Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Truth as metaphor

Some 2000 years later, I'm still haunted by the question that Pilate posed to Christ. "What is truth?"

As I stated in an earlier post, I believe that truth is unknowable.

Certainly, our attempts to empirically describe truth --the scientific disciplines --are inadequate. Mathematics, physics, natural history, et alia are founded on assumptions that invariably prove to be inadequate or erroneous as our understanding of the Universe increases. (Remember, just a few short centuries ago, scientists believed that all matter was composed of only four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.)

In the end, empirical knowledge of the Universe will always be imperfect and incomplete. Our human brains are finite, after all.

But humanity does have a tool with which to describe truth, and that is metaphor.

While empirical truth is short-lived and imperfect, metaphor is extemporaneous. Metaphor, by its nature, must be interpreted. Interpretations evolve as knowledge advances. Enduring metaphors, then --metaphors that withstand constant examination and reinterpretation --are as close to eternal truths as humans can conceive.

Referring to another post that I wrote about 5 years ago, I believe that, at their core, this is what the great faiths of the world have to offer humanity. The stories, the mythology that comprise these faiths (which are the distilled wisdom of thousands of years of human experience) --whether Christ's crucifixion, Mohammed's mountain moving, or Rama's battle with Ravana --are not descriptions of actual events, but metaphors that suggest truths that run deeper than human perceptions.

There is not, nor could there ever be, empirical evidence to prove, for example, that Moses parted the Red Sea in order to effect the escape of his people from Egypt 3500 years ago. To believe the literal truth of the story is preposterous. But what if the Red Sea story is a metaphor? What lesson might be taken from the story?

And if metaphor is mankind's highest expression of truth, then art is the pinnacle of human achievement. Because all art is metaphor, yes?

Here's a few short, famous metaphors to consider. What do you think? Might these qualify as eternal truths?
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. --William Shakespeare

I am the good shepherd, … and I lay down my life for the sheep. --The Bible, John 10:14-15
All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind. --Khalil Gibran

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