Frank Herbert, the author of the Dune series, wrote an essay in the 70’s entitled “Listening to the Left Hand”.  In it he poses an experiment in relativity.  Line up three bowls in front of you. Put ice water in the one on the left, hot water in the one on the right, and lukewarm water in the middle one. Soak your left hand in the ice water and right hand in the hot water for about a minute, and then plunge both hands into the bowl of lukewarm water. Your left hand will tell you the water of the middle bowl is warm, your right hand will report cold.  His main argument in the article is that we miss new ways of understanding, because we cling to ideas of absolute truth, or worse that we will dismiss signs pointing to better understanding because it does not fit into our own preset absolutes.  He asserts that all perspectives are relative and therefore equivalent.

While I agree that we should not limit ourselves with ideological strictures, I disagree with the underlying premise that there is no capital T truth, and that the idea of it, or even more so, the pursuit of it prevents real progress in our movement through life.  To use his own experiment, whether the left hand tells you one thing about the water and your right hand tells you another, neither changes the fact, the truth, that the bowl of lukewarm water in the middle has a temperature! Our inability to properly describe it does not make it less so.  To me this is indicative of an underlying pride in man that makes this idea that “it only matters is we can prove it” far more perilous.  It is the equivalent of playing peek-a-boo with a bear.  With a willful childlike lack of object permanence, the bear doesn’t exist when we cannot objectively observe it. Peek-a-boo, bearclaw to the throat.

Einstein offered up the idea of relative perspectives being equivalent, and the irony of course is that I am trying to make an observation about Truth from my own shadowy understanding.  I don’t disagree about the relativity of perspectives.  If one person is looking at Half-Dome in Yosemite National Park from some elevated perspective and another observer beholds it from the bottom on the other side, then the first might be able to see more of it, but neither can take it all in.  The mountain is too great.  This being said, it is no less real or extant because we cannot take it all in or rely on any one perspective to describe it.  Indeed, if everyone’s collective perspective of a mountain of Truth was too small to fully describe it; it would be no less True.

Now on to practicalities.  In the article Herbert also references an old, dead mathematician who said that we inevitably are led to prove any proposition in terms of unproven propositions.  This thought struck me in high school geometry.  Postulated theorems are true if proven using laws which are not proven, but assumed and accepted.  This axiomatic system is infused fundamentally with faith!  Herbert makes this connection himself, although it comes off as dismissive where as I find some comfort in it.

Herbert seems to dismiss truth as not only inaccessible, but impractical and irrelevant to successfully navigating life. This is a negative way of saying that if we can’t prove it we don’t need it, which is a means of knowing that throws out practical theories with unprovable laws.  While I realize that faith is an epistemology that not all who read this will share,  I also believe that shared understanding and perspectives will benefit us, not through the exclusion of truth and the assumption of absolutes, but through the shared pursuit of Truth.  At least we’ll be able to draw better triangles.

Confessedly, these first words offered up to the ether also serve as a disclaimer.  Many and much of these musings might be recapitulation, imitation, and less than original, but they are efforts to take in and put forth perspectives from both the right and left, from the valley and from lofty heights in an effort to increase our ken and stumble upon some insights in an evenhanded pursuit of truth.  I hope you’ll join us.