Philosophy

Is table a table if it thinks it is a table?

Concept of truth is a fascinating subject. Is there some ultimate truth to everything? Or is the whole world subjective and any individual truth is only in the eye of the beholder?

I’ve been listening an audio book Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson, which is the second book in The Stormlight Archive -series. There has been many amazing philosophical debates in this elegantly crafted fantasy world but one in particular inspired me to write this post.

The Table -argument

…spren are elements of the Cognitive Realm that have leaked into the physical world. They’re concepts that have gained a fragment of sentience, perhaps because of human intervention.

In Words of Radiance there was a debate. With a scholar and a spren of lies. So naturally the argument was about truth. First the scholar argued, that if she would point a table with four legs and say “That is a table with four legs”, would that not be a truth?

But the spren, a being not from the physical realm of men, made a counter-argument in the lines of “What is a table? How does one define a leg?”. The point being, that if one had never seen a table, nor would even know what ‘a leg’ is, then how could another claim that ‘table has four legs’ is true?

Spren are those ideas – the ideas of collective human experience – somehow come alive.
Words of Radiance: Chapter 1

It is easy for a man to say that ‘a table is a table’. But if the same table is looked at in the Cognitive Realm and one would ask the table if it thinks it is a table, the realization is, that the only reason that the table actually believes it is a table, is because men have given definition to it. A definition so widely accepted as truth, that is has become a truth even in the eyes of the table itself.

But enough about quoting a magnificent book series and back to thinking how that idea relates to our own lives.

Concept of truth

Whenever claiming something is true or something is false, it is critically important to define the concept which is being discussed. If me and you were to argue about a table, first we’d need to agree what that means to us.

Or a better example would an abstract subject such as love. See my post To love, is to know when to let go about how I define love. Now if you’d think love as romantic and even something divine, our debate would be quite complicated. Unless we’d first define what each of us mean when using the word ‘love’.

Abstract subjects are easy to see as subjective. But not even scientific subjects are objective without definition. For sure most of the cases that definition is clear without saying it. For instance if we’d discuss about the law of gravity, the implication would be that we each mean the law defined by Albert Einstein.

The only way to actually talk about the concept of truth, is to know the context of the discussion.

Definition of truth

Still we can go one step further. Concept of truth becomes even more subjective, if we take language into account. Words are the means to create definition. Without words we couldn’t argue what is true and what is not. Without words we couldn’t give definition to anything.

Think about a definition this way: If I see a table and say “That is a table.” but you are not that good with English and don’t know the word ‘table’ and rather use the Finnish word saying “No, that is pöytä.”. So which is true? Honestly, both are. Because both words have been defined to mean the same thing.

Or think about a person who has lived his entire life in isolation and has never seen a table. They come to join the conversation and contribute by arguing “No, that is a chunk of wood.”. Does that make the object not be a table?

Respect the truth

Whether something is true or not, is up to you. If you believe something is true, then that is true to you. That is the power of the human mind. And within that context no one can argue otherwise.

Respect that. Respect that each and everyone of us can see things differently. Don’t take offence if someone doesn’t see the way you see. But rather be inspired by it! It can be fascinating to hear how others define ‘a table’!