What is Truth?
Truth is a conclusion which a human arrives at based on two factors.
1. The input he receives from rest of the world through his sensory organs. By seeing things, listening to sound, reading books, doing experiments etc.
2. The processing of this input in his brain and relating it to information gathered from the past (called experience)
And the conclusion of the above two processes is again represented in a human spoken language. So the language should also contain appropriate constructs to absolutely represent the established truth. For instance, there are many terms in Sanskrit for which there is no absolute representation in English. Which is why we have entire books written in English on a single Sanskrit term, say for instance on “Dharma” or “Karma”. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to accurately represent ideas from Sanskrit texts in English. And the main reason for this is English language developed in a society where materialistic science dominates. Where as Sanskrit was used by a civilization where philosophy and spirituality had prominence and materialistic science was only a subset of the whole.
Is Truth Universal?
Truth is a conclusion which the mind reaches based on (1) and (2) described above. And hence Truth is a human aspect or more broadly, a mind aspect (assuming there are aliens out there). And hence there is nothing like ABSOLUTE TRUTH, just like we dont have ABSOLUTE SPACE or ABSOLUTE TIME. Because there is no point in asking whether something is true according to, say a Galaxy. What does Milky Way think about whether Earth is round or not?
If I say the time here is 5 PM now, then on another part of the planet the time may be 5 AM. What is the time in space? How do you define it? It has to be relative to some part on Earth, because that is how we define time – in respect to some location on Earth.
The Nature of the Truth is Local
Let us say a person got injured in his leg. The person knows that it is paining because he is experiencing it. You or I can UNDERSTAND that the person is experiencing pain by looking at his expressions or injury and relating it to the knowledge of pain we have. Will somebody who has never experienced pain be able to understand it? Or let us say a person has had a wound, but is not expressing any pain, because the doctor has given him an anaesthesia near the wound. Now if we only see the wound without seeing the expressions of the person, dont we think that the person is experiencing pain, while in reality he isn’t. The reason here is we relate wound to pain.
Let us look at another similar example. We see somebody chopping off a tree. Does the tree feel the pain? Suppose we believe that trees dont feel pain because they dont have a centralized system which can communicate pain. So humans think that trees dont feel the pain. But what if trees had a different mechanism to feel and express pain? Only another plant or tree would understand it. But humans wont. Does that mean, the tree does or does not feel pain? The truth is, with respective to the tree or a human, pain is relative as experienced by that person. Whether somebody else knows about it depends on whether that somebody knows what pain is, and what he thinks about whether a tree or a human is experiencing pain or not. A wounded person may not be experiencing any pain when we may think that he is. A tree may be experiencing a lot of pain when we may think it is not.
Say if an alien visited earth and saw a wounded person. Now if for that alien there is no skin like we have, nor does it feel the pain like we do because its body is structured completely differently from ours. In this case the alien will never understand the pain of the wounded person.
Does that mean the person is not experiencing any pain at all? Of course he does. But there is no universal absolute frame of reference for this fact. Its like local frames of reference in general relavitiy. What we measure in the local frame is perfectly valid in that frame of reference, but need not be the same in all other frames of references across the universe.
Truth and Moral Values
Ok how about moral truths. Like, it is wrong to hurt others. Well yes, it is bad, evil and wrong to hurt others. That is a take, and a take is not a truth, it is a conviction, a belief. Beliefs vary from person to person. Let me explain.
A Vegetarian person might say that it is wrong to eat non-vegetarian food because you kill other innocent animals in the process, which hurts those animals and hence is bad. But isn’t eating plants bad too? Plants have life too and what if it is conclusively proved that plants experience pain much like animals? Just like eggs are meant to hatch into chickens, so aren’t seeds meant to grow into plants?
Not really again. Nature has evolved hens to lay multiple eggs, and trees produce millions of seeds because nature realizes that not all eggs or all seeds will survive. In fact the entire food chain is established in such a way that one species is the food of the other.
Tomorrow an alien who gets energy directly from sun light and has no digestive system might come to us and say eating both plants and animals is wrong – infact eating itself is wrong because it involves hurting and killing other species. So here again, its a relative truth. Morals are to be accepted and abided by based on one’s judgement of what is good and what is bad as applicable or experienced in the local society. Polygamy or Polyandry might be bad in a society with almost equal sex ratio, but in a society with highly unequal sex ratio it becomes a necessity for a social well being.
