Absolution of truth

(Yes, I do know that "absolution" isn't just the noun form of "absolute".  Its usage is intentional.)

A year and a half ago, I published an article about "absolute truth".  In it, I stated that I believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth, and I gave a fairly rigorous definition for what I meant by that.  I wanted to take a moment to comment on that post.  I still do believe in absolute truth.  I think that any question does have a precise answer (for example, "Does God exist?" or "Does the universe have a beginning?  If so, when was it and how did it come into being?", etc).  What has changed is that I have lost a great deal of confidence that any absolute truth can really be known with any certainty.

In fact, this post is meant to be a personal introspection.  I want to mend my ways.  I argue so passionately about things with people because I personally feel that it is absolute truth.  I did this when I was a believing Mormon, and I do it now as a skeptic.  I think it is not so much the particular dogma itself that makes me so impassioned, but rather the fact that it is dogmatic.

There are many reasons I have lost confidence in myself.  One very simple one, which is extremely hard for me to admit, is that I simply just don't know as much as I think I know.  I'll argue about history or mythology or philosophy as if I've actually studied it, when the truth is that I haven't.  Yes, I've watched some YouTube videos, I've read some Wikipedia entries, and I've even read a few abstracts of scholarly journals.  But I haven't really dug in to any of these topics and read a bunch of information about them, as some other people have.  I have done no personal in-depth research on any matter other than topology, which is my own field of specialization.  So, I have to admit that I am ignorant in most fields.  I know only what other specialists have said.  This is hard for me to do.  I do not easily admit that I am ignorant.

The next reason is that I've come to learn that I really don't always perceive reality as it is.  I have filters.  And when someone else disagrees, they may feel that they are accurately perceiving reality just as strongly as I feel it, even though our perceptions are so wildly different.  As I was discussing this matter on my wall the other day, one friend posted this video.  It is 17 minutes long, and I think it's well worth it.


I say this post is introspective.  And it is.  This part may seem critical of others, but bear with me.  Over the last year or so, I've looked at other people.  I've looked at those who believe in religion.  Most of my family are theists, and a majority of my friends are as well.  These people sincerely believe that God is a reality--they have no question at all that he is a real being, and that he has daily interactions in their lives.  This is their world view, it is how they perceive reality.  Their world view is so vastly different from mine.  How can this be?  This is very real to them, but to me it seems like nonsense.  So, I ask myself, what of my own beliefs that seem so extremely real to me are nonsense to others?  Why hold on so vehemently to what I think is true, when it is not immediately apparent that what I believe coincides with reality?

That is to say, if other people can be so wrong about God and yet think that they are so right about it, why then can I not be wrong about something that I believe in so strongly?  The lady in the video makes a good point.  Why do we immediately assume someone is stupid (or evil) if they don't see things our way?  That's quite an irrational assumption.  I know I don't like it when people say condescending things to me.  Why should I think condescending things about them?

And so, I absolve myself of knowing truth.  I think that pursuit of truth is one of the greatest accomplishments of our race, and I mean to continue doing so my whole life.  But, I want to let go of thinking that I have found truth.  I think it will be more constructive (and conducive to learning) to simply share my ideas and hear the ideas of others.  One thing that Penn Jilette does that I admire so much about him is that he'll let anyone preach to him.  He loves hearing arguments of those who disagree with him.  He's a libertarian and yet he loves it when his friends send him communist articles.  He says it's good for him to read because it makes him think.  I want to be like that.  I'm not like that.  I hate reading things that disagree with me, and I get angry when people preach to me.  But I'm not sure why.  I don't know why it angers me, and I want to get to the point where it doesn't anger me anymore.

I don't know whether there is a god, and I think that's the only honest position to take on the matter.  Similarly, that may very well be the only honest position to take on any question at all.  How much is 2+2?  I say it's 4, but I can't honestly say that the question even has any meaning unless a lot of assumptions are made a priori.  Should all of those assumptions be made?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Is 2+2=4 a true statement?  I believe that it is.  Can I say "I know..." about anything?  Not with perfect confidence.  Will I continue to?  Yes, in cases such as math.  I feel that very few people will challenge me when I state mathematical facts, and very few will have differing views on the matter.  But, will I fight for it?  Will I dogmatically defend my mathematical knowledge?  Probably not.

I'll still be passionate.  I'll still get angry about things.  But I want to make a more concerted effort at trying to understand other people, rather than closing my mind and assuming that they're just crazy or stupid if they don't agree with me.  Particularly during the political debate that's flying all over Facebook, I dislike the photos that make the assumption that everyone except the person making the post (and those who agree) is stupid.  I see nothing of value in that.