Friday, January 07, 2011

Truth is subjectivity.

"Subjectivity is truth, subjectivity is reality," Soren Kierkegaard concludes koänically in his Concluding Unscientific Postscript. One could spend years trying to understand what he might have meant by this claim, so surprising in an age (1846, to be exact) increasingly and rightly enraptured with Science. (The Origin of Species would come just 13 years later.) Indeed, some of us have reflected on this notion for the decades since our undergraduate acquaintance with it.

Certainly, one aspect of Kierkegaard's view on the matter is that knowledge is predicated first of all in self-knowledge, from the Delphic γνῶθι σεαυτόν. He seems quite aware of how what we now call "audience consideration" inherently tends to warp our formulations of the truth. He uses, somewhat ironically, Lear's Cordelia an an exemplar of true love, "She loves, and keeps silent." Baudrillard says something similar, "If you say, I love you, then you have already fallen in love with language, which is already a form of break up and infidelity." So -- we must consider not only the apparent facts of any case and what they may lead us to believe, but also why we might wish to believe it, and especially why we might wish to state the case so.

But Kierkegaard was not embracing Berkelian Idealism or Eastern obsessively inward spirituality (though there are certianly parallels between his method and that of Zen). He believed there was an objective reality, right and wrong belief about the world and its history, and that one could grasp the truth about it. He just thought that insofar as that truth was easy or safe to apprehend it was trivial. It was true, but not the Truth.

But, as I have said before, he also believed that the strength of a conviction was inversely proportional to its publicity -- and this fact has its subjective and its objective aspects. The brilliant insight, or even the fervent narrative, can be a startling, powerful, and heretical revelation; but once it's broadly accepted, or ossified into dogma, it becomes trivial, just wallpaper. Thus Christianity was stunningly powerful when it was new, dubious and suppressed, just as was Mormonism. But as these things get mainstreamed they become less powerful. True, there are today a billion soi-dissante Christians in the world, but what a deal of palatial apparatus and non-stop propagandizing it takes to keep them going through their somnambulistic motions. And do any of them think Christianity requires the emulation of Christ or even the following of his precepts? As religions go it's a zombie, operationally undead -- and was even when Kierkeggard was railing against it.

In any case, what prompted this particular meditation was an intersting article in New Yorker The Truth Wears Out which bears Kierkegaard's maxim out quite nicely. From dubious premises, through slipshod methodology to questionable results and foregone conclusions, that's the way modern science (especially medicine and the social sciences) increasingly operates.

The lovely picture above comes to us courtesy APOD (click for better view), where science produces beauty.


At 11:17 AM, Blogger robert said...

Dovetails with your last post about the counterfeit reality of media-staged events, like that explored in the New Yorker article.

"What shall poor Cordelia do? Love, and be silent."


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