Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fallacies of intellectual extremism

 Introduction: In this post I have tried to analyze the difference between, A truth and THE truth .The point I am trying to make is why intellectual arrogance is equally threatening and disturbing as ignorance.

Freedom is natural state for mankind. A human is born free and shall die free. Mind, thought, and the rationality that we are bestowed with, separates us from trained animals. Social birth of a person takes place when one starts communicating with people. Perhaps, embarking first step of school begins this pragmatic quest for truth.
Two excellent and elaborated articles on connotation of this word ‘TRUTH” can be found in Wikipedia and meaning of truth by William James. The aspect that I intend to discuss, is relativity versus absoluteness and the need for objective angle to truth from epistemological view point. The basic question that Epistemology attempts to deal with , relates to the nature and scope of knowledge and prospect of use of such knowledge by mapping associations between belief, logic, justification, rationality and constructive skepticism.
The nucleus of any conversation is the idea which needs to be supported by a presenter with logic and ethics. Pursuit to truth cannot be meaningful when the mind is already prejudiced and biased with answers. Most of the times a truth seeker fails to understand that journey to absolute shall continue as long as there is life. Linda Ellinor was so right when she wrote “What you perceive, your observations, feelings, interpretations, are all your truth. Your truth is important. Yet it is not The Truth.”
Discussions should always be aimed at raising questions to explore different postulates by recognizing contradictions and the righteous aim of a healthy dialogue should always be to explore another point of view based on logic and reason .It should never be forgotten that the fellow member we confront is a partner in search for the truth and not an adversary or an enemy who is wrong and whose very existence constitutes a threat to world. Only a polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied. The pursuit of truth for a seeker is painful and such a venture must not be taken up for cause of triumph.
In experiments of science we can reproduce results with accuracy which are free from spatial and language boundaries that often form tenets of rigidity. The beauty of science lies in its dynamism. To exemplify, let me share with you the theories that were given to understand nature of light.
Newton thought light to be particle having mass, Almost during same period  Huygens suggested that Light  was a mechanical wave , no one believed Huygens for almost two hundred years because of the influence Newton had in scientific community. However, when speed of light was measured in medium, it became evident that Newton was miserably wrong. Years later   Maxwell suggested the light to is electromagnetic wave thus removing the need for hypothetical medium called “Luminous Ether” as suggested by Huygens.  Hertz while working on electromagnetic theory observed the photo electric effect, the experiment of Hertz established electromagnetic wave theory but wave theory failed to explain photo electric effect .Thus, the experiment that established electromagnetic wave theory proved to be suicidal for it . Einstein suggested light to be made of bundles of energy called photons. The cycle was thus complete but the magnificence of science lay in recognizing that certain observations can be explained by wave nature and some by particle nature thus light has dual nature.
In contrast to the above narration, the discussions on philosophies mostly lead to conflict because everyone thinks his version is the absolute truth which makes this world go round. It is interesting to note that the word philosophy is derived from a Greek word which translates as “Love for knowledge and wisdom”. Why do we fail to understand that the Truth of knowledge is not in words but within the meaning these words carry. People read books, ideologies, and opinions but become so obsessed with words forgetting that what they are projecting is just another view point.
To be specific let me give you one example. I like Ayn Rand’s writings and think her theory of objectivism justifies and promotes individuality but at the same time I think her drive for “laissez-faire” and total decontrol lacks practicality. The question that bothers me is ,do we have that kind of society where people will willingly pay taxes and be empathic and sympathetic towards lesser privileged? I think selfishness is virtue provided the individual has a high moral value and self esteem but do not know how we propose to segregate between selfishness of well spirited entrepreneur from selfishness of a robber. One question that I want these so obsessed Rand followers to answer me is “Suppose a person loves his dog more than any of his possessions but then one day in driveway to the house he is forced to a situation that he has to choose between his lovely dog and a strange kid. Who you think he will run down? No one answers me .I optimistically hope  that  they realize that we the humans are not robots programmed to act. Besides mind , most of us also have a heart filled with compassion that has  a bearing on our decision making.
So next time you get into an argument, understand that everyone has to experience and realize their share of truth. Truth can be realized but cannot be shackled in the chains of words. Language has a binding and provides very limited scope for expression .Tell me a way how can I make a person understand the difference between sweetness of sugar and sweetness of an apple? All I can say is apple is sweet but the truth of that sweetness has to be realized by reader.
To sum up, I quote from Swami Vivekananda’s  Rajayoga “Man wants truth, wants to experience truth for himself; when he has grasped it, realized it, felt it within his heart of hearts, then alone, declare the Vedas, would all doubts vanish, all darkness be scattered, and all crookedness be made straight" .
I have pledged never to get too opinionated by an opinion, you decide for yourself, because all truths are learnt at cost of inevitable pain caused by breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding.Lastly,  I quote Gibran
Say not  , "I have found path to the soul"
Say rather "I have met a soul  walking upon my path"
For the soul walks upon all paths.
The soul walks not upon a line
Neither does it grow like a reed.
The soul unfolds itself ,like a lotus of countless petals........


