress is the fact that there are many perspectives on the same issue. He wanted us to be careful to claim to know the truth about something, as another person might see things very differently, and we were always to keep that in mind as we formed an opinion about a matter. To illustrate his point, he would grab a book and hold it between him and his listener. He would say something like, "Imagine this book was green on the one side and red on the other. I can look at this book and say to you, 'This book is green!', while you might be retorting, 'No, the book is red!' That is how two people, because they have a different perspective on a matter, can both be right."

I could end the story right here and we would all be happy about the blessings of a truly open and tolerant mindset. However, I would like to investigate a bit further into the implications of this example. I believe the idea that truth is in the eye of the beholder is a very prevalent notion in today's world. A German proverb says "Everyone should become happy in his own manner." Regarding the example of the book, the whole issue has a different twist when you introduce an observer that has a meta-perspective on the book, i. e. one who sees that the book actually has two sides and that one side is green and the other side is red. All of a sudden, it is clear that neither of the two persons looking at the book are right. Simply put: their statements about the nature of the book are proven wrong (since both of them expressed knowledge of the nature of the whole book).

One may now challenge the third observer and question the validity of his claim that the book is both green and red. You can only do that by adding another meta-perspective and an appropriate observer. This could be, for example, an observer that is able to look into the optic nerve of the observer and verify that the colors represented by the electric signals that enter his brain as he sees the book are indeed red and green. Or one might build a technical device that is able to pick up the light rays reflected by the book and bring them in accordance with the wave lengths of red and green light.

The issue at hand here is that while there are often many perspectives on different matters, this does not imply that they are all equally true. In some cases it means that we do not have the appropriate meta-perspective (yet) and thus cannot decide which of the conflicting perspectives is true. However, regardless of whether we can decide on the truth of a statement now or not, its truth is already decided by an all-knowing, all-seeing observer (even if that observer is imaginary).

I would like to tell a different story that also relates to this issue. I went out to eat with a friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in a long time. We had a lot to catch up on, especially since I had recently finished my university studies and started working. Being a number of years older than me, he was able to give me good advice on several issues I had to deal with at work, and I appreciated his input. Sooner or later the discussion went to more abstract topics like belief and world view. He told me that he did not believe in absolute truth and that he did not appreciate organizations (like the church) that imposed their view on their members and others. We talked about these things quite a while and eventually left the restaurant with different conclusions. In his mind, it is possible to make statements that pertain only to a limited "perimeter of truth", i. e. a person can have an opinion that is true for him, but may not be true for another person. I went home after that conversation rather frustrated because he insisted on his relativist world view so much. If in fact all of his views were only true for him, and if in fact he did not favor trying to convince other people of any "truths", why did he give me advice about my work? Of what value is anything he said to me, since I could not in any way assume that it is true for me?

Let us consider the implications of a relativist mindset. This means that one person can make statements (i. e. sentences that can be evaluated to be true or false) whose truth has no effect on the truth of the same statements made by another person. In my opinion, such relative "perimeters of truth" do not exist. Any statement any person on earth ever makes encompasses the whole world. There is no physical or cognitive limit to the truth of a statement. The only limit is our ability to ascertain the truth of a statement, but its truth stands, regardless of our view on it.

The problem we face today is not how we can each find "our own truth" but how we can identify trustworthy "meta-observers" who claim to be able to evaluate the truth of fundamental issues such as the existence of God, life after death, the miracles of Jesus and many others. Let us not cheat our way out of the responsibility of seeking the truth by claiming that truth is relative. Consistently followed through, a relativist world view is self- refuting because it cannot make any statements at all (since making statements means claiming truth). Making statements, however, is not only part of day-to- day speaking ("I like ice cream!", "Mr. Smith is my neighbor.") but even at the very core of our existence. Even without speaking we are proclaiming the statement of our existence. To be truly consistent, any die-hard relativist would either have to deny his existence or kill himself (I'm being a bit sarcastic here). Of course, denying your existence is an option, but again not for the relativist: "I do not exist!" clearly is a statement that is either true or not (for the whole world!).

Tradition

Ich fürchte den Schaden der Tradition mehr als dass ich ihren Nutzen schätze.

Humor

I enjoy humor. It's a powerful thing and should be used often. This is the humor I like (this cracks me up):

Roses are red Violets are blue I'm schizophrenic And so am I

When you come to a fork in the road... take it!