May 10, 2007


This post has its origins with a question that I was asked - is truth absolute, or is it relative.

Truth is supposed to be a fact verified. It is supposed to be conformity to reality, and a value near to a true value. This brings us to the question, whose reality, whose verification and who is the person who sets the true value.

The process of knowing the truth is simple, know the fact to be verified, have the prerequisite knowledge, and cross verify this fact against the knowledge. This means that of the three steps two are ours. The knowledge and the testing process are ours.

When there is two-thirds of the truth that is subjective, how can truth be objective? How can it be absolute?

The truth is always relative.

Let as assume that there is some fact, which has not been verified yet. As long as someone does not know of its existence, it is not truth. It has no bearing on anything and it does as good as not exist at all. The reason being until someone can acknowledge its presence there is not effect of its existence.

When the first person perceives it, he shall perceive it according to the set of rules that he has formed for himself. He shall perceive that fact according to his own knowledge and shall state it to be a truth for the first time. This is the first truth and it is relative.

As time passes, more and more people will perceive the same fact and shall test its authenticity based on the knowledge and rules that they possess. This is to say that each person shall take this relative truth relatively. When they too come to the same conclusion based on their own cognitive processes, the authenticity is established. More the people who are in accord, more is the strength of the truth. If there is not one dissenting voice among the crowd, the truth shall get to be absolute.

Regardless of whether the fact is absolute truth, perceived by many to be the same thing, or relative, the moment I see it and start applying my thought process to understand it, it becomes relative. If my conclusions agree with the majority, the authenticity is enhanced, if not I become a dissenting voice. In the case of the latter, one would need to go over the truth forming process one again to ensure that they have the knowledge required and have used the correct cognitive processes for coming to the conclusion about the fact.

Truth seen for the first time
Is relative,
It is mine, it is new.
You agree, so does he,
We make it absolute.
When I see it anew,
I see it with my senses
It becomes relative.
Truth to me,
Is never truth to you.


Lazy Lavender said...

I was going to say "It is true that truth is relative". Caught myself in the question - "Now how true is this truth of truth being relative?". So I would just say, as I see it, truth is relative. Let's see if this truth become absolute.
Truth also happens to be a function of time, and not just the person.

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

Truth being a function of time, I am reminded of my college math.
Truth = f { Time, Person, Knowledge,etc.}

Anonymous said...

Let me try a different angle.

Lets say,a mother asks her kid,as to what he notices in the night sky,the kid says 'moon and stars.'
She insists,'Nope dear,there is something more to the night sky than your moon and stars and that being the
The kid refuses to admit.The mother is quite unsuccessful in proving her point as she could not show any trace of the Sun,in the night,except of course,the moon.
Now,this proves that the kid does not know Science.You cannot put it as 'he has not realized Science.'
I mean,just because the kid does not accept that the sun,just another star in the space,is present even in the darkness of the nights,does it by any chance prove its absence??Rather it retains the kid in ignorance.If being ignorant is given an excuse for not realizing the absolute truth that is blatant,then what is your reason for?? There is only one Truth,and just because u can't relate to that,how can u possibly term it as 'relative'?? U are subject to change,not THE Truth.

And now,one fine day,rather night,the kid understands his mum,he understands that he just can't perceive the Sun's presence in the night,fine.So what happened to 'his' version of truth years back,when he thought that his mother was lying?? Is that a lie in itself?? What of the feeling of the kid that he was right and every one else was wrong?? would that child be allowed to bear the agony of his ego being thrashed?? who is right and who is wrong?

Truth is here &
Truth is there
You close your eyes
And call them lies
You close your eyes
the world becomes dark
The world becomes dark
only in your eyes
don't blame Him
for advancing thy night,
for its you
who is left in such plight,
blame me not
for i see the light
Don't take me light
for i see the light,

In the darkness of the night,
you don't see the Sun,
Nor do i,Nor has anyone,
But the difference that differentiates us is
the knowledge that we possess
I know, i assume,
i assume i know,
and i know.
You do not know,u assume so,
you end up with a naught.

Truth is not relative
Your ignorance may be is
Truth is one,one
and only one,
and it always hath won,
like the mighty Sun.

~ Sthitha Pragya.

Suchitra said...

There is an innate confusion in the reasoning process. The confusion pertains to your understanding of the terms ‘truth’ and the ‘perception of truth’.

When you say ‘truth is supposed to be fact verified’ you put more emphasis on the process of verification than on the truth as such. In other words, the verification makes the truth, and it is not the truth that needs to be verified.