Eating other animals when I have an option to live only on plant food is bad. This is my take or my morals. But it need not be the same for all.
Isn’t it a truth that “harming another human being is bad”. Yes, harming another human being is bad. This is a truth (a take) in our society which is why we have laws and prosecution systems which will punish those who harm other humans in the society. But nations also have armies which harm fellow humans during war, and it is neither immoral nor illegal! At a national level, the truth gets modified to, “harming humans of the enemy country is necessary to protect humans of our own country”. You see the catch here? Morals are human created, and they vary at different levels of the society. We might consider some societies as uncivilized, and for those societies ours might be an uncivilized society. What is moral in one country or society might be immoral in another country or society. We consider humanity as a largely civilized society and call ours a “Civilization”, but for an extra terrestrial civilization humans might be uncivilized because we are polluting the planet, terminating other species, destroying life on earth and so on.
Like what Agent Smith says in the Hollwyood movie “Matrix”
I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.
In fact we really can’t classify moral values as truth. They are more of a rules or takes or perceptions created in our societies by ourselves taking into consideration the pros and cons of human activities or actions and concluding about their positive or negative impacts on the entire society, and so are again very relative. What Agent Smith said in the movie Matrix is Truth from his perspective. If only other species on this planet were able to communicate and talk like we do, every other species on this planet would have sided with Agent Smith, isn’t it?
Should we Ignore Morals, because they are Relative?
If morals are relative, does that mean there is no meaning for morals, and you can do whatever you want? Wrong, just because what is applicable to you is not applicable universally does not mean you should not follow it. Just because a soldier can terminate another soldier does not mean you can harm a fellow human in your society or country. It may be relative, and not universal, but definitely is applicable in your local domain. You may not hurt yourself if you fall from a three store building on another planet whose gravity is very weak. But then you cannot rely on this fact and jump from a three store building on earth. The same applies to morals. If an action has a negative impact on our society, then it is definitely immoral.
But how do we arrive at what is right and what is wrong in such cases then? This is what the Sanskrit term ‘Dharma’ is all about. Its about deciding what your duties and responsibilities are, and living by it. If you know that what you are doing is wrong from your heart, then it is bad. But that is not all. There are situations of “Dharma Sookshma” where one sees a conflict of interests between acting or not acting, where both seem to be bad. For instance, for a family man, it is his duty to protect his family – It is called the Graha Dharma or the duties of a family man. But for a king, his subjects and citizens come first and family comes next. The king has a “Raja Dharma” or the duties and responsibilites of a Ruler to follow. If he finds himself in a situation where “action” would mean protecting his citizens which in turn would harm his family – then what is he supposed to do? Infact, he might have a greater love for his family and would want to protect them even if it means harming his citizens. Here his own intuition says that allowing his citizens to be harmed is fine to protect his family. But the Raja Dharma says that, the King should assign priority to protecting his citizens over protecting his family. What is Dharma or Moral for a family head need not be the Dharma for a king.
Your Dharma is Your Truth
The greatest psychological text of all times, the best available commentary on what a human should do and should not, when and when not, the best guide for personal development – The Bhagavadgita was discoursed by Krishna to Arjuna when Arjuna was confused caught between whether to fight his own kith and kin and teachers or not to fight against them. The person who understands it when Krishna says in Gita, “Do your Dharma, dont be bound by the fruits or failures of your actions” – will be the one who will best enjoy the world and find greatest success, and yet not be bound by it.
Truth and Scientifically Established Facts
Are not scientifically Established Facts absolute truths?
Diamond contains Carbon. True, we all know diamond contains carbon. But remember the first time we learnt about it in our schools we were surprised? I remember being surprised on learning that Sun is a Star, on learning that Blood contains Plasma and Plasma exists at high temperatures on Sun, confused by similar names to blood plasma and the fourth state of matter. I remember being surprised on learning that while Mercury is a Planet, Mercury is also an element. So Truth as we know it EVOLVES as we learn more facts and naming conventions or names.
But can anybody deny that Diamond contains Carbon. No, not those who know it. But think about some alien who never knows what Carbon is. How will you even explain it to the alien? To make it easy, let me put it the other way. Suppose an extra terrestrial being visits us whose technology is more advanced than ours, and tells us that Diamond has some k-particles in its structure. But we are not even aware what those k-particles are, nor are able to find those k-particles no matter what experiments we do. Does it mean there are no k-particles in the Diamond. We think so, while the extra terrestrial thinks otherwise.
