Nature of the truth

Nature of the truth

What is the nature of truth and do mere words capture the reality or is it subjective? Well, a rose is a rose, a stone is a stone and water is water. Likewise, the truth is just that, THE TRUTH. There are no shades of truth. It is either truth, or it is not. A statement must be true or not. There is nothing in between nor any beyond.

Well, it is all a lie, at least partially. To many, that may seem counterintuitive, but that is the nature of truth. Consider the following statement.

                This statement is false!

Any attribution of truth will result in contradiction. If the statement is true, it has to be false, for that is what the statement says. But if the statement is false, then the statement becomes true. At least, that is the case if we think of truth in a binary form. However, if we consider truth in a partial form, that is to consider the statement to be partially true. It also means the statement is partially false. The statement claims to be false, but it is not wholistically true, it is at least partially false. But since it is partially false, that claim that it is false is partially true. So, the statement is partially true and partially false. Without accepting this concept of partial truth, attribution of truth/false would be impossible.

This explanation may seem to make theoretical sense, at least in this specific example. But does it have any practical relevance? Let us look at a few examples. Think of a plastic rose. It may look and resemble a natural rose, but it is not a natural rose. It is plastic, and hence, to some, it is not a rose. To them, only a natural rose is a rose. Yet, to others, even if it is made of plastic, in decoration, it gives the visual experience of a rose. With modern manufacturing techniques, plastic petals can be given a texture that more accurately resembles the natural one. Even the natural fragrance can be added. So, one can argue that it captures the essence of a rose and hence it is a rose. People may be of different views, and they have their reasons which are based on what they value. For someone, if a rose is dried or rotten, crushed or crumpled, it may cease to be a rose, but for someone else, it is still a rose. These are not a question of the definition of rose but the perspective. Why does someone care for the term rose, what are the valuable attribute of a rose? What is rose for me may not be rose for you and vice versa. What I consider a rose right now, I may not think of it as a rose in a different context. If I am looking to aesthetically decorate a room for a photoshoot, I may consider a plastic rose as rose. However, if I am looking to feed a pet that likes the taste of a rose, a crushed/crumpled rose is very much a rose but not the plastic one. So, no, a rose is not always a rose. Similarly. an artfully sculpted stone ceases to be a stone in the eyes of some but for others, it is still a stone.

These are very subjective and personal. We do not always speak following the dictionary definition, nor have we bothered with laying out an impeccably accurate definition for all terms. Why don’t you try to define a rose and a stone right now and compare your definition with those that are present in various dictionaries? After contrasting your definition of those commonly used words, try one another exercise. Try to abide by the dictionary definition and see if you would like to strictly follow those dictionary definitions.

Here are a few examples of the definition for water (I picked up from the net at the time of writing this)

  1. the liquid that descends from the clouds as rain, forms streams, lakes, and seas, and is a major constituent of all living matter and that when pure is an odorless, tasteless, very slightly compressible liquid oxide of hydrogen H2O that appears bluish in thick layers, freezes at 0° C and boils at 100° C, has a maximum density at 4° C and a high specific heat, is feebly ionized to hydrogen and hydroxyl ions, and is a poor conductor of electricity and a good solvent
  2. a natural mineral water —usually used in plural.
  1. a clear liquid, without colour or taste, that falls from the sky as rain and is necessary for animal and plant life
  2. an area of water, such as the sea, a lake, or a swimming pool
  1. a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, freezing at 32°F or 0°C and boiling at 212°F or 100°C, that in a more or less impure state constitutes rain, oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.: it contains 11.188 percent hydrogen and 88.812 percent oxygen, by weight.
  2. a special form or variety of this liquid, as rain.


I would have to pity the human race if we all will have to strictly go only by the dictionary definitions. Next time you want to drink water, choose your definition from the list and verify if what you have is really water. My personal favorite is the second one. Water is natural mineral water. What a simply beautiful definition. Now all I need is to look for the definition of natural, the definition of a mineral, and then comes the best part… Is it not simply a masterstroke to define water using the word ‘water’ itself? That reminds me of a few interesting questions. What is the definition of ‘definition’ and the meaning of ‘meaning’?

Understanding the rich vocabulary of any language strictly by the definitions is such an intriguing undertaking. Any volunteers?

By the strictness of the definition, even if the corner of a square tile gets slightly chipped off, it is no longer a square. In fact, if it so happens that the chipping was not smooth and clean but resulted in a rough corner, what you are left with would be a shape without a name. When one dives into microscopic accuracy, most shapes found in real life do not have a well-defined geometric name. Balls are not a sphere, there are no cubes, triangles, or squares. Neither circle nor ellipse. Forget the microscopic accuracy. Try drawing a line. If you had tried, then you would have failed. In the strictness of the geometric definition, we can only draw a ‘line segment’ and not a line because a line is infinitely long.