The process of verification is not necessarily subjective. The prerequisite knowledge is common knowledge. Everything on earth was not discovered by a single person, nor were the individual discoveries confined to the discoverer. I say ‘not necessarily subjective’, because the only place where the variation may arise is in the perception of this knowledge, that is, how I understand it. (I actually see a loop here. The knowledge I possess for verifying my fact may be the truth, or it may be falsehood. In the event of it being the truth, if I perceive the knowledge (truth) as it is, and act upon it , there is a higher probability of my hypothesis being closer to the ‘true value’ as you put it. In the event of it being falsehood, my premise breaks down immediately, because I cannot build truth on falsehood.)

This, I say, pertains to the verification of a fact. The word verification is important here, because, it immediately implies that the veracity of the fact is in question, that is, I have no idea whether it is close to my true value or not, and if so, how close.

I see truth as absolute.

Before the current model for the structure of an atom was established, there were n number of hypotheses proposed to explain it. They were the facts that required verification. Due to various reasons, they failed. The very fact that they failed (that is, the reasons given for their failure) implies that they were all lies. There is something called as absolute truth, that which is there. Talking about atoms, the reason for all the world to be the way it is, is related to that humble atom and its energy configurations. There is a certain way it should be for the world to exist as we know it. That is the truth. It is in search of the truth that we move.

1.9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999 may approximate to 2.0, but it is not equal to 2.0.

When you say that my perception limits my understanding of truth, and hence it is the truth as far as I am concerned, I am tempted to take one of two totally opposite paths:

a) Calling it shortsightedness
b) Deeming it sensible

This is because I am able to justify both the paths, and hence am confused as to which to take. Let me put the arguments for both before you.

The argument for (a) is easy to comprehend if you have followed my reasoning till now. Since truth is a fixed absolute, the fact that I am not perceptive enough to understand it declares my imperceptiveness and ignorance. I need to put in more effort to understand, that’s all.

However, there is the fact that all that I (as an individual, extended to a species in a given time frame) can do, depends on what knowledge I have, what I deem as truth, and then whether I use reason to build upon it. My knowledge is the basement, reason is my building tool. Irrespective of whether my knowledge is in concordance with the absolute or not, my building is going to come up anyway. Who knows, all the buildings (ie ideas) we have in the world may be built on false premises…that a lot of ideas have been built without reason, and hence cannot stand, is a totally different issue. Also, the analogy we discussed, about something on some other planet, unknown to all humans, hence unusable, and not being the truth, can also be stated as a valid argument here.

I know not which of these two makes more sense, but I am inclined to go with (a) rather than (b). This is primarily because I hold on to my basic premise that truth is absolute.

Another issue: You talk about a fact being tested by a lot of people and hence forming the basis for truth. “When they too come to the same conclusion based on their own cognitive processes, the authenticity is established. More the people who are in accord, more is the strength of the truth.” Also, in case of a dissenting voice, you have said that it is the duty of the one with the different opinion to go over his facts.

I cannot accept it for the simple reason that voices of assent merely say that the fact applies for their premise, while a voice of dissent clearly implies that the fact is not true for at least one premise, hence it is not the absolute truth. So, when a voice of dissent is heard, the veracity of the fact crumbles immediately, and there is no necessity for further verification.

So, from this analysis, I answer the question in the post ‘Reason’. I would choose knowledge of truth over reason, because the knowledge of truth is a foundation, while reason is a tool. I agree that it is a highly essential tool, but the world around you has been mostly chiselled without this tool, and it a good world for most people. But without the foundation, nothing is possible.

Now, I go one step further and question my argument: if truth is absolute, there must be a design for such a magnificent truth. Is that what people call God?

Lazy Lavender said...

The child's argument "Night sky has only moon and stars and nothing more" will be called an "incorrect statement" and not a lie. In such a case, there's is no question of the ego being thrashed. Here the argument is false when verified against established truth, or scientific truth. Such scientific truths hold true as long as there is no contradictory argument arises to disprove it. The present model of atoms or solar system came into existence by disproving the earlier ones. That doesn't make the earlier hypothesis a lie, it merely indicates the lack of awareness.

If we come to know about the false basement of the building, we should check if it will holds good for the truth as well. Else, we just have to come with an entirely new building - "Truth forming process"

This issue of truth/falsehood comes when we find an argument that questions the very assumption/belief of ours. As long as nothing contradictory comes up, we tend to stay put with the belief of yours, and call it the truth.

