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Thursday, February 4, 2010

What Is Truth?

What is truth? That's what Pilate supposedly asked Jesus. Yet Jesus apparently gave no answer.

I once wrote in another discussion group that Jesus had said "The truth will set you free".

A response came: "Define truth".

The problem with truth is that in order to define it, it becomes necessary to develop a series of steps that show truth. The truth is------, each little mark representing a step leading in well formed sentences that demonstrate that "if we start from this point, we will end at this point".

But it can't be done. Kurt Godel demonstrated it. No way. Impossible. So, if Jesus said "The truth will set you free", and if we cannot define truth, then it stands to reason that you must be free of any organizational system, church or state, that says it represents either truth or God.

If you can't define truth, neither can anyone else. Therefore, you are free. But if you can define it, then you would actually be bound to live by it, wouldn't you? Assuming that you wanted to, of course. Even if we could know the truth in any absolute sense, we are not bound to live by it, as far as we know.

I noticed that some comments have brought in such things as Chaos Theory, in which such things as laws might not even exist. I like Chaos Theory. I like studying such things as information theory.

Claude Shannon, when he developed information theory, pointed out that the more probable a message is, the less information it contains. Another way of saying it is, the more a message is repeated, the less information it contains. Many people don't realize that when Shannon developed his formula describing information, that it was virtually identical to the formula defined many years earlier, describing entropy.

Entropy basically descries the breakdown of systems. Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, if we organize one system, we tend to create chaos in related systems, because we must borrow related energy from one system in order to organize in a related system. The greater our power for organization, the greater our tendency to create chaos in all related systems.

If we compare Shannon's definition of information with earlier definitions of entropy, it seems that we derive information from the very entropy we create. If we create order, we create equal disorder, but it is that very disorder that "informs" our efforts to create more order!

Weird, huh?

The problem with humans is not that they can't organize, but that they organize all too well! We can take a good idea and run with it. We can build empires. Look at Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Islam, and even the Christian empire started by Constantine. All we need is an idea and we're good to go!

Look at the story of the Tower of Babel. People started figuring things out, they began to see that they were different, smarter, bigger, better, and the first thing they started to do was organize!

"Let's get us a tower started here! If we build it high enough, we might figure out all about God, and making it on our own!"

The response from God is interesting. It really does tell us a lot in terms of entropy. Notice his concern in Genesis 11:6:

"And the Lord said, behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do".

When you think about it, that's pretty dangerous. people get together, they have one language, one way of processing information, and they decide to focus on one common goal. And it was that which made them a threat to themselves.

Think about it. In order to build their tower, they would have to take more and more materials from their environment. More wood to build fires to make bricks, people organized to build scaffolds to erect the tower, requiring more and more people to build both the scaffolds and the tower, more and more of everything needed from their environment, which would force them to forage farther and farther, destroying the habitat of the animals on which they depend for food, etc.

They were accelerating the process of entropy, destroying the very environment on which they depended.

Fortunately YHVH had a simple solution for that time: simply confuse their language, so they would have to look at their environment from a more individualized perspective.

But that was a band-aid. Obviously the people were smart. They would be able to get around that obstacle shortly.

Something else was needed. How about a law that ran against their nature? If they tried to obey the law, the very attempt would continually splinter and speciate their cultures to the degree they couldn't agree on anything.

Enter the nation of Israel, born of slavery, freed from slavery only to be trained and educated in a virtual Petri dish which they called the wilderness, waiting for a Promised land if they learned to obey the law. B.F. Skinner, eat your heart out!

They were constantly reinforced by their environment to obey a law which simply ran against their nature, producing rebellion, division, constant splintering of religions, until by the time that Jesus allegedly walked the earth, Israel was an incredibly diverse culture, with numerous religions, all fighting to see which one best obeyed God's law.

Yet everywhere Israel went, in every empire that enslaved them, Israel emerged, and the empire crumbled. Yet Israel absorbed certain cultural traits from each empire, were then absorbed by another, and then in return absorbed the beneficial traits of the next empire, usually with Jewish individuals rising to the top of government and shaping the evolution of the next round of Israelite culture.

So, along comes Jesus, and the first thing he says is, "I didn't come to destroy the law. Not one jot or tittle will be done away until all is fulfilled".

But the law had produced misery in Israel. They had tried to obey it, only to discover suffering, division, confusion, splintering of more religions, until no one was sure exactly how to rightly obey it. Now Jesus said he came to fulfill every jot and tittle.

But that would only create greater diversity, splintering, bickering, disagreement, family breakups, and hatred even of Israelite against Israelite.

Yet in Matthew 10:34-38, that's exactly what Jesus said he came to do!

And if that wasn't enough, along came Paul, telling us that the natural mind simply cannot be subject to God's laws, and the only thing that our attempted obedience can produce is even more confusion and splintering of religious ideas.

Why do you suppose that's so? Maybe because humans always did have that destructive ability to organize? Because they could create god-kings who could make millions subject to their every whim? Because after any empire grew to a certain point, it would simply collapse of its own weight?

Mention the word "God" in the world today, and you not only have 38,000 versions of Christianity and growing, but untold thousands of other religions of non-christian Gods, all vying with each other for a little respect, as Rodney Dangerfield might say.

If there is a God, we must presume that division and splintering of ideas about God must be intended. Why? Because diversity produces options, and options produce freedom, and freedom produces liberty to examine new avenues of knowledge and thought.

Why can't we discover some organized evidence of God? We're not supposed to!


Anonymous said...

Was Pilate asking an important personal question, or was he being sarcastic? I do not know.

Ralph said...

Obviously there was no way of knowing Pilate's intent. But the problem with asking such a question is that it must actually refer to something. To ask the question subjectively, there must be an object on which to focus.

For example: "Are you male or female? What is truth?"

That's a basic question that focuses on a specific object. The truth is, I am male. The physical evidence will verify it.

But to simply ask "What is truth" is like asking "What are thingamummies?"

Kurt Godel used a form of this in developing his incompleteness theorem regarding truth. He used what is known as the "liar's paradox", which is "this very sentence is false".

If it IS false, then it must also be true, but of true, then it is false!

In developing set theory to try and establish definitions in mathematicians, Gottlieb Freige was reminded by Bertrand Russell that it was impossible to avoid contradictions within each set.

For example, define a set that contains all sets. If it contains all sets, it must contain itself, so it is both the contained and the container, a "self swallowing" set, which makes it a paradox.

This led to Godel's realization that there simply is no formal method of sufficient complexity that will establish all truth within one framework of knowledge. In fact, the more complex the system, the more it is subject to undecidable propositions.

So, regardless of his intent, when Pilate asked "What is truth?" The truthful answere would be "Who knows?"

Anonymous said...

Hi Ralph, my name is michael and I'm from ghana.On the 'truth' issue concerning Jesus I remember reading that he is the way,the TRUTH,.... . my understanding of this is that there is no truth;no right or wrong,no morality,no vanity.the truth in essence is what the most powerfull or strongest person/being says it is and enforces accordingly.What is the truth?the strongest decides and in this case(Jesus),that is 'God'.