Discover more from The Comma Project by Devin Baker
Is there such a thing as objective truth?
Evolution drives everything. So, it follows that objective truth exists, and is core to our survival, evolution, and thriving, both individual and collective
There’s one really fundamental, obnoxiously philosophically meta question that I’ve found myself frequently returning to investigate.
Is there such a thing as objective truth? Or is truth relative, individual, unique, idiosyncratic?
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Why does this question matter?
I believe that our singular goal as a human is to live the best life we can.
In practice, we all have different interpretations of what this means, and this is precisely why this question matters.
It matters because if there’s an objective truth, understanding what that truth is will be critical to whatever progress we make in achieving this goal of living better. If there’s an objective truth, it is outrageously useful to know what that is, since acting counter to that truth will cause us suffering and keep us further from achieving our goal.
As an aside, I’m not the first to seek an answer to this question. In fact, I find that I’m rarely the first to seek answers to the questions I end up doing mental battle with. I seem to have a tendency to preoccupy my limited brainpower with the oldest, and prickliest, of questions.
But I guess that’s precisely why they’re the oldest of questions. If we humans consistently and frequently find our own way - individually, across time, space, and culture - to preoccupation with the same questions, they by definition hold importance, if only due to the number of people throughout history they have impacted.
We do know that there are some universal laws
Yes, there are universal laws, like the laws of physics, that are true, and affect everyone universally.
But that’s not what I mean by objective truth. The question I’m consumed by relates to humans alone - not the external universe.
The distinction here is that the laws of physics affect everything, universally - not just humans, but also animals, plants, objects, and everything else in our world. We demonstrate this truth in ninth grade science classes everywhere. Remember the classic gravity-affects-basketball-and-feather-equally experiment?
I’m much more interested in the emotional/psychological/spiritual human experience. I’m interested in the miracles and mysteries that make our existence singularly unique in our world.
Our brains, and the actions and lives it creates are much more complex systems than the physical world we observe around us, and as such there’s much we don’t know. (To the extent we think we know, there’s much we can’t (yet) prove in the way that we can prove the existence of gravity.)
Hence this question of objective truth.
I think it’s important to emphasize again what I mean by investigating the nature of truths of our human experience. I am not talking about truths of our physical beings, like principles behind what makes a physically healthy body.
I view this physical realm like the universal laws. Our bodies are governed by the laws of physics and biology. We can answer these sorts of questions using science and the scientific method. We can prove things to be true, like the fact that if you burn more calories than you intake, you will lose weight.
This does not mean that I’m under the illusion that the practical realities of how these laws of physics and biology converge and interact with the unique configuration of our individual bodies is identical and universal. Our bodies are immensely complex systems, and as such, we all know that rarely do generalized recommendations work with respect to making progress towards our goal: better, healthier lives.
That said, this reality is a symptom of complexity, and not of a lack of universal laws. As mentioned, each of our bodies is subject to the laws of physics and biology. The complexity of our systems is what makes the nature of how we manage the reality of the convergence of these laws unique and idiosyncratic
I’m interested in the human experience, not the objective, external world
The emotional/psychological/spiritual realm is, in my opinion, the more interesting and more important one. It’s this complex system that has dominion over the physical ones.
It’s great to know that there are some universal laws that we can utilize to move towards this goal of a better life, but it’s our ~metaphysical~ existence (sorry, I got tired of repeating “emotional/psychological/spiritual”) that ultimately dictates the actions we take, and whether we move in accordance with or counter to good sense with respect to these universal physical laws.
So, in order to increase our control over this ~metaphysical~ realm to further improve the quality of our lives, it helps to understand the nature of truth, since, as we said at the start, acting counter to truth keeps us from becoming better.
That ended up being lots of context-setting, but it’s important framing. Now, on to the main idea.
Evolution drives everything
Evolution is the single greatest force in the universe; it is the only thing that is permanent and it drives everything.
Evolving is life’s greatest accomplishment and its greatest reward.
- Ray Dalio in Principles
Evolution is one of those universal laws that dictates our world. We may not know exactly how our physical being creates our experience of consciousness, but we do know that however we got to this point is in accordance with evolution.
I mentioned up top that I believe that our singular goal as a human is to live the best life we can. This actually presupposes a more critical and superior goal, and in fact the one that is embedded in the workings of evolution: survival.
Evolution is a fascinating link between behavior and biology. The idea is that a slight change in either, should it benefit our odds of survival, ends up imprinting a lasting change in both behavior and biology. If a certain behavior or physical trait makes our existence more robust, the forces of evolution move to cement both the behavior, as well as its biological cause, in the future of the human species.
So, do objective truths exist?
If there are truths of our emotional/psychological/spiritual experience, it would follow that they too would be subject to the process of evolution.
This would mean that over the billions of years since Earth came into existence, the hundreds of thousands of years since homo sapiens started strolling it, and however many years since homo sapiens developed consciousness, and with it, this ~metaphysical~ experience, evolution has been at work, sculpting and singling out principles optimized for survival.
I believe these principles are the things I’ve been questioning and searching for.
I believe that the forces of evolution have forged certain objective truths of our conscious existence.
I believe that there are objective truths that govern our emotional/psychological/spiritual world. I believe that, most importantly, they contribute to our survival. I also believe that they’re keys to navigating the often mystifying complexity of our conscious existence towards peace and a better life.
Physical survival is less of a concern in today’s day-to-day existence (thanks to our progress in accordance with the forces of evolution), but I believe these objective truths still exist. Because our ancient evolutionary wiring evolved intertwined with these objective truths, acting counter to them causes us suffering. I believe we should think about these objective ~metaphysical~ truths much like we do the rest of our physical lives. Ignoring these truths brings about as much success and happiness as would fighting gravity, or eating exclusively processed and unnatural foods.
I believe that these objective truths are keys to our existence both as individuals, as well as a collective humanity. We must also note that one of our particularly noteworthy capabilities as humans is that of large-scale collaboration. We are an astoundingly social species.
We need to pursue truth more than ever
Culture is simply our collective consciousness, and another thing that’s worth exploring is what today’s increasingly inter-connected, tech-enabled world means in light of all of this.
Not only does our facility with embodying truth and living better simply have individual consequences. Because of the incredible leverage technology has given all of us, it in fact ratchets up the importance, impact, and urgency of whatever understanding and progress we earn with respect to these objective truths of consciousness as our hyper-connected world magnifies each of our role in shaping culture. Our lives have an ever-greater ripple effect on the culture and world around us.
I would make the argument that we’ve had an en mass straying of our broader modern culture towards junk values as our risk of survival has gone way down and the proliferation of technology has diluted away the humanity between our online connections. Our pursuit of truth is more important than ever.
But the leveraged nature of our modern world goes both ways. If it’s contributing to our straying towards junk values, it can just as well magnify the impact of positive progress towards the purer integrity of positive values, principles, and truth.
As such, I believe this pursuit of greater understanding of truth and self-actualization towards a life in tune with truth is the noblest of projects.
The first step, then, is in fact identifying what these objective truths are, much like we seek to understand the mechanisms at work underlying a healthy body.
So, what are they?
Now that is the next question. In fact, it’s also a question, much like the one I started this piece with, that we humans have been working to answer for as long as we’ve been around.
It just goes to show you that I’m one step behind the collective wisdom of humanity, which is to be expected I guess. Thanks for humoring me and coming along for the ride. Even though we’re behind, it’s still a worthwhile project.
So, I’ll keep exploring. I guess you could say this is part of my broader mission, called The Comma Project (if you’re keeping track).
Once again, I invite you to join me.
(And yes, I was just in Italy.)
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