Lazy Lavender said...

There are two ways of seeing truth:
1) Truth against falsehood
2) Truth against lie
The dictionary defines "false" as "Not in accordance with the fact or reality or actuality". Falsehood, as I define it here, would be the non-conformity with reality due to lack of complete knowledge; the deviation with shortsightedness being its origin.
By lie, I mean the negation of truth, not the ignorance of it. Lying would be knowing the truth, and still deviating from it. I had my arguments on the seeing truth as against lie. That is when truth becomes time variant. Say, I thought pups looked cute when I was 12. Now I don't find them cute. Did I lie then? Or am I lying now? Over a period of time, my opinion has changed, and so has the truth.

Even in the case of ignorance of the absolute, let's say Mr.X is very polite, nice and friendly to me. I say Mr.X is a good guy. Mr.Y finds Mr.X to be nasty and hostile to him. He'd say Mr.X is not a good guy. But that wouldn't make me change my opinion about Mr.X. To me, the truth is "Mr.X is a good guy". Neither would Mr.Y go about saying "Mr.X is a bad guy, but this girl says he's good". This is plainly a matter of opinion, but if we are to decide the truth, what he truly is, we go for the majority. But truth according to majority does not become absolute either.
How do we find the absolute truth in this case?
Opinions differ, and so do the beliefs of truth according to each person. "Person dependent"
Until I come to know of a way to find absolute truth in cases like this and more, I would go with my perception of it. And that means, truth becomes relative - time and person.

Anonymous said...

So u are aware that it is incorrect.That is the basis of your assumption.The child's assumption could be a modest example of thy perceived truth.And the scientific part of it being absolute truth.

//As long as nothing contradictory comes up, we tend to stay put with the belief of yours, and call it the truth.//

So,as long as your teacher does not correct u when u say,2+3=8,u think it is true,truth,rather!! That is,U CALL it the truth,but is it THE truth??

~Sthitha Pragya.

Lazy Lavender said...

Yes, I would call it "truth", and unless I find the exact value, I would be unaware of any other option. I would like to quote the author here "As long as someone does not know of its existence, it is not truth. It has no bearing on anything and it does as good as not exist at all. The reason being until someone can acknowledge its presence there is not effect of its existence."

In the case of the basic addition example, I would not assume a mistake in the calculation unless I get some anomalies in the subsequent calculations.

Until a few years ago, we'd have said "It's true that the solar system has 9 planets." But now, we're not too sure. That would make us all liars in the past. The contradiction has come up because we hadn't explored all possibilities earlier.

I am trying to point out that absolute truth cannot be reached in all the matters, mainly because of our ignorance of all possible premises. So long as absolute truth is not reached, what is left with us is our perception of it, our understanding of it. And this perception varies.

Suchitra said...


Again, you are confused between the actual truth and the process of verification of truth. The process, is, well, a process. But the truth is absolute.

Mathematics is abstract. You cannot define what 1, 2, 3 and so on are. They were made by man to understand the world around him. When you say 2 + 3 = 5, it was derived from the observation of this world around us. The numbers follow this order here. Hence this is absolute for this world. Your wrong perception is wrong, false, the untruth.

To say that a pup is cute, you will have to define 'cute' first. The key word is not 'cute', but 'you'. When the definition is yours, there is no fact here. If there was an absolutre scale of cuteness, then the absoluteness can be verified. In other words, a pup being cute or not cute is entirely a question of perception, and it had better be, because nothing on the world depends on the scale of cuteness of puppies. There is no question of truth here.

The solar system example is flawed, because the limits of the solar system were delimited by human beings, the premises are too shaky to call it a basis for truth.

About the Mr.X example, I see it this way. There is a coordinate system with me at the origin, and I see different ppl at different positions. If I see X at a point 'A', that is arbitary, but that is not where X sees himself in his coordinate. It is not a question of origin shift. The absolute is wherre I see myself, and all else is perception. For me to live a life, I need to see where I am, not see where X or Y sees me.

//I am trying to point out that absolute truth cannot be reached in all the matters, mainly because of our ignorance of all possible premises.//

There are some things wherein the premises themselves are relative, ie the basement is not strong. When that is fixed, it is possible to predict the absolute truth.

Lazy Lavender said...

Let me put my question forward. It is not whether "the absolute" exists or not. But do we go for it? If we do have t go behind the absolute for each and every issue, do we have the time and resources for it? If we don't go seeking the absolute, it is as good as not bing there. I'd say truth is not binary 0's or 1's yet. All we can talk of right now is "How true" an argument is and not if it is true or false.