  1. Your quest for truth is nicely expressed in this elegant article. In today’s materialistic world very few can understand and very rare can walk on the path of genuineness. Pl keep it up .
    With best wishes,

  2. i liked this sentence, very well said:
    ''It should never be forgotten that the fellow member we confront is a partner in search for the truth and not an adversary or an enemy who is wrong and whose very existence constitutes a threat to world''
    good post, keep it up :)

  3. "A Truth" and "The Truth" - well-explained :-} Nothing else to say on it at present. (It doesn't mean that I disagree with anything in this article).

  4. There are some great quotes and sayings in this article! [:)]cc

    I think intellectual arrogance is more disturbing compared to simple ignorance.

    There is no gainsaying the fact that there is always a truth and the truth!

    P.S.: I read most of the Darshan Chande article you had referred to but did not comment thanks to lack of time. I have limited my blog reading list due to the time factor.

  5. @ Umesh ,Thanks for appreciation ,I don't write for understanding of masses ,those who can, will.
    @Leo -Thanks for dropping by and for encouraging comment
    @Darshan-Remember,we agreed to disagree .Like Happiness ultimate truth too is difficult to achieve .It is a pursuit .......
    @Vikas-yes, ignorance might irritate but the former leaves the scars of fragmented truths.

  6. All truths are learnt at the cost of inevitable pain caused by breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding. I agree. But the one who actually wants to know the truth can understand it. Sad part is no one does.


  7. @Shilpa,
    Yeah, it is sad that for most ignorance is bliss .What is more tragic is, those who begin to discover and know a little, presume that they know it all.
    enlightenment achieved by pain of seeking should reflect in the actions and not in words that are wasted to judge others.Lord Mahavir never spoke lot of words but his actions spoke for him.
    Thanks shilpa, for visiting and commenting....

  8. sir,This perhaps is distillation of all the things that you have been telling us all the years.
    I would save the child because being selfish means choosing the more important ,and I would value life of a strange child more than my lovely dog.I still have and cherish copy of "We the living" that you gifted me five years ago introducing me to lovely world of objectivism.

  9. @vinita -You know what Gibran said about teacher.....
    "If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind"......because
    knowledge comes dear, but wisdom lingers.....

  10. It starts as an intellectual debate (state of being almost unbiased)...n continues as a fight for existence of egos .....

    like kant says we can know a "thing for itself" but never a "thing in itself" ... thus forming obvious opinions

    dats why ignorance is a biss

  11. the article is very relevant...only one virtue comes to my mind after reading this and that is tolerance, tolerance does not spring from supressing your own feelings, true tolerance towards another opinion, another perspective can only be achieved by an immense security in one's own knowledge, often when we come face to face with a thought that does not mirror our own, we retaliate like brutes , does this reveal anything except an insecurity? in a world where lines between what is correct and what isn't is being blurred, there is an urgent need to be less biased and more empathetic.this post addresses that concern.

  12. @naveen wisely said , "The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge ".

  13. @shiny, As usual, you have very rightly summed up the essence of the message. "A great many people mistake opinions for thoughts ".
    Thanks for visit and comment.

  14. Those were wonderful quotes by Gibran and Swami Vivekananda. This post made for a good read... as usual. You have raised many pertinent points and Qs.

    I too do not agree that "laissez-faire" is the way to go. It will result in a complete free for all... and lead to even greater chaos.

    Truth is relative. It depends on the thinking/observation/understanding/views of individuals. What is 'truth' for one person... may not be so for another.

    Even the Courts... all over the world, speak of upholding the "Truth". Yet, only those triumph or win cases, who can 'prove' that "their truth" is stronger.

    That did not mean that it was "The Truth". Yet, the Court and judges/jury accept it. And so does people and the society as a whole.

    The way things have turned out in our society today... is due to the game of one-upmanship. That of... whose truth is stronger aka "The Truth". It is the same story everywhere. Business/politics/community/institutions... et al.

  15. highly impressive...I never expected i wud land on such an article,but this is something that is well written and thought provoking..
    Thank u sir...for giving me light


  16. Hi Sunil - thanks for the link to this piece which I very much enjoyed reading. It reminded me of a quote that I had in the back of my mind and I had to search on the net to find the exact reference. It was said by William Blake: "The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. The opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth."

  17. Hello Deborah- Really a wonderful quote , truly sums up the whole point....Thanks...

  18. Vivekananda himself suffered from the illusion of knowledge. Appearances, impressions and perceptions can be deceptive.

    Vivekananda himself misled millions of Indians. He denigrated hypocrisy and practised it at the same time.

    Consequently, facts will be stranger than fiction.



Your viewpoint will definitely give it wider perspective


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