Pamu: Hey, Vir …..Hi. How are you doing?
Vir: Hey… I am doing great.What about you?
Pamu: I am also doing great.
Vir: So, what is today’s topic our discussion?
Pamu: Today I would like to discuss about the truth.
Vir: Truth… Truth about what?
Pamu: Not about anything, but truth itself. I have always found myself puzzled by this term. Or rather due to multiple interpretations attached to it.
Vir: Ohhh… that. Truth is very ambiguous, contested and debated concept. Great philosophers, scholars have spent their whole lives finding about the truth. For thousands of years people have revolved around it. Even then it feels that we know nothing about the truth. Anyway keep it aside. What has made you think about the truth? And why are you confused?
Pamu: I recently heard the story from rich Indian tradition. The story of six blind men and the elephant.
Vir: Ok… Tell me what is it?
Pamu: Once upon a time, in a village, there lived six blind men who had heard stories about elephants but had never actually encountered one. They were curious and eager to experience the magnificent creature for themselves. One day, they received news that an elephant had arrived in their village.
Excitedly, the blind men decided to visit the elephant and gain an understanding of what it was like. They were guided to the elephant and stood around it, eagerly reaching out to touch and explore the animal.
The first blind man, who reached out and touched the side of the elephant, exclaimed, “Ah, an elephant is like a wall! It is strong and sturdy.”
The second blind man, feeling the elephant’s tusk, disagreed, saying, “No, an elephant is more like a spear. It is long, sharp, and pointed.”
The third blind man, who held onto the elephant’s trunk, laughed and said, “You are both mistaken. An elephant is like a snake, flexible and moving.”
The fourth blind man, feeling the elephant’s leg, disagreed with all of them, stating, “You are all wrong. An elephant is like a tree trunk. It is thick and rigid.”
The fifth blind man, touching the elephant’s ear, chimed in, “I’m sorry, but an elephant is like a fan. It’s large, flat, and can create a breeze.”
Lastly, the sixth blind man, who had grasped the swaying tail, disagreed with everyone and said, “You are all mistaken. An elephant is like a rope. It’s thin, flexible, and can be pulled.”
As the blind men continued to argue, each convinced that their perspective was the correct one, they failed to realise that they were all only experiencing a part of the elephant. None of them had a complete understanding of what an elephant truly was.
Vir: Ohh…. so each of them was speaking truth, yet they differed from each other.Its great story.
Pamu: That story has made me confused about the nature of the truth. You tell me about the truth.
Vir: Ohh.. great. The topic for which innumerable philosophers, scholars have spent their whole life. And you expect me to tell you about it.
Pamu: I am not expecting the truth about anything from you. I just want to understand the nature of the truth. And I believe you can help me to understand that. Am I right?
Vir: Ha.. that seems doable. We can debate about the truth and try to find truth about the truth.
Pamu: Ok then let’s begin.
Vir: Let us start with the very definition of the truth.
Pamu: Ok great. But, tell me. We exactly do not know about the truth then how are you going to define the truth.
Vir: Ohh… great question. Firstly, I am not going to define the truth. We will see what is generally understood about the truth among the people.
Pamu: Ok.. then tell me.
Vir: Truth can generally be understood as the quality of being in adherence of facts, actuality regardless of the personal opinions, beliefs, biases and values.
Pamu: Ok I agree. Actually I knew it. Or rather everyone knows that thing about the truth. But what matters is that people’s perception of facts, actuality and reality. What one person may perceive may not be so in case of the other.
Vir: Exactly… It is the matter of the perception. Based on that very argument, there are several ways to devise the truth, though it may not be truth for all people.
Pamu: I didn’t get you. What do you mean?
Vir: I mean there are various ways to establish the truth regardless whether it is really truth or not.
Pamu: How is that so?
Vir: I will explain you. Firstly, there can be objective truth, which refers to facts that are independent of the personal opinions, beliefs and so on.
Pamu:That is what you defined about the truth.
Vir: Ha.. I remember. But it is one aspect of the truth.
Pamu: Then what are the others?
Vir: There is other type of the truth. It can be called as subjective truth. Here as name suggests, this is subjective in nature. It means it is based on the experiences, observations and beliefs of the people. Like, the story of the six blind men and elephant, which you told me some time back. There each individual experienced truth in different way.
Pamu: Ok… this is confusing. If all are true then how should we decide about the truth?
Vir: That is the tragedy of it. To arrive at the rational decision we need to listen and analyse multiple perspectives. It is the core philosophy of the Jainism. It is called as Anekantavada. It says that there are multiple ways to tell the truth. It rejects the absolutism or deterministic approach.
Pamu: Ok… so we should listen to multiple narratives.
Vir: You know… there is post-modernist scholar called called Lyotard, who held that we should not listen only to dominant narrative rather all narratives regardless of their grandeur to arrive at the rational conclusion. Similarly, there is scholar called Focault, who held that truth is majoritarian. That is truth is what majority believes. For instance, majority of the people believe that heterosexuality is normal. But the day people believe that homosexuality is normal, heterosexuality will be criticised.
Pamu: You are right. No doubt about it.
Vir: Then there is other type, which can be called as relativistic truth. In it truth vary from society to society, culture to culture and so on.
Pamu: Isn’t it similar to subjective truth?
Vir: Ha.. relativistic truth can be considered as a part of the subjective truth.
Pamu: Yes.. Like some culture consider different aspects as truth like belief in the God, and other aspects.
Vir: Yes… you are right. You must have also heard about Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Pamu: Ha.. I have heard about it.
Vir: As per theory, truth is relative. It also depends upon space and time. Like, persons may be observing the moon in different countries say in Japan and France. Both of them will differ in their explanation despite being true.
Pamu: Ohhhh… relative truth. Interesting. Is there any other type of truth?
Vir: Yes… we can call it as constructed truth. The truths that are constructed through several cultural, social and other mechanisms. Like, in case of India untouchability is practiced and some people are discriminated. They are nothing but constructions some people.
Pamu: So truth can be created…
Vir: Not only that it can be used or misused for some evil purpose by some people.
Pamu: Ohh… it is tragic. It should not happen likewise.
Vir: Yes, it should not happen. But that is ideal situation.
Pamu: After telling me so many perspectives of the truth I am all the more confused about the truth. What should be our approach in that case?
Vir: Look, firstly we should go for objective facts regardless of our biases, prejudices to find the reality. Secondly, we should never arrive at the conclusion just by seeing or listening single perspective. We should develop the ability to listen and observe multiple perspective to arrive at some rational conclusion.
Like, in case of the six blind men. It would be have been better for them to listen to each others perspective and arrive at the holistic conclusion about the elephant.
Pamu: Yes… absolutely.
Vir:Yes… we should then follow same path to find the truth rather than limit ourselves to some reductionist tendency for the realisation of the truth.
Pamu: Now, I got it.
Vir: Good. All the best for your attempt to discover the truth in your life.
Pamu: Thank you. And all the best to you too.