A Very Brief History of Truth

Around 300 BC, political decisions were settled by discussion and debate in Athens.

Socrates passionately believed in Truth, and that dialogue was the way to find it. He was killed by local politicians for "corrupting the youth of Athens".

The word "Politician" comes from the Greek root "polis" for city. Politicians have never liked Truth.
The sophists refined debate into an art and profession, and Aristotle formalized it as logic, which was basically rules for good reasoning in debate (esp. political).

In the Middle Ages, the scholastics used Aristotle's logic in theological debates, and gave many clever proofs of the existence of God.

Unfortunately, all those proofs were wrong.
But the search for God was good for logic, if not vice versa, because objections led to many refinements and improvements in the underlying logic.

In the late Resaissance, experimental science came to be seen as dialogue with nature, and in the 17th century, the success of mathematical physics led to thinking that "mathematics is the language of God."

Leibniz dreamed of mechanical automata, causally independent monads, and settling all arguments by calculation:

All our reasoning is nothing but the joining and substituting of characters, whether these characters be words or symbols or pictures... if we could find characters or signs appropriate for expressing all our thoughts as definitely and as exactly as arithmetic expresses numbers... we could in all subjects in so far as they are amenable to reasoning accomplish what is done in arithmetic and geometry. For all inquiries that depend on reasoning would be performed by the transposition of characters and by a kind of calculus.... And if someone would doubt my results, I should say to him: `let us calculate, Sir,' and thus by taking to pen and ink, we should soon settle the question.
The first of Leibniz's dreams has come true in a big way, filling our factories with robots, our cars with computers, etc., and we continue to build ever more powerful and more human-like automata. But Leibniz's other two dreams seem less realistic than ever.

Some time later, Boole developed Boolean algebra, hoping it would become a basis for law. This did not happen. Instead, much later, it became the basis for the so-called "logic" of computers (i.e., their basic circuits).

Meanwhile, amazing progress was being made in mathematico-deductive empirical science, and many myths and superstitions were shattered.

In the late 19th c., logic continued to develop, with major contributions from Peano, Bolzano and Frege. Cantor developed set theory, and "the language of God" was considered more secure even than "merely experimental" sciences like physics.

But then paradoxes were discovered in mathematics by Russell, Burali-Forti, and others. Later, Godel's incompleteness results, the independence theorems in set theory, and intuitionism all seemed to undercut the certainly of logic and set theory as foundations.

Now we have evolution, relativity and molecular biology, to say nothing of phenomenology, deconstructionism, postmodernism, and influences from Eastern philosophies.

It is claimed that the obsession of Western civilization with power and control has been exposed, with the ideals of Truth and Beauty as a mask.

It seems that Western civilization, in its quest for Truth through dialogue, is falling apart.

Paradoxically, this is being accelerated by information technology, especially computers and new communications technologies like the World Wide Web.

Yet we know more than we ever have. And we have far better access it it.

It seems a funny thing has happened on the way to the Truth. What is going on??

Is there any way to exploit the fantastic progress in information technology? The figure below suggests one approach.

Maintained by Joseph Goguen
3 October 1996