Posted by: Rosebud | January 12, 2010

Science and the pursuit of Truth


Definitions from an on-line dictionary:

truth (tr th)

n. pl. truths (tr z, tr ths)

1. Conformity to fact or actuality.
2. A statement proven to be or accepted as true.
3. Sincerity; integrity.
4. Fidelity to an original or standard.
     a. Reality; actuality.
     b. often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality      and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

I would like to write about definition 5b, and allow discretion into the definition so that it can be limited to specific articles, attributes.  Now for the post…..

Can Science discover “Truth”?

This is a short collection of short writings, so to describe this single thought I’ll stay really simple and start the discussion with the famous Tupperware Shape-O children’s toy (See photo). 

Tupperware Shape-O

Let us say the world is as simple as this toy, and the scientific community is as simple as the child playing with it.  (I told you I was going to stay really simple).  So the scientist observes the world, intuitively attempts to place a few of the yellow shapes into the holes, and then announces the discovery of the following Truths: the yellow shapes do not fit inside the holes.  Of course, you know what happens next, he tries harder and discovers that the shapes do fit inside the holes which disproves the previous Truth.  Then, he makes another discovery and announces another Truth: the yellow shapes cannot come out of the red and blue ball.  Then exploration of the yellow handles shows that the red part separates from the blue part and the yellow shapes can be shaken out of the space in between and the process of inserting the shapes into the holes can start all over again.  At this point the observed, repeatable actions of the scientist have finally established the facts regarding the world and have reached the Truth of it all: This is a child’s toy, play involves putting the yellow shapes within the holes (one to each whole), removing them from the ball by pulling on the handles, and then repeated.

I think many will agree with this simple illustration of the role of scientists to discover truth.  Through repeated meticulous observation and experimentation scientists can arrive at amazing facts.  The problem is, in any direction of scientific exploration, the “end” is yet to be reached.  And, without reaching the “end” nothing can be considered an Absolute Truth.  Everything is conditional. An easy illustration of that is the science of astronomy/cosmology. Let’s say that the Truth of the mapping of the universe is achieved, the edge of the universe is identified and everything inside it is mapped.  Well, what is beyond that edge? The Truth regarding the mapping of the universe isn’t truth until you know what is out beyond the edge.  The Truth will always be “conditional” until infinity can be reached.  And if “Truth” is conditional….well it isn’t even truth with a little “t” then, it’s just theory.  Of course, there are lots of good theories that are exceedingly useful, I’m not claiming they don’t exist, just that they are not a “Truth.”

Returning to the simplistic illustration, the scientist’s continuing experiments discover and invent new things to do with the shapes and the ball.  The shapes can prop the ball open, the shapes can be used to build a tower, or lined up in a row, the ball can be kicked around like in soccer.  The possibilities are indeed quite endless, infinity has not been reached.  The initial “Truth” of the matter is now open ended. 

Tupperware Shape-O Shapes

The shapes still fit within the holes, except perhaps during certain atmospheric conditions that distort them, but the number of possible uses of these items is moving towards infinity and the final Truth has yet to be reached. The objects can be used an infinitely different ways, and, unless you can take into account the intentions of the designer, the “Truth” of what it is becomes completely relative, and is therefore not “Truth” at all.

So, to summarize, my thesis is that science cannot define a “Truth” (per definition 5b) unless science can reach infinity.

In conclusion I offer the definition of the word “ultimate” per its use in definition 5b (as an adjective):

ul·ti·mate ( l t -m t)


1. Being last in a series, process, or progression: “As the ultimate arbiter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court occupies a central place in our scheme of government” (Richard A. Epstein).
2. Fundamental; elemental: an ultimate truth.
a. Of the greatest possible size or significance; maximum: Has the ultimate diamond been found?
b. Representing or exhibiting the greatest possible development or sophistication: the ultimate bicycle.
c. Utmost; extreme: the ultimate insult.
4. Being most distant or remote; farthest. See Synonyms at last1.
5. Eventual: hoped for ultimate victory.


1. The basic or fundamental fact, element, or principle.
2. The final point; the conclusion.
3. The greatest extreme; the maximum: actions that represented the ultimate in political expediency.


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