If my name had been Karl Popper, I’d have known from the get-go that I was destined for great things. Not simply lending my name to a disco drug, I’d be out there testing the limits of truth, knowing that it’s out there somewhere or at least that whatever is our current best guess is our current best guess. Popper, he knew (well, he hoped he nearly knew).
Falsification leads us down a very different alley to the current popular post-modernist cul-de-sac we find ourselves circling like a lost motorist. Your truth is as good as mine is no recipe for Enlightenment, but then the whole idea of Enlightenment seems to be under threat. The very idea that we can force our truth upon (or, indeed, up) one another on the simple basis of an exercise of power – well, that just appalls me. Orwell summed it up best with ‘2 + 2 = 5’: the most heinous expression of an abuse of power.
No doubt, somewhere ‘2 + 2 = 5’ is indeed possible, but to my lay-mathematical thinking such an abomination is only possible with electrified nipple clamps in a damp basement over a long and dark period of sensory deprivation juxtaposed with pendulous, naked light-bulbs and uplight smiling moon-faces. In short, the idea of it horrifies me.
I had the most amazing conversation with Mrs Whats (I often do): we were arguing (in an amicable and academic way) about the merits of pragmatism versus relativism (like you do). I was trotting out the idea that Creationism tests relativism to its limits: if you believe that truth is relative then you really should have no issue with people homeschooling their children with Creationist theory. People often say they are relativist (it’s often blithely expressed as ‘each to their own’ or ‘horses for courses’), then baulk at the idea of nutjobs teaching their kids that the world was created in seven actual calendar days.
So I said my piece and took a cheeky, early bite of my Easter egg.
Mrs Whats said, “Darwinism gave us a generative theory of evolution – something that we can apply all around us and leads us towards new knowledge.”
I chewed on my Easter egg and nodded.
“But Creationism gave us a day of rest.”
I stopped chewing on my Easter egg.
Popper was right: there is a seed of something in most things. The current best guess at truth takes us further along the path, but that doesn’t mean that all that went before is invalidated. Babies and bathwater – and all that. Knowledges overlap: competing truths paint a pretty spirograph of a Venn diagram, but that doesn’t make them all equally true. Some knowledges are more valuable than others, just not lock, stock and barrel true. Cherry-picking truth is not relativist; it is pragmatic. And pragmatism is not a disavowal of truth. It is feeling of truth. And, by that, I do NOT mean that it is ‘truthy’; that’s a whole other field of non-inquiry.
I take a crumb of comfort in 2 + 2 equalling 4. It has been true for as long as I can remember. Equally, I love the weekends (sometimes I live for them). Whichever came first – the Easter Egg or the genetically-modified chicken – I really don’t mind; I just know that one or the other is true. I just don’t know yet which one.
Popper would have known, if he hadn’t been so jazzed off his nips. Still, maybe there’s something in that. Maybe Enlightenment is a mirror-ball and falsification is a dance that we do. I can live by that.
*Reaches out hand, palm raised.*
Come on. Let’s dance.