Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Truth ...and Experiments with It.

      It is only natural that one worries about something which is most self-evident to all, because it is most likely that a number of things of ordinary life will be affected by it. I am referring to the worst casualty of the flux of transformations in the sphere of knowledge - that of TRUTH. It seems that people take great pains to assert that they have no hope of getting at the truth of anything or to understand what it means if it is stated that something is true. This condition is as much applicable to the stock brokers as to academics, the topmost nuclear physicist of the day (working on the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva hoping to unravel the secrets of the 'real' fundamental constituents of matter ) or the bestmathematician ( who accept a computation based proof of Fermat's last theorem). The same is true of the fate of the biologists who propound the theory of a single ancestor for evolution or single biological mother for all human beings.

     What is evident is that while rationality may be used to create any specific device or prove any assertion, this rationality does not really add up to something anywhere close to a SYSTEM - a system believable, which enable ordinary people to be practical in peacefully relying on the learned oracles. No! Now, people consider the experts to possess the knowhow to do certain things, but believe in none of the 'explanations' advanced there of for what is 'really' happening. For example, if the flood water is entering the gates of the walled town from the northern gate, they would want the best engineers to build a wall to prevent the deluge, but do not believe that the flood was caused by any understandable effect of global warming or some such cosmic causation!

     Of course, the complexity of rationality ( devices, connexions, algorithms ) demands that the new education be primarily geared to generate sufficient number of lay practitioners who can carry out the subroutines without demanding an explanation. You need an army of people trained in biology and techniques of nano-techhnology to run the new machines and enterprises. And the educational institutions seem to say : these days students can not afford to go after philosophy and explanations, which, any way are not there! In fact one can listen to the tune : Well, tomorrow it will be a different explanation. Surely, this explanation serves some purpose of the day, but in trying to understand all knowledge, explanations from the earlier epoch,  how TRUE does it sound today?

    Does this epistemic bootstrapping point to some deep law on human  reason, regarding something what one may call social reason, distributed reason - some such non-standard idea of TRUTH? That is, do we have something like some inherent averaging process ( somewhat like the Ensemble average in the sense of Boltzmann ) for arriving at truth which replaces in a definite sense the Time average ( traditional knowledge, ordinary life support, historical etc. of the earlier human life)? Moreover, there may be possibly even some idea of stability, evolutionary, which corresponds to the idea of Equilibrium ( for which the two averages are same according to Boltzmann). And that this opens a responsible window for the new knowledge technologies. And can it be that the thesis about science generally losing command and control of knowledge is to seen in this light of the subtle shift of how to experiment with truth?

     However, a deeper reflection may suggest that science has always been so. Sir Isaac Newton was absolutely unable to understand chemistry on the basis of his understanding of his laws of mechanical and gravitational ( having a mechanical explanation ) motion and believed in alchemy - the medieval chemistry of turning base metals into gold. The latter , not unlike sorcery and magic, demanded a level of belief in the person learning to performing it. Newton's Christian faith and the practices of devout Christians of that period in England came to his rescue. In fact the life histories of great scientists demonstrates sufficiently persuasively (for ordinary people at least ) the fact that science is rarely in command and control as far as creativity is concerned. The Kantian command and control of science is the construction of the equivalent of the Divine Right of Kings  in England or agency of the Pope in Christianity for democracy, the thought that command and control is to sustain political order. Perhaps one does not have to possess the directness of Henri Poincaré to see that.

    Now comes the question: Assuming that Truth is undergoing such transformation in Science ( something akin to what was definitely an unfinished statement above), what is the situation in Lokavidya?

Surendran K.K.
( Note: To be made more precise after receiving readers' comments)


  1. If scientific truth undergoes transformation with time, would be right to call TRUTH. Or do we need to consider Science for what it is worth - namely, utility.

    It is important to also acknowledge that as human being alone has the "Need to know TRUTH", therefore the evidence of TRUTH at the fundamental level would be human being who has realized TRUTH. And whatever such realized human being would say, do and think would be TRUTHFUL. In this way, we can get benchmark of TRUTH at the level of human beings - opening the possibility of "meaningful education".

  2. Sunil SahasrabudheyMarch 18, 2013 at 5:38 PM

    The kind of insight one is looking for in this post may not be gained by looking at science and scientists alone and it may be necessary to view science in its connection with state and capital. The three together apparently constitute that 'evil' which violates ordinary life to such a great extent that recovery of Truth on a grand scale becomes necessary to restore the desired. This is where Gandhi comes in and this is where lokavidya needs to locate itself.
    Critical appreciation of the world of knowledge, may be, begins with science because in conjunction with capital and state it arrogates to itself the principle of ordering the world including the world of knowledge. But it need not and ought not to stay with it. It must move on to the real world of knowledge, the world of lokavidya and ordinary life.

  3. Surendran's note on "Truth .....and experiments with it" what struck me immediately was that the seeker of truth is a social being and his perceptions are coloured by the commonality of beliefs of his society. In other words the perception of truth depends on the position of the perceiver in space-time. Secondly
    the personal preferences or motivations drive the seeker to seek the truth he/she wants to believe. So "truth" is space-time varying as well as subjective.

    Another point is about dividing truth into "explanations" and "techniques". Most persons are interested in the "operative part" of science and not in the explanations part. There is historical continuity in the development of techniques but not so with the development of "explanations" which are subject (to) sudden paradigm shifts.
    _Krishna Gandhi (
    (inserted from his mail)

  4. P.R.K.Rao ( wrote to Vidyaashram
    Apropos the Lokvidya Janaandolan Blog of March 15th on Truth.. and Experiments with it, you may want to read my 'response' below occasioned by an article on the great mathematician and philosopher Putnam.

    Malcolm Thorondike Nicholson has difficulty in resisting the temptation of admiring Putnam's philosophical discomfort with his commitment to non-commitment:

    " is hard not to end up admiring Putnam’s commitment to non-commitment. He is the philosophical version of a lucidly self-aware neurotic who undermines his own most honourable enterprises."

    Nietzsche with neurotic lucidity refused yielding to the unreasonable insistence to be trapped in the iron cage of reason. Foucault with clinical precision highlighted the question of ethics of thinking.Wittgenstein seems to have provided for the possibility that in our form of life what cannot be said can sometimes be seen. Others seek solace in that quagmire called happiness/ human values. This multiplicity is indicative of the truth of politics, not the banal politics of disembodied truth, but one that is constitutive, through experience, of embodied thought. It is perhaps also an invitation to explore how far the fate of embodied thought is sealed by the status of language in its demonstrative, rhetorical and sophistic modes of deployment.

    In the above spirit, I commend the shifting philosophical/political positions of Putnam not as an instantiation of his commitment to non-commitment but as his insistence that thought, if it is to qualify as thought, must be adequate to the singular lived experiences that constitute it. Perhaps, in that respect, he is not after all dissimilar to Nietzsche, Foucault and Wittgenstein!"