The relativity of truth

Einstein is credited at being pretty clever, I’m sure you’d agree. What he proposed, in a phenomenal insight and moment of clarity, was the theory of relativity. E=mc2. Gotta give big Al props for that one. Not only does so much of our understanding of the physical universe centre on this law, it’s a pretty catchy little thing too. So short, so concise, so simple. So much do we respect big Al’s finding that we equate fuzzy unkempt grey hair with genius. Why do you think I got this do?

Okay you’re going to quiz night and you can invite anyone from history for your team. I bet rivalling Albert in popularity would be Isaac Newton. Where would we be without calculus (not the type on your teeth) and the laws of motion. Again, after all those years of mathematical analysis all it took was an apple falling to the ground for the universe to unravel itself before his eyes (or so legend will have you believe). Again, very simple, very concise and catchy. Here’s a refresher:

Law 1: Something will stay still unless you shove it. Galileo said a similar thing.
Law 2: F=ma. Something will change its velocity when you shove it, and it will stay at that velocity unless something else gets in its way. This was a development of Aristotle’s F=mv.
Law 3: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

All true. Funny thing is, as physics looks out further to the endless caverns of space and deeper into the infinitely small sub-atomic, one thing becomes apparent: that not all observations can be explained by the same physical laws. In fact, the reason Einstein and Newton’s laws are so great is not that they are ultimately true in the absolute sense of the word, but that either one or the other can help explain most things we can observe most of the time. Sometimes they give different answers. But they are so useful and close so much of the time that we can use them as laws, rather than just hypotheses.

Some have tried to find alternative laws that hold universally true. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur and his human-form alien friend search the universe in search of its answer. And in the end, in a delightful anti-climax, they find that the answer to life, existence and the universe is, in fact, “3.” Who knows, it could be true.

Is the fact that Einstein and Newton’s theories are not absolute make them untrue? I suggest not. They are some of the greatest truths humanity has found access to. This is where absolute and relative truth come in.

Bahá’u'lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, explains the concept of relativity in the Book of Certitude, a commentary on religious truth and progression: “Consider the sun. Were it to say now, “I am the sun of yesterday,” it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character”.

We should try to leave the habit of dismissing one thing as false to authorise another as real. Truth is one and our ways of understanding it, science and religion included, should open our minds to the infinite. The Baha’i Faith teaches us to see them both as progressive and relative, and a balance to each other. If we look at an object from one perspective, we fail to see its full form.

Truth is, absolutely indefinable and relatively conceivable.

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