In the case of shifted origins or shaky premises, each person knows the absolute about them. Bill Gates knows about himself. I hear 100 people telling me he is a humble man. 2 people go about telling that he is boastful and conceited. I would rather take the words of the 100 and call him a humble man, than go ask Bill Gates what he is in his absolute standards.
Yes the premises are different, but if the result of attaining the absolute is not worth the efforts, don't we tend to stick with the majority? Don't we just take it to be the truth?

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

@ Anonymous
Is there not a fundamental misassumption in your statement when you use the word night sky? In the night sky, for a human being, there are just the moon and the stars. I guess that it would be right to say the sky during the day, because during this period there are the stars and sometimes the moon but they cannot be seen.

I can see that you have misunderstood what I wanted to say. When the child refuses to acknowledge the so called TRUTH, this is not a mistake on the truth. This is a mistake on the part of the child. And unless he is proved wrong this is the truth to him. I am not talking about what is right and what is wrong. I am talking about the perception of that Truth. It can be correct or wrong, does not matter.

The reason that I will call the thought that the child holds as relative is that people over the centuries have come to accept the fact that there is the stars and the moon in the day sky. This was then verified at the time of eclipses when they could actually see how the day sky looked when the sun was not there.

When the child had the original perception, that there is no sun, it is the relative truth that I am talking about. This can also be called as perceptive truth. The term relative is supposed to mean the subjectivity that comes from each persons perception of that truth.

This is not about lying or about speaking the truth. This is more about the way we see things.

There is no thrashing of ego. The reason I say is that if a ego cannot take the fact of being proved wrong now and then, to have its thought processes challenged and sometimes upstaged, that ego is not worth having in the first place.

Taking the very same example you used, 2+3 being something other than 5, it will be true to me unless I know that 2+3=5. Unless I am shown by someone that it is not what I think it is, it does not matter to me what the value is. For me the truth is 2+3!=5(to be read as two plus three not equal to, I cannot help showing off that I am an engineer!).

A human being should be on an eternal journey to question his truths again and again. It is when this happens that he will know what the truth is. The reason I say this is in case of mathematics, it is objective. But when we come to the more fuzzy areas of ethics, the fields of religion, those of philosophy, there are not clear cut values of correct and wrong.

This means that to each person the end result will vary. This is the relativity of the truth.

You may believe in god, I may not believe in the god. This neither is true nor is it false. To me I am right in my faith as you are in yours. To each the same contradictory statement is Truth.

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

The confusion was there. I will not deny it. The reason I acknowledge it is because I do not have the same clarity I had when I discussed the same topic with you. I am clear, my writing refused to have the same clarity.

Truth, either the perceptive relative one or the absolute one, are to be verified. The reason that I lay the emphasis on the verification process is the mapping process that goes on. Take the sun is hot. I know what is hot. I know what the sun is. To come to the conclusion that the sun is hot, I must be able to map the process of the hot to the process of the sun. This is the subjectivity.

I do say that it is the verification process that makes the truth, not the truth. This is because it is how you bring the fact to be verified to the knowledge that determines the truth. When you talk about the loop, that is the verification process.

I will take an example that is easy to grasp. The geocentric model of the universe as given by Ptolemy, was the truth. It was only when Copernicus came that it was falsified. It is only when I know an alternative Truth can I claim the already existing one to be a false. It is not a lie. It is just false. A lie is stated with the knowledge of the preexisting truth, the false becomes false when the truth is known.

When you claim that Truth is absolute, how did you come to the absoluteness of that Truth?

The two paths that you have stated are clear as day light and are again correct.

But then it is neither shortsightedness, nor is it sensible. It is just plain truth. When I use the word perception, I do not use in the relation with the reasoning process, I use it with the end result of that process the knowledge. Always knowledge is perception in an advanced form. When I use I to validate something I am letting that fact to be verified against something that is a end result of a perception of mine.

“I cannot accept it for the simple reason that voices of assent merely say that the fact applies for their premise, while a voice of dissent clearly implies that the fact is not true for at least one premise, hence it is not the absolute truth. So, when a voice of dissent is heard, the veracity of the fact crumbles immediately, and there is no necessity for further verification.”
Please read the statement above. When there is one discerning voice in the huge mass of accepting voice it would not mean that there is no need for further verification, it is a call for further intensive verification of two things
a) The premises of that one voice
b) The premises of all the accepting voices
It is only when one of the two is falsified that the original fact that was in question by that one voice can be used. It is under suspension until then, not wrong.

