A reflection on the Taittriyaka Upanishad

Having previously discussed the concept of knowledge (see on Knowledge) I concluded that knowledge is right opinion. The measure that was used to define whether or not an opinion was ‘right’ depended on an infinitesimally decreasing closeness in form to the ‘True’.  However, this argument largely sidestepped the issue of defining what this ‘truth’ is, and the reason why we should pursue it.

Initially, I would posit that there is the physical truth: things either physically occur, or do not. In this model, we assume that action occurs and that from its observable impacts can be deduced as having occurred. If we believe in a deterministic universe, we would have to accept that this truth extends not only into the past but the future as well – with the resolution of a nearly infinite number of factors in a great unwinding as the universe reaches its inevitable conclusion. On the other hand, if we accept an indeterminate universe then this truth is only referential to the past – the conditions upon which the branching paths of the future unfurl.

I would argue that, regardless of whether we accept or reject determinism, that the human mind can plausibly grasp only the merest outline of such a complex system. If we contribute almost all our intellectual power, we can begin to understand the fundamental concepts of just one branch of this overarching structure, upon which our reality is built. But if I agree that this system lies beyond the comprehension of the human mind – why should we attempt this impossible task.

If we reject the intellectual journey, we are unable to make an informed decision with regards to our life. Even worse, if we reject simplistic, absolutist explanations of the universe, only to fall back in terror from the difficulty of the task of attempting true understanding, then we fall prey to the lurking danger of lazy relativism. If there is no overarching framework, why does anything matter – why should I do anything? It is the answer to this bold-faced question which motivates my final comment on the nobility truth.

If you feel small and unimportant in the face of the enormity of the question, then instead of futile hand-wringing one should tackle the questions of life with all the more gusto. Instead of splitting the field of knowledge down into an infinite variety of species, we should pursue all avenues simultaneously until exhausted. With every new insight, we can build the plane in flight, shaping our lives and mind around our growing understanding. No time spent in the pursuit of truth is wasted – all the dead ends, false prophets and incomplete theories are the rocks in the tumbler, grinding the surface of our mind to a mirrored finish.

Original text

The Taittriyaka Upanishad

Painting

S. H. Raza, Jala Bindu, 2005

3 Replies to “On Truth”

  1. What is truth without intent? People are concerned about truth only to gain authority. Authority over nature and authority over other people. As it applies to nature it allows us predictive ability. As it applies to people it only is as effective as the number of people who believe in it!

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    1. I agree that intent is important, as I stated in on Consciousness I think intent is the basis of all ethics. However, I would dispute that truth exists independent of human intent. Unless we accept metaphysical idealism, in that the physical world is nothing more than an outgrowth of our mind, we must see the truth as transcending humanity.

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