The meaning of a statement is not in the strictness of dictionary definition. It is derived from the colloquial usage of the words and what can be reasonably expected to be understood by a person with a decent grasp of the language used in communication.

When I pour all the water from the cup I hold, am I left with an empty cup or a cup full of air? It is true that in the context of normal conversations, a cup full of air is considered an empty cup. That may be a more common and predominant form of perspective, in a context where someone wants to perform a scientific experiment with vacuum sealed cup, a cup full of air is not empty. In a context where someone intends to be jovial or in a context where someone is exploring some new perspectives, a cup full of air may not be considered empty.

Can you tell the current time, as in the hour, minutes, and seconds? At the normal rate at which we generally speak, it may take over a second to tell the time accurately. In such an event, when I say that “the current time is three hours, fifteen minutes and twenty-six seconds”, for that statement to be true, should I start making that statement at the twenty-sixth second or should I be completing the statement at the twenty-sixth second?

The truth of a statement can be said to be in the meaning but that is insufficient. The meaning is very subjective to the context of the conversation. The meaning intended by the one making the statement does not always correspond to the meaning understood by another person. If individuals and groups of individuals can derive distinct meanings based on different perspectives, how can we judge the truth of a statement?

These are not some practically irrelevant theories. What is patriotism? What is good? What is correct? What does it mean to be responsible? What are happiness and pain? What is success? What is hate? What are caring and affection? These are just some of the questions that may govern our policies. National, international, and even our personal code of conduct.

How we evaluate the truth of a statement can influence the effectiveness of our communication. The rigidness of interpreting a statement using the meanings derived from our personal perspectives can become a barrier to our ability to connect with people who have distinct perspectives.

Truth comes from the common understanding that can be established between those who are party to the communication. If I need to tell you something, the truth of the statement exists only if our usage of the words reflects similar qualities, i.e., we are able to adopt reasonably similar interpretations for the words and phrases used in the interaction. The more distinct the perspectives are, the more patience and description it would take to establish the “reasonably similar interpretation”.

It is easy to dismiss others we disagree with by saying that they do not have an open mind or by doubting their intent. But how often do we sincerely try to understand others? Instead of taking their words and applying our interpretation of those words, how often do we try to recognize an alternate way of interpretation that they may be basing their perspective on? While some may believe that only natural roses are roses, they need to understand that they feel so because they value naturalness more than appearance. However, it is possible very much possible for someone to value the appearance and the pleasing effect of that visual. For such a person, a plastic rose is very much a rose. It falls on each and every one of us to try to recognize what the other person may be considering as more important or relevant. It is every individual’s right to determine what they value more and shall drive their perspective and natural usage of words. It is our duty to respect this right.

The truth is not merely in the statement. It comes from our attitude, and ability to understand the intended communication by the one making the statement. It deserves our willingness to suspend our way of interpretation that stems from our subjective experiences and values. It begs us to try and understand how the others may have used the word that makes the statement.

I am not recommending that we trust liars, but I would certainly recommend that we stay sincere in our approach to recognize a possible truth from a different perspective before concluding on the correctness or the attribution of truth to a statement. It is okay to differ, but we must try and be sincere in our attempts of understanding. We need to be extra careful when it comes to attributing negative motives and considering someone a liar. The moment we foster the view that the other person is not genuine in their motive, we can as well give up any attempts at communication. More often than not, giving up on communication with someone we believe to be deceitful, can at least save us time and energy. However, we should not forget that it is easier to make conclusions about malicious intent or brainwashing, etc, but that does not mean it is the right thing to do. If we want a better life, a better community, a better society, a better country, and a better world in general, it is important for us to know how to understand others and sincerely try that.

Next time you try to judge the truth of something, ask yourself one question – “Truth from which perspective?”

Keep asking this question and try being sincere in your answer to yourself. I would confidently say that you will begin to observe how the style and effectiveness of your communication evolve. Whether it is in our personal life, or professional life, whether among friends or family, a social media community, or the neighborhood, our ability to understand others will improve.

In the pursuit of truth, it is critical that we can receive the truth as intended by the author of the statement. And when it comes to sharing the truth, it is equally important to be as descriptive and clear so that we can penetrate the differing perspectives and facilitate their understanding of our perception. My suggestion may not be applicable for communicating with a large audience, rather, it is targeted at deeper communication with any interested person.


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