Postmodernism in 140 Characters
Postmodernism is a complex philosophy. I printed out the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on it, and it ran 18 pages (including bibliography). Though the opening of that article (accessed 9/21/2012) states that postmodernism is “indefinable as a truism” and is actually “a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices …,” I think that DamnRightTweets™ has managed to distill all of postmodernism into a single tweet:
Let’s disassemble that.
Applying the second person possessive to “truth” is the most telling aspect of what DamnRightTweets™ believes about truth. DRT believes that there can be more than one possible truth.
Erwin Schrodinger proposed a thought experiment where a cat is placed inside a box and then enough lethal poison was administered so that there is exactly a 50% chance that the cat died from it. He stated that without definite knowledge of the cat’s fate (opening the box), that the cat can be thought of as both alive and dead.
Philosophers often use variables to represent situations, much like algebra teachers but without the numbers. So let’s say that the prospect P = a living cat inside Schrodinger’s box. That means that the negation of P (stylized ~P) = a dead cat inside Schrodinger’s box. We might think of the cat as both alive and dead until we open the box, but is it really the case that both P and ~P are true here?
Let’s take a minute and ponder that age old question . . . . .
What is Truth?
I don’t remember where I heard it, but the best definition of truth I’ve ever heard is “that which corresponds to reality.” The statement is simple, but the reality of this statement is insanely complex.
First of all, how many realities are there? Because if multiple realities exist, then it follows that there is a reality where Schrodinger’s cat is alive and also one where Schrodinger’s cat is dead. Which means that the feline is, as the thought experiment contends, both alive and dead at the same time.
But I much doubt that corresponds with observable phenomena in anyone’s experience. We all know that the cat is going to be in one state or the other when we open that box, so I think it follows that there is only one reality — or at least we can agree that there is one reality that we can observe. Which means that the reality in which we exist is the only reality that matters.
Truth corresponds to reality. There is only one observable reality. It is impossible for the cat to be both alive and dead in the same reality that we all share. The truth is either that the cat is alive or dead. It would not be possible to claim that both are true, right?
We now arrive at the final question: If I’m right, must someone else be wrong? Since we live in a world where a prospect P and its opposite number ~P cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense, then I would say that pretty much any claim to truth by necessity means someone else is wrong.
Let’s say I make the statement, “It’s raining outside!” Then let’s say that George makes replies, “No, it’s sunny outside!” Can we both be right?
It depends on the context of “outside.” Most reasonable human beings interpret our statements as pertaining to the area immediately outside the building we are currently in. But if we stretch the statements to their contextual limitations, then we both can be right. While it might be raining outside right now in Ohio, Florida is likely a different story. Therefore, both George and I are correct in our respective statements.
I think it’s safe to say it is ridiculous to stretch the meanings of words that far beyond their obvious context. So, in that simple example, I’m right and by necessity George is wrong. When a person operates by a definition of “truth = reality” and accepts that there is only one reality that we all share, then it follows that both P and ~P cannot be true in the same way at the same time in any case.
The implication is that when I make a truth claim, I am necessarily declaring all competing claims are wrong.
There is a very simple logic chain that we can develop here.
- There is only one truth — it is that which corresponds to reality.
- We share the same reality.
- Since there is only one truth and it corresponds to that single reality, competing truth claims cannot both be true.
- Therefore, making a truth claim is by necessity saying someone else with a competing claim is wrong.
Permit me a moment to propose what I think is the underlying motivation for such a statement. I want to be clear: this isn’t the fallacy of appeal to motive because I’ve already explained why such a statement is wrong apart from the motive. I think the motivation is that no one wants to be wrong, so it is now a form of disrespect to say someone is wrong.
“That’s just your interpretation.” “That’s true for you, but not true for me.” This tweet is just a form of those other statements that bastardize the whole concept of truth and deny objective reality even exists. “You believe P. But I believe ~P. And we’re both right!”
No, you’re not both right. One of you must be wrong. And it makes me shudder that it’s now offensive to say it. In a few more years, perhaps it will be a hate crime to say it — or at least to say certain things are wrong.