The Map of the Soul
articles on the nature of the human mind
By S.M. Zakir Hussain (Bangladesh)
(Author’s e-mail: email@example.com)
The Nature of Truth as a Logical Phenomenon
What is Truth?
Well, truth is the opposite of falsehood.
All right. If that is the case, then what is falsehood?
Again, falsehood is the absence of truth.
Such went the conversation between a student and the author in a class. This bit of conversation clearly indicates that truth has its opposite and needs the help of the opposite to be defined. I would not call it definition, however, because it is more of a mode of identification, a reference, than a definition. Whatever it is, the fact that truth has an opposite proves that it is not an absolute concept. Rather, it can be a bone of contention between two minds neither of which knows how it is arguing.
If I am allowed to repeat, truth is not an absolute concept. And so it cannot be everything. So finding the truth may not add much value do the mind or intellect, as there was always an assisting concept of falsehood all the way during the search as a reference point. Moreover, what is truth to me may be, and, not surprisingly, is, false to you or somebody else, to some extent at least. Therefore, we would do well if we had a fresh look at the terms.
Because truth is not an absolute concept (in fact, if anything has to be the Absolute, then it cannot be a concept per se), it will not add much value to our understanding if it were taken as a candidate waiting to be defined. How can something be defined until it has been identified?
Certainly, there is no ‘truth’; rather, there is only the ‘truth of …’. In other words, this term, whatever it may mean, acts as a reference exclusive of another reference at least. That is, it is a way of identifying things as against other things. We can only talk of “the truth of a certain event”, not of everything in general. Nobody can validly question the truth of everything, for he or she is also part of that everything.
I believe that in cases like this, being able to ask a series of right questions can illuminate the mind more than any particular answer would. The fact that we can ask these questions implies that it would be wise of us to investigate the causes of questions. If I can ask a question about truth, then we could hypothesize that our concept of truth is only a pointer, another question, to something. But we must go slowly.
I must make it clear in the very beginning that I am not saying that there is no truth. If there were no truth, then it would not be a problem at all, for then there would be no issue of falsehood either and hence no duality.
Nor do I say that the concept of truth is not valuable. If it were not valuable, we would not raise the questions at all. Questions, all questions as long as they are posed from the direct impulse of the mind, create value not by leading to an answer but by being the value itself. Questions are the prize for living and the value of life.
Rather, what I am going to say and prove is that there is no single truth, but there are truths. If there were only one standard of truth, then, because truth is always a branch of a unified pair called duality, it would refer to only a certain set of objects or events or situations and thus exclude others. And those excluded in that way would not have the right to exist. But it makes no sense trying to prove something non-existent after assuming it to be existent first. Such proofs are only technical references, useful in mathematics, which is apt at classifying entities, indicating that, for example, something which does not fall in the category of ‘A’ is not a thing at all as far as the definition of ‘a thing’ is borrowed from the reality as observed in A. Thus it is, from the point of view of A, always, not ‘something else’, but a complete ‘nothing’. In this way something is proved false or true by showing that it simply belongs or does not belong to a certain category. This method, though not invalid, is incomplete, as it does not take care of the categories that contain things that are non-members of the category that gives the logic being used. Let me show it in a simpler way.
Because we always unconsciously deal with two or more categories, as a result of which we see places for all elements, we hardly perceive the trap of our own reasoning. For example, if we have five elements a, b, c, d, and e, and two categories A and B, then, seeing that any of the elements belongs to either of the categories, we say that they all exist and they are elements according to the definition we have accepted. But we hardly pay heed to the flaw of such reasoning. What definition are we using here? Is there any unique definition here which can be used to say whether a, b, c, d, or e is an ‘element’ of A or B? No, there is not. Suppose a, b, and c belong to A and d and e belong to B. Then, if we have learnt the concept of set very clearly, neither d nor e is an element at all from the point of view of the definition of element valid in A. Likewise, none of a, b, and c can ever be called an element at all if what is to be called an element is borrowed from the reality of B. To speak in a more personalized way, if we, you and I, would look through A, then we would not even see the possibility of d and e at all. They would seem to not exist at all. The same line of reasoning applies to a, b, and c in relation to B.
Therefore, what this example makes clear is that the existence of a, b, and c is true only from the point of view of A and false from the point of view of B.
Likewise - let us indulge in a kind of repetition - d and e are true only from the point of view of B, and completely false from the mode of definition valid in A.
Now, rather than asking the question ‘What is truth?’, we could ask other questions that would, as we will see now, open our eyes to a light that is always in front of and inside the eye but we have happened to remain blind to it. Those questions are:
How do we happen to utter the word ‘overall’ when actually we are looking at it through our own conviction of truth?
