Wikiality and the Truth
Knowing my readship as I do (yes, both of you), I am quite sure that
you would have shot soy milk out your nose when you saw
Stephen Colbert's editorial on Wikipedia. He coined the term,
wikiality to refer to that which exists when enough people agree
with it-- it then becomes reality. While quite a funny piece,
lots of people have argued as to what his point actually was.
Most people seem to want Truth to be independent of popularity
or common consent. I've heard that Giordano Bruno once wrote:
It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the
masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth
does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of
Many of the comments I've read revolve around this idea.
For instance, cypheractive said:
His point isn't that truth is relative. Clearly, we can verify
elephant population numbers. It's that people are too lazy to take
the time to verify things… The point is that uncritical minds
believe everything they read.
But in a way, truth is relative. Obviously, since the future hasn't
happened, it can only be predicted, and prediction is highly dependent
on the model you use. But the past is highly subjective and since it
can never be accurately verified (it's gone man), it is completely
relative. As ivec said:
So is everything that's related in our history books: nothing but
an interpretation of past events that some group of people has
Sad to say, but yeah, truth is only truth when it is an accepted truth.
It goes against everything we want to believe, for we desperately want
to believe in Truth (with a capital T) as something solid and substantial.
But what truth is this? Sure, there are a few facts that don't change…
as least not that fast, but this isn't the same sort of Truth that can
calm this groundless feeling.
A few hundred years ago, many people shifted the support for their
Truth from the Christian religions of Europe to "Science" as interpreted
by a young prophet named Isaac Newton. His calculations and his models
could predict canonballs and planets in their orbits.
Well, most of them anyway. Mercury was a little bastard that didn't
quite line up. It was close, mind you, but not exact. But it didn't
discourage anyone from believing in the truth of its calculations.
Many years later, Albert Einstein's new model of gravity actually
did predict Mercury's orbit.
So was Isaac Newton's formulas and model false? Well, yes. Although
since his calculations are easier to work with and accurate enough
for most of the canonballs and missiles we need to launch, we still
teach these in Physics 101. But we don't call it false (that's such
a negative word), we call it "not as accurate."
We could say that for everything-- my beliefs of my childhood in the
rising and the setting of the sun were not as accurate as my current
model of a spinning Earth. Sure, that works, and makes me feel a
little more secure.
But you might as well face it. It's all wrong. Truth is seen through
a glass darkly, announced and published, debated and discussed, accepted
and dismissed. While Truth is clearly not possessed by the majority, it
also isn't possessed by a crackpot in Montana either.
I know, it's rough. Get used to it.
My friend, Trent, emailed me the following comment:
Anytime the word truth is brandied about, I start to get a little skeptical.
Add a capitol T and without fail I get those queasy tummy religious
rumblings-Ñ Not that religion makes me sick anymore, I've been immunized!
The LDS missionaries that visited me a few months ago should have been
forewarned; I don't think I've had such a nice 5 hour philosophical discussion
One thing I wonder though, is really, what do people mean, really, deep
down, when they say something is true, or something else is false? As far
as I am concerned, it is an abstract philosophical term with limited use
(in a few early logical ramblings; one soon tires of this and moves on to
the more interesting stuff.) I like to save it for use when playing
psychological warfare games, or am about to launch a highly successful
Ad campaign… people can be such sheep (Some claim this is a good thing?
I guess if you're the shepherd, it is. Or if your the wolf, it's good too.)
Even mathematics, probably the purest way of defining and processing
information, fails in truth. It is interesting to note that prior to the
non-Euclidean revolution, many theologians and mathematicians believed it
possible to prove everything either true or false-- even the ultimate
question of God-- using nothing but pure thought and logic. (We all know
42 is the answer, anyway, right?) Now, we have both systems with the
Axiom of the Excluded Middle (It is True, or it is False), and systems
without (Constructionist systems).
As you stated, using relative, probabilistic, or fuzzy 'truth' is going to
be more useful in the real world, simply because just because something
isn't black, doesn't mean it is white, and just because something is white,
doesn't mean it isn't also red.
Maybe I should just summarize my lengthy and wandering comment. "I agree.
You have spoken truth".
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