Irrespective of whether what we believe or what the extraterrestrial believes – isn’t it a fact that Diamond contains Carbon in it? Ok, but who will validate that fact? Is there an absolute personality there who knows everything and can validate whether Diamond contains Carbon or not. For those who have discovered or read about it, and understand what Diamond and Carbon is, they know that Diamond contains Carbon in it. For those who dont even know what Diamond or Carbon is, it doesnt make any sense at all.
The catch here is there is no absolute frame of reference which can validate truth. And yet we insist on something being true because we believe that what we believe or feel should be believed or felt universally. Isn’t it possible that another extra terrestrial planet might have a substance exactly similar to diamonds in structure but made of some other element instead of Carbon? How about Diamond being made up of Lithium in a parallel Universe where the constants of Physics have a different value?
Let me give another clear example. Sun rises in the east. Can somebody deny that? Isn’t it an established fact – truth? True, for all those who can experience the four directions and call the direction in which sun rises as East – Sun rises in the East is a fact – Truth. Now consider an extra terrestrial who has no sense organs which can intercept light – in other words their body has evolved in a way that they only have sense organs to hear sound ie ears – they dont have any eyes to see. Now how will you make that extra terrestrial understand that Sun rises in the east?
Similary it might be also possible that there are other extra terrestrial beings who can see in 6 dimensions, unlike life on earth who can only see in three dimensions. So if you ask these 6 dimension vision beings, for them sun would rise in two directions, like say east in the 3 dimensions which we can see + another direction in the additional 3 dimensions which only the extra terrestrial can see.
So is Science wrong then?
In the real universe out there, there is nothing like Biology, Physics or Chemistry. It is a continuous unison of the universe. We have classified subjects for our convenience and the knowledge we have is only what we are able to observe and deduce based on that. Again to study overlapping areas we then have Bio-Physics, Physio-Chemistry, Bio-Chemistry and so on. There are no such classifications in the universe out there. Nature does not classify species as mammals, viruses, humans etc. These are our classifications. In nature there is only evolution. Which is a bird that cannot fly, which is a mammal that does not feed its off springs? Why is Tomato a fruit and not a vegetable? All these questions arise because we have classified them to be so and so. There are no such rules in nature like, “This defines a mammal”, “This defines a fruit”, etc. Some other intelligent forms of life on some other planet might classify life on earth quite differently than us.
Our Science is not some ABSOLUTE SCIENCE. It is the observational knowledge gathered by humans and is not a Universal Truth. It is a local truth applicable on our local plane of existence – and is always an evolving set of information.
The answer is to understand what exactly is Science? Science is the collective knowledge which WE HUMANS have deduced based on the observations we are able to do and the conclusions arrived based on the collected data and our interpretations of that. There is nothing like absolute Science. An extra terrestrial civilization might have a completely different matehmatics and so a completely different Science altogether. An alien civilization who can only hear and not see will have a totally different type of science. What is Science to us might be nonsense to them, and yet we both are correct in our local frames of reference.
When the ancient Europeans thought Earth was flat, ancient Indians knew Earth was round. Ancient Europeans had their own science based on their observations, and Ancient Indians had their own science based on theirs. Ancients thought Sun went around the Earth, then science was upgraded, or say corrected saying Earth went around the Sun, then Einstein came in and showed that Earth and Sun only follow their local space-time curvature. Earth doesnt know that Sun is out there 8 light minutes away from it. Earth only follows its curved local space-time path.
So Science applies to a local domain. What is Science to us might be nonsense to an even more advanced alien civilization. Not just in the sense that they know more science than we do, but that their way of interpreting universal phenomenon might be completely different. For instance, we say there are three primary colors – Red, Blue and Green. An Alien Civilization whose eyes are more advanced might say there are Ten Primary Colors. They can see a million more colors than us, and since their eyes detect Ten different wave lengths, even the colors they see will be different from what we can see, I cant even explain how that would be, because simply there is nothing to relate it in terms of what we humans know. The aliens for instance might be able to see Ultra Violet and Infra red wavelengths. We simply paint data obtained by instruments in these wavelengths using Red and Violet colors so that we humans can see it. Just imagine how the world would look like if we were able to see in Infrared or Ultraviolet wavelengths. Or if humans only had ears and no eyes – how would Science be then for us? What would be the science of Bats, if bats were able to evolve as intelligent beings?