The knowledge of truth can never be a foundation; it can be the ground floor. The reason is that the knowledge that you worship came from reason. The word reason is to be used as a verb and not as a synonym for cause.

Design for truth? I just hope that was rhetoric.

When you are talking about actual truth, I would appreciate it if you could tell me what it is and how it is arrived at. Because I can see that you are not taking the entire argument into consideration. You are standing at in the middle of the rivers flow and are saying that the river has a path and it has an end, you are not looking back from where the river came from.

I pray that no one uses math to talk this. Math even though abstract is too objective, too binary. I cannot say that 2+2=5 for very large values of 2.

“There are some things wherein the premises themselves are relative, ie the basement is not strong. When that is fixed, it is possible to predict the absolute truth.” This is what I am talking about, the absolute truth needs to be predicted, making it another perception, making it relative.

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

I guess that there is some clarity in the second and third comment. It is what I said. I guess that I am thankful for the clarity.

If you take the word for something, you are not chasing truth. You are chasing pleasure and laziness. I would rather know it for myself rather than take it from others. In the case I have to take something that someone says, it is imperative for me first to do the following things
• Check the premises that they had to conclude
• Go over the fact, the process and the knowledge
• Repeat the process to see if I conclude the same thing

Rajaraman said...

Most of the times, the truth remains in the background and is invisible.For an agited mind or a biased mind the truth always appears as untruth. The circumstances also look to be against the truth.It takes a lot of effort and pain to see the truth as truth.We mortals dont have the truth.
If an untruth is repeated again again and agains it almosts lloks like truth. But if a truth is repeated again and again it looks a suspect and looks like untruth.
Truth has to be silent to become strong.
Dharmam thanai soodhu kavvum. But Dharmame vellum. Sathyameva Jayathe.
V Rajaraman

Mercury said...

hi, i'm reading your blog for the first time. "Truth is relative". I am but have heard of Bretrand Russel's mathematical paradox and his solution to it. The properties of subset need not be the property of a set. Let me elucidate, there is a set A={a,b,c,d,e}. The property of all the subsets a,b,c,d,e maybe truth is relative but the statement itself can be absolute i.e it becomes the property of the set itself.

I do agree with the analysis of perception of truth, but the same statement validates the existance i.e something's is absolutely true so that we can perceive it relatively. We can only get a judgement of reality which does not deny the existence of reality.

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

I can see that you use mathematics the way I do.
A = {a,b,c,d,e}
Properties of A != Proberteis of (a+b+c+d+e)

This i will accept.
But the question arises. What are the properties of A? Who is the one that understands the properties of A?

Just as U are the person who finds the properties of a,b,c,d,e you have to be the one that finds the properties of A.

This means that the absolute, A, is again relativized, if i can use such a word, perceptivized, by you.

Suchitra said...

Imagine that there is a man. As he goes around his place, people around him don't see him, because they choose not to. They don't hear him, because they choose not to. For all pactical purposes, at least in the perception of the world around him, this man is invisible and inaudible. His actions don't count in their world, they have chosen to ignore them.

In their perception, he does not exist.

Then, is his existence an untruth?

If truth be a question of perception, then it follows that this man does not exist. Then is existence also a question of perception? Does my existence depend on the perceptive sanction of people around me?

I ask this question as a doubt, I was not able to apply the given reasoning to this system.

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

The answer to ur question is in the question itself. It is not that he does not exist. They CHOSE not to perceive it. That means that they did acknowledge his presence and then chose to, based on their own prejudices, not to accept that acknowledgment.
The acknowledgment is part of the subconscious and the choice not to is of the conscious.

Suchitra said...

//It is not that he does not exist. They CHOSE not to perceive it. That means that they did acknowledge his presence and then chose to, based on their own prejudices, not to accept that acknowledgment.//

Well, so where is the question of perception? If 'I exist' is the truth, how can your perception make it untruth? The mistake was with their choice, not with the existence. When choices are based on prejudices, and prejudices make up perceptions, hoe can they define the truth?

Suchitra said...

And do subconscious acknowledgements define truth?

Sense in non-sense Aditya said...

Please decide whose angle you are talking about. The first was in teh sense of the perceivers. the second you are talking about the person under question. the truth is different for them both.
If i am, that does not mean that you need to accept it.