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Understanding the Reality of Truth and Knowledge

Many people equate truth with belief, or truth with knowledge but they do not understand how truth is created in their own minds, and in the minds of the people around them. It is very important that people understand the actual difference between truth and knowledge, because, at whatever level they reside as far as understanding the actuality of that difference, that is the amount of slop and unnecessary relativity they allow in their own lives which can lead to rampant opportunism, delusion, or on the positive side, coincidental truth. One book I have read and recommend for a better understanding of truth and knowledge is Walter Kaufmann's Critique of Philosophy and Religion. He really articulates how we perceive truth, and much of what I am talking about here comes from my agreement with his reasoning. Another book that can help you see truth in a global sense is Randal Collins' A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. This book can help you use what you learn from Kaufmann's book at an individual level, and apply it at a global perspective. Collins really exposes you to all the intellectual movements of the past, religious and non-religious and shows you objectively how ideas came to be. What I will do with this essay is attempt to draw a simplistic picture of how truth comes to be, from what I have read, but clearly, being such a vast subject in the intellectual world I can be ripped apart by professional logicians, or those who hold pedantic views of different types of truth may accuse me of conflating categories, and that is all fine and wonderful. We must have the courage to admit plausible attacks on our own positions. In the attempt at responsibility and accountability to the common reader who may know less about the subject than myself, this is a much needed disclaimer to seed thought in the individual to guide themselves to their internal universality, as opposed to accepting and following someone like myself, or anybody else for that matter. What is the difference between truth and knowledge? Can one know something that is not true? Can something be true that cannot be known? These are the top level questions, and at the second level, madness ensues so lets conquer it!

1. The state of fact or knowing
2. Familiarity, awareness or understanding gained through experience or study.
3. The sum, or range of what has been perceived, discovered or learned
4. Learning; erudition

1. Conformity to fact or actuality
2. Fidelity to an original or standard
3. Reality; Actuality
4. A statement proven to be accepted as true
5. Sincerity; Integrity

* The American Heritage Dictionary

There is so many implications of these American Heritage Dictionary definitions one could easily stumble into oblivion, but let me address my more direct theses. So what is the difference between truth and knowledge? In many cases, truth is contingent upon knowledge, but in other cases, truth claims can be made that are true at the time they are made in that they are actual, but are not verified until later periods. If a claim is made and verified by a large diverse community, then it is truth in knowledge. For example, if a scientist claims that there are very tiny life forms that exist in water, smaller than the eye can see, and we are shown microscopic images of this as verification, then this claim is truth. This proof is the most fundamental kind of proof, because there is indisputable evidence, and that evidence is subject to study by people of all disciplines and prejudices. It must be judged that anybody who stands against such proofs, and I mean exactly this type of proof, should be considered untrue, false, or wrong. Since we have this knowledge, we know this claim is absolutely true. Now, lets say before the time of microscopes, a theologian or philosopher claims there are tiny life forms living in water, smaller than the eye can see; Is that knowledge or truth? At the time of the claim, it is true, because even though the life forms cannot be seen, they still exist. At the time of the claim, there is no possible verification, or proof, therefore there is no knowledge. Now, they say truth is stranger than fiction, and that is because new studies can find new realities and truths that are beyond our imaginations. In science, new knowledge, and contingently new truths are found all the time. In the study of the human genome, scientists are finding finely detailed particular knowledge and truth about what makes humans what they are daily. Truth in a sense is contingent upon knowledge, as to deny a truth that is provable is ridiculous. But truth claims can be made that have not been proven, but are nevertheless still true in the moment we make them even though we have not contrived ways to measure them. That does not absolve the truth claim from the seeded duty of validating itself in knowledge. The core argument comes when people make claims to truth, when there clearly is no way to make that truth knowable through verification. At some level, even scientists would be willing to relax a bit on this idea and admit the possibility, but the problem becomes an ideological one when people subvert what is given beyond choice, in the complex and vast universe that surrounds them, for a simplistic view they create themselves in delusion. They use the ostensible impotence of science to prove something, that itself cannot be proven by its own inherent definition, not only to justify rampant selfish opportunism, and masturbatory evasion of inconvenient facts, but also to create their own particular divisions leading to unnecessary conflict based on particular choices which only benefit their group. Two things we have to clearly understand are:

1. When truth is contingent upon verifiable knowledge, it is indisputable, regardless of its consequences.
2. When we subvert that truth for ourselves, and our own particular ends, we spit in the eye of a system that existed long before any of us came to being.

It is clear we must understand what is beyond choice, and what we truly, and actually do have the freedom to chose.

So, let me end on the subject of God. I am not ending this essay with this subject for some symbolic gesture of finality, or because I think the idea of God is of paramount importance. In fact, pragmatically, I think state institutions are far more complex and deal with the realities of life far more than religious institutions, however, I want to deal with the place God occupies in definition, and intellectual space a bit. According to Spinoza, that which contains the most reality, is that which is the most difficult to define. A chair is much easier to define than a universe. Therefore, since God is thought to be that which encompasses everything, then, by definition God is the most difficult thing to define. Now, fundamentalist religious people, in the desire to make themselves untouchable would claim that God is absolutely indefinable thereby creating a completely opportunistic space for themselves in which reality becomes unimportant, and terrible atrocities are committed in the name of unchecked self interest. So, if God is that which encompasses all of reality, then clearly, reality is part of God and that which can be calculated, measured and verified is also part of the essence that is God by definition. I think any reasonable theologian would agree to this. In fact they must. So, one must at least concede either God does not encompass all reality, or, that understanding reality is understanding part of God. If one thinks God does not encompass all reality, then God loses his "special" significance given by Spinoza's thinking. God becomes contingent, and a "God of the Gaps". God becomes more simple to define, than that which is everything including God. Knowledge and truth become the affirmation, and what God is changes as knowledge progresses. If God is thought to encompass everything, including reality, then, in Spinoza's eyes, God would be indefinable, or at least there would be a part of God that always resists definition, and therefore resists verifiable knowledge but is still thought to be true with the hope of making it knowledge in the future. The one thing that does not change, whether God is defined by what is presently unknown, or that which cannot be proven, is the understanding that it will attempt to prove itself at a later time. That is what provides grounds for hope and faith. This is why religious people have a judgment day where all is revealed. If you tell people that this "truth" will never be knowledge in any sense, it defeats the desires which gave rise to religions, and the indefinable, unaccountable God in the first place. One cannot hope to negate that which in itself, sews the seeds of its own negation. It is an inherently complete tragedy. Unfortunately, the battle becomes a call to duty to fight the collateral damage created indirectly around the edges of this construct where it touches that of the rest of the world. The only way to annihilate this abstract opportunism is not to attempt to negate something which will never have the integrity of truth in knowledge by its own claim, but to affirm something else which becomes more important than this individualistic opportunism, and therefore disintegrating it indirectly through exposure of its simple impracticality. In fact, this slow process is happening all the time, and affirming that which is beyond choice, and finally understanding the objective core that has literally been given to us beyond our control will bring the final definition in truth and knowledge as it has already been seeded in our collective.


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