Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shortcoming Of Absolutes

Each thought must carry with it only one of many perspectives. As such, a single perspective by its very nature implies limitation. Which means any given perspective and its associated thoughts can not be absolutely true. 

For example, one might suggest the absolute truth of the sun "rising and setting" every day. But this statement is not absolutely true. Surely an observer on a planet three million star systems away would not agree, let alone an observer merely three star systems away. It is relatively true based on the perspective of one who happens to reside on an arbitrarily named planet known as “Earth” in an arbitrarily named galaxy known as “The Milky Way”. Certainly our truth of the sun "rising and setting" every day is not false, but then neither is it absolutely true. Any other interplanetary observers might experience a daily "rising and setting" of a nearby star but certainly not our star.

I thoughtfully quoted "rising and setting" to make a most important distinction. This expression is merely metaphoric as the sun neither rises nor sets in a literal and hence absolute manner. It is but an illusion created by the Earth's rotation.

Yet another distinction to point out is that technically even this metaphoric "rising and setting" every day is problematic. What about observers on the earth's poles during the height of their summer and winter months? Their sun either "stays" risen or "stays" set, this of course being the same sun all of us more tropical types observe. At this point, even the absolute truth of the metaphor is lost.

Another critical distinction to make is that there is nothing absolutely true or real about a day. It is just a relative construct. Presumably, no other planet rotates around itself in the same amount of time.  Additionally, the earth's rotational speed is slowing down which means the amount of time it takes to rotate around itself is NOT absolute!  It's actually increasing every day!  Imperceptibly, to us at least.

In summary, our perception of the sun "rising and setting" every day (this itself a metaphor which cannot hold absolutely true even for Earth's inhabitants) is certainly not false but then neither is it absolutely true. Such is the case with most claims of “absolute” truth.

I will admit, it seems absurd to see things as absolute. Then again, it seems equally absurd to see things as relative. There seems to be an irreconcilable paradox with the absolute/relative dichotomy*.

Many will be annoyed by my "nitpicking" of details. Most overlook or discount them out of the mistaken belief that they are frivolous. However, as per the aforementioned discussion, they are absolutely (a self-professed contradiction, but only for effect) pertinent to any reasonable argument. Any conclusion based on the false notion that variables are necessarily absolute misleads people into believing they can account for all truth with their individual perspectives.

I will end with one of my favorite Kurtisms: do not overlook the profound wisdom of scrutinizing trivial things as this becomes a stepping stone to critically evaluating far bigger things.

*see link that follows for clarification

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