The Metaphor and the Quality of Truth

Let’s compare religion and science epistemologically. Not because of the issue of religion and science, but because of the issue of epistemology and truth.

Religion: “God created the heavens.”

Science: “The atmosphere is divided into layers of different compounds separated according to the laws of gravity, density and thermodynamics according to the energy of the photons that reach the atmosphere from the fusion process in the hydrogen/helium plasma ball called the Sun, the physical properties of the gas molecules above the Earth’s surface, the weight of the Earth and the spin of the Earth. Just like the Gulf stream, there are patterns of movement in the atmosphere caused by relatively consistent thermodynamic conditions even if a lot of atmospheric events appear randomly within this pattern. The existence of the atmospheric compounds here on Earth is in line with the theories of the formation of planets from star dust.”

Idealized pattern

Religion: “… and the Earth.”

Science: “The Earth consists of iron and rock, the latter on top of the former since iron is heavier and gravity pulls it to the center of the (by gravity) ball-shaped Earth. The molten rock beneath the solid crust moves in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, chemistry and physics, causing both internal friction and heat and the friction between the continental shards of the crust as they’re pushed against each other which is evidenced by the events known as earthquakes. In a longer perspective these movements lead to crashes and convections such as the Indian subcontinent crashing into Asia and forming the Himalayas. The iron and the rock compounds were created by the process of fusion of hydrogen and subsequently larger atoms in the immense energy of stars and spread into space as some of the bigger stars exploded when the composition of different elements in the star led to an imbalance between fusion energy, radiation and gravity.”

The difference between the religious and the scientific account is quite easy to spot.

1) The religious sentence is a metaphor.

2) The scientific description includes a lot of research and evidence and is connected to even more research and evidence. In the case of the atmosphere, climatology has a large knowledge-base and that knowledge-base is connected to the knowledge-base of physics, chemistry, hydrology and so on.

There is no fundamental difference between the two descriptions though, the difference is a only a matter of relativity. Specifically, how big the knowledge-base is and how big the knowledge-bases it is connected to are. The quality of the knowledge in these two cases and the quality of the logical coherence between all the information in either case can be identical. Thus, the quality of the knowledge is determined by the quantity, assuming that the quantity is qualitatively secured. Qualitatively secured meaning the methodology of obtaining evidence is sound and the reasoning behind the interpretation of the evidence is logical including the connections between different pieces of evidence, between different theories and between different fields of research.

This principle can found in or applied to everyday conversations as well. Let’s determine the truth value of the sentence “I own a blue chair, well I say blue, the wavelength of the light reflected by the chair is 483 nm.” The truth value is determined by the internal logic, i.e. is blue the proper name for a photon wavelength of 483 nm, and the connection with other knowledge-bases like furniture. What is a chair? Which definition of a chair are we using and what’s the truth value of that definition, e.g. what are legs and what’s the truth value of the definition of legs? Not to mention the more difficult elements “I”, “own” and “a”. Determining the truth value of a statement is an infinite project. We have to settle for a relatively large amount of investigation. Once we have relatively much quantity of research information, assuming it is qualitatively satisfying in terms of logic and method, we can say that is more true than a comparative statement that disagrees with it. Considering that we are aware of the method we’d call it more likely or more probable, but this is the method we always use and when we’re unaware of the method we fall into the habit of calling the information truth. And since there’s no other definition of truth we can say either “more likely” or “truth”, but more important than what to call it is perhaps the awareness of the method employed.

On the other end of the spectrum is the metaphor. If truth is the most likely, then the metaphor is the least likely. It is an idealized description, furthest removed from the details evidenced and the logical necessities involved. Going too far one would say that the metaphor is untrue, but we know better, we know it’s just a matter of relativity, what is relatively true. “I am an elephant”, is this untrue? “I am a human” is only(!) relatively more true.

So we’ve established that truth is more likely and metaphor is less likely, but fundamentally there’s no difference, they’re just two ends of the same spectrum. Now, since everything is more or less likely, everything is a metaphor, a metaphor that is more or less the truth. Any statement is a metaphor. The metaphor is defined as a simplification. This means it is not comprehensive, it does not include all the facts related to the statement or all the facts related to the facts related to the statement. To be comprehensive, i.e. 100% true, the statement would have to be infinite. In the beginning was the word, and it was all. Language is a network because the brain is a network. It is relative. It is metaphorical as it cuts the network into pieces making each word a simple reflection of the entirety. Where or how are these cuts made? Well, it seems the causes are so small they appear arbitrary to us, a few molecules being enough to affect the structure and functioning of the neural network.

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