Tat Tvam Asi – Neti Neti – The Universal Truth
The Universe or nature doesnt care about what is truth or not. Earth doesn’t care whether Sun moves around it, or whether it is moving around Sun or if there is some local spacetime curvature. Interpretations are done by humans or say intelligent beings or say local consciousness – and varies from one to the other – is relative. As Jiddu Krishnamurthy said ‘Truth is a Pathless Land’
– one can stand at different places in that land and still claim to be on the side of the Truth, and still be right.
So is there no ABSOLUTE TRUTH at all? Of course there is, but one. There is ONLY ONE absolute truth. It is ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ - a Mahavakya (Great Sentence) which appears in the Chandokya Upanishad explains what this truth is. The non-dual nature of the Universe is the only Universal Truth – Thou Art That. When consciousness is under the influence of Maya, duality appears to be the truth, which in reality is a mere illusion.
The nature of this single universal truth is defined in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad as “Neti Neti” – neither this nor that – implying there is no equivalent expression which one can provide to define this truth. Suppose there are aliens who cannot see Red color because the cells in their eyes cannot catch the wavelength which accounts for red color in the electromagnetic spectrum. How will you explain that “Roses are Red” or what Red looks like to these aliens? By simply saying “Neti Neti” to all other colors they can see.
Rigveda indicates about the same Universal Truth when it says ‘Ekam Sat’ – there is but only one Truth. Please note that, it is not merely enough if we just “believe” in this one truth, we need to “realize” it to really understand it. Believing that space-time is curved is different from “understanding it”. Most engineering students can solve problems of Calculus using different formulae they have mugged up. But how many really “understand” or “realize” what it all actually means?
This was the realization about the Universal Truth which Buddha underwent when he got enlightenment. This is the realization you will be able to understand if you can read and realize what is mentioned in the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads. That one ultimate truth is to learn, understand and most importantly REALIZE the true nature of this Universe. This is what the ancient sanskrit scriptures mean when they say that the world is ‘Maya’ – an illusion. This is what is implied in the motivational quotes like ‘You are what you think you are’, or ‘The world is what you think it is’. This is what quantum physics means when it says ‘Observation can alter the outcome of an experiment’, that there can be no mere observers in an experiment who are insulated from the results of the experiment. There are only participants in a quantum mechanical experiment, no mere observers. That shows the true nature of the universe, because quantum mechanics deals with the most fundamental aspects of the universe. You can change what happens by merely observing it, which would have otherwise happened something differently.
This is also the prime reason why famous quantum physicists find comfort in reading the books on veda and vedanta which speak about the philosophical aspects of the universe and the nature of truth and reality. Below are some such quotes by famous quantum physicists and writers.
“I go into the Upanishads to ask questions.” – Niels Bohr, Famous Quantum Physicist
“After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.” – Werner Heisenberg, Famous Quantum Physicist
“The unity and continuity of Vedanta are reflected in the unity and continuity of wave mechanics. Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one universal consciousness and there is no multiplicity of selves. This life of yours which you are living is not merely apiece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear; tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am above and below, I am this entire world.” – Erwin Schrodinger, Famous Quantum Physicist
“The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond, to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long. Longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang. And there are much longer time scales still.” – Carl Sagan, Well known Astrophysicist
“Access to the Vedas is the greatest privilege this century may claim over all previous centuries” – Robert Oppenheimer, Father of Modern Atomic Bomb
“The juxtaposition of Western civilization’s most terrifying scientific achievement with the most dazzling description of the mystical experience is given to us by the Bhagavad Gita, India’s greatest literary monument.” – Robert Oppenheimer, referring to the description of atomic bomb in Bhagavadgita
“When I read the Bhagavad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.” – Albert Einstein
“The true Vedantic spirit does not start out with a system of preconceived ideas. It possesses absolute liberty and unrivalled courage among religions with regard to the facts to be observed and the diverse hypotheses it has laid down for their coordination. Never having been hampered by a priestly order, each man has been entirely free to search wherever he pleased for the spiritual explanation of the spectacle of the universe.” -Romain Rolland