How many truths together would nullify all the perceived streams of falsehood, by including all categories as truth and not by excluding some as falsehood?
How can it be possible, if at all, that we, with our way of defining truth, can understand the reality as it is, leaving all modes of defining truth un-attacked or unaltered?
So far we have only got acquainted with the issue. However, we have discovered a valuable fact, which is that there is something higher, more sacred and secret, than what we refer to by the term ‘truth’, to which truth only acts as a reference.
So we can have a fresh start from here.
Existence and Truth
Let us start again by refreshing the desire for the quest by considering two questions side by side:
“ ‘There is a cat there’. Is it true?”
“ ‘He says that there is a cat there’. Is it true?”
Which of the above questions is valid? Or are both of them valid? Let us explore.
Can a cat be true or false? If I say that anything that already exists is true, then you could attack me by asking, “Do you mean that something which does not exist is false? Well, how can you call it a ‘thing’ if it does not exist? How will you prove that it DOES NOT exist? Do you say that it does not exist only because you cannot see or identify it? Good. But if it does not exist, as you say, then what is it that you are referring to by the word “it”? How could you invent a reference to something that even does not exist or that you think does not exist?”
So let us ask the last question once again. Where does the non-existent ‘thing’ exist? Where? Nowhere? Actually, for the time being, it exists in the reference.
Thus we have discovered the pivotal point: the reference. In fact, something as it is in the reality cannot be true, because it cannot be false. That is because it need not be questioned. Truth is not what is refereed to, but a way of verifying whether a reference correlates to what is referred to. Or speaking more directly, the question of truth or falsehood arises only when a ‘statement’ is considered, not the thing in the reality. Truth involves the result of matching or verification between a statement and what it tells about in the reality.
Now it is clear why humans get entangled in clash when they talk of truth and not when they talk of wine.
Not knowing that truth has nothing to do with “wajud” (Arabic) or “astitwa” (Sanskrit) or “existence” or “is”, most of those who talk about truth happen to be divided into sects. Let me make it clear once again that truth only involves statements about reality or fact, and not the reality itself. Every one of us points to the same reality through our own truth. Truth can at best be regarded as the perfect reference to reality, and thus have operational value. It is only a standard, not that which is measured by using it. However, we must go deeper and see what it is that truth refers to.
So we see that the statement “A man is sitting there” is true if a man is really sitting there. And it is not true if a man is not sitting there. So far so good. All we have said through this example is plain, so plain that it does not explicitly say anything about why it is true or false: if I ‘feel’ that it is true. To know about that we have got, we need to investigate deeper into the statements. Moreover, we have got to analyze them comparatively.
Now, who will attempt to doubt that the statement I have made is true? Somebody else. Another ‘I’, that means. And when will he/she ever raise the doubt?
Suppose that when I see the man setting sitting there another person sees him too and I make the statement “A man is sitting there” and he hears it. Will he ever doubt whether what I have said is true? No. Where is the doubt, then? And why does the question of truth arise at all?
If two persons ‘see’ the same thing and one makes a statement about the thing describing what he has seen, then, the other person will also say that what he has said about what he has seen is true because he has also seen it with his own eyes.
Nobody doubts his own seeing. Truth or falsehood is determined by people’s seeing or hearing or smelling or tasting or feeling. We often doubt our thoughts - especially those who have learnt to learn do so – but we never doubt our feelings, that is, senses. For this reason one can easily establish something as true if one can make others see what one sees.
If I say that “A fish is flying” and I can somehow or other make others present there see that a fish is (really) flying, then nobody present there will say that the statement “A fish is flying” made by me is false. However, they may doubt whether the phenomenon they have seen is a real event or has been created by magic, but they will not doubt their own seeing. Even if they doubt the possibility of the event, that they will do by dint of the knowledge they have stored in them from their earlier seeing experiences. The remoter an experience of seeing, the ‘truer’ it seems!
Well, we have had a discovery here: truth can have degrees – true, truer, truest. Why so? Most of our attempts to know the truth are sure to end in smoke unless and until we have clearly understood – not just known, but understood – why this happens? Why is our concept of truth and falsehood influenced by our perception and our awareness of our perception? How much of what we refer to by ‘truth’ is personal and how much is impersonal? Can something be called impersonal only because it is collective? When I say that something is true, do I not support my own feeling; that is, my own way of collecting information from the reality? Who will guarantee that my way of feeling is flawless? And what information do we collect from the reality (suppose that we do not know whether such reality is internal or external) when we feel different dimensions of it – such as sound, sight, smell, temperature, etc.?