Are There Objective Truths in Life and the World?

Some observations on the state of the universe.

ByCOLUMN By Matthew Dowd
March 6, 2014, 8:44 AM

March 6, 2014— -- Today, it seems folks fall into two categories: on one side are people that believe in an objective truth and that it is knowable, and on the other side are true skeptics that question everything and assert there is no objective truth.

The objective truth side, no matter their political or philosophical leanings, have a tendency to look at life in black and white, and can be very judgmental in their approach to the world, politics and relationships. They assert the truth as they know it, and then operate from that platform. These folks have a very difficult time with anyone that might argue some things are relative or unknown at this time.

The skeptics seem to come from a place where everything is gray, and that it is impossible to know the real truth, even if there is one. That all truth is relative and there is no objective reality that is true and discoverable. It seems that this group has grown over the years, and conflict has certainly increased between these subjectivists and objectivists.

For myself, I have settled more into an approach that cannot be classified into either of the above groups. I believe that there is an objective truth, but that uncertainty abounds. That the search for the truth is a constant journey of discovery, that while having a real destination, it is hard to determine in the moment or for always. That there is black and white truth which we can search for, but it floats or sinks within a sea of gray. Yes, a big mysterious paradox. An objective truth to be discovered amidst a universe filled more with dark and gray uncertainty.

A few years ago scientists discovered that not only is our universe continuing to expand outward (and I would assert also simultaneously inward), but the expansion is accelerating. Thus, over the millions of years of expansion, each day the universe is expanding at increasing speeds, and will continue to expand even faster over time ahead.

I think this discovery of an accelerating expanding universe presents us with some answer to this search for truth amidst great uncertainty. Even today as we think we know the truth, we learn that what we have learned is actually more of the unknown. Every time we think we have a handle on the known world, the universe is telling us that there is so much more to know. The known universe is even more out of our reach than it was before. The truth is accelerating away from us.

I think of the truth in this context (or questions of right and wrong in the moment) like one of our children who is lost. We know the child is out there, but the child keeps walking away from us as we search for him or her. And just because the child is further from us does not mean we should stop searching or don't believe in the existence of them. And at moments we might feel like found them, only to discover it was another child lost along the way - not our child, but the truth another is searching for.

All of this has an impact on our politics, our relationships, and the world in general. When we believe that we know for sure the objective truth in all its manifestations, then we have a tendency to make definitive judgments and fight for our position relentlessly. And this leads to incredible dysfunction over time. We see this in our politics in Washington, D.C., and we see it in our intimate relationships.

Also true is the impact if we don't believe in any objective truth. If we believe there is no really discoverable truth, then it is very difficult to make any value decisions on behaviors and actions. We accept whatever happens because there is no real truth. This position allows for whatever actions to take place with no moral compass or set of values that root us.

If I walk down the street and see someone beating up a child, what is my response? Without any objective truth, do I keep walking, do I say I have no idea what is going on? If I see the world in black and white, do I intervene, cast immediate judgment on the person beating the child, and feel right in beating the beater? Or bring the full force of the law down on them and seek punishment?

I believe in a response that reacts to the immediate truth I see. Stopping as best I can the child from being injured, and then trying to figure out the best reaction, response and accountability in the aftermath of helping the child understanding there is probably much more I need to know. There is probably a deeper truth to be discovered, but first I help the child.

So often our politics and our relationships are built on positions that are bunkered into and we forget that truth lives in a forest of uncertainty and is moving at times away from us, like the universe. And many times we have held the locked positions for so long, we no longer know even why or whether they fit the current reality. It is only by questioning our notions, and staying on the search that we allow ourselves to grow in the unknown.

The universe and our relationships at all levels is like a poem written by a master from long ago, and that master has continued to add stanzas every day and will every day going forward. We each read the poem and take away something from it, but did we get the message right, or do we still need to be open to more discovery?

I don't have all the answers (I have very few, and fewer today than yesterday), but I believe answers exist even if they are constantly moving further from us. Yes it is a paradox, a mystery, but doesn't that make life full of excitement and meaning?

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.

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