Updated: Mar 24
(click above to watch this presentation)
Subjectivity Is Free Wil:
The Path To Truer Truths
By Dinorah Delfin
On November 28th, 2020 I gave a presentation for John Cabot University (Rome/ Italy) which centered around the idea of Truth in light of Relativism and Posthuman studies.
For the original presentation which features 10 other emerging and leading futurists please check the link at the end of this message. I’d like to thank once again Chryssi Soteriades, Prof. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, and Prof. Brunella Antomarini for organizing this wonderful workshop.
The following is a transcript of the presentation: The concept of truth and how truth affects the fate of humanity is extremely important as increasing epistemic and ontological uncertainty is causing dangerous societal polarization, calling for urgent coordinated plan of actions to address what has been labeled as the dawn of a “post-truth" era. In this presentation I will discuss three main areas: First, how the concept of relative truth has helped achieved social justice but has also left us without concrete moral standards to guide our actions. Then I'll explain how relativist thinking can also be used to build flexible value systems that can better guide policymaking. I will conclude with a thought on how relativist thinking can help increase human survival and adaptability.
1. Relativism And The Truth Paradox
According to Frederick Nietzsche, and other postmodern thinkers like Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Carl Marx, truth and knowledge can never be absolute because everything in life is relative. In other words, reality is a construct with no defined moral parameters. According to this line of thought, there are no facts or absolute truths, only interpretations based on biased perspectives. Therefore all standards are arbitrary and no one system can be more valid than others. This realization brought significant progress in social justice. In his article "Beyond Postmodernism" by writer and integral thinker Keith Martin, reminds us that "it's no coincidence that institutional racism, sexism, ageism and many of other "isms" came to be exposed in the decades after postmodern philosophers first start to write about this, eventually leading to a whole series of laws in the West to try to correct them." Keith adds "the postmodern movement made a solid contribution by taking modernism to its logical conclusion; it served us well by pointing out that all standards of judgment are based, at least in part, on some kind of cultural bias." In other words, the postmodern movement helped free up conscious and subconscious systems of oppression by deconstructing hierarchical systems that placed white man, literally, as the measure of all things. While reasoning based on relativist thinking has been hugely important in the development of human cognition and morality, unfortunately, reasoning based on no defined standards or value systems has taken things a little too far. We see this today with the cancel culture, for example, that is also trying to invalidate scientific progress. When life is seen only as subjective or relative, it is extremely challenging to seek truths that are more universal in order to better guide our ethics, morality, and eventually policymaking. One can speculate that the lack of coordination to contain and deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, can also be seen as a result of lacking a robust and resilient value system to effectively guide concerted action.
2. Relativism In The Service Of Truth and Reason
What is the meaning of truth? In Wikipedia, truth is described as “the property of being in accord with fact or reality." But if reality is relative, how can there be truths that we can rely on?
Fortunately, the mere fact that truth is relative, teaches us that some truths are truer than others and equally some moral standards are more just than others. Keith Martin in the aforementioned article explains, “some things can be relatively more true, more good, and more beautiful than other things, even if we can't speak of these things as being rooted in an absolute." For example, a person who intentionally lies to hurt another person might be considered less ethical or truth-worthy than a person who would lie to prevent a child from getting hurt. Additionally, the mere fact that truth is relative also teaches us that no standards can ever be held in a fixed manner. Life is in constant flux and we must constantly re-adapt our value systems. For example, we tend to think of biological death as an absolute truth, but we know today that there are species like the jellyfish Turritopsis Dohrni that are considered biologically immortal. We are also, through scientific and technological breakthroughs on our way to improve a person’s healthy longevity and potentially evolve into a species that can enjoy indefinite long healthy lives.
3. Upgrading Meaning
I created a series of digital collages in 2009 to illustrate my own journey towards self-realization and the understanding of truer truths. These two images, for example, illustrate cloned versions of myself interacting in an intimate but opposing demeanor where pain and discomfort are noticeable.
Unlike postmodern artworks that are characterized by irony and the deconstructing of ideas, this series of digital collages represent a call for the sincerity of expression, by deconstructing to then reconstructing one's own identity built upon a truer understanding of reality and of the self. This series represents the difficult journey of unlearning cultural conditioning in order to be able to expand limiting beliefs. The Gothic and Carvaggioesch undertones symbolize a departure from the dark ages and a rebirth towards the pursuit of truer enlightenment, always making a point to represent not a rejection of past knowledge, but building upon all the wisdom we accumulate throughout history. We know that in pre-Renaissance Western Europe scientific, moral, and ethical "truths" reflected the mythological Christian understanding of the world. For example, physical ailments were thought to be caused by spiritual deficiencies, and things like slavery, rape, and torture were traced back to the Bible for justification. If an ethical decision could be traced back to the Bible, then it was "moral”, “true”, or "just”. Poor moral judgment and misinformation, unfortunately, continue today not only threatening civil rights and the integrity of democracies but also the survival of our species. Without all-encompassing and flexible value systems we can all agree on, we are extremely vulnerable to polarization and manipulation. And the more globally interconnected we become, and the more dependent we are of the technologies that allow for this interconnection, the more vulnerable we will become.
4. A Pragmatic Solution
Can relative thinking help increase human survival and adaptability? IMO, only if they lead to objective realities. I agree with Daniel Schmachtenberger, Director of Research and Development and Cofounder of the Neurohacker Collective, who says “If we can understand base reality, ourselves, and each other we can start to get somewhere.”
Not operating under a base reality is a universal problem. For example, conspiracy theories like the belief the earth is flat, are belief systems that if enough people subscribe could be detrimental to effectively address certain policies that affect us all. Without a set of common frameworks, facts, and objective truths we can all have consensus on, humans are not only more vulnerable to manipulation but also more unable to effectively deal with more complex problems. Base reality and a better understanding of the self and others therefore must reflect belief systems based on higher truths. In other words, base reality must be based on science and tools like the empirical method in order for humanity to make better sense of the world in a more unified, objective, and effective manner.
To conclude, I will leave you with this question:
How can relative thinking help nurture greater conscious awareness through a more clear and concrete, but flexible, understanding of reality in order to establish a more tolerant, fulfilling, and egalitarian existence for all?
If you feel inspired to write about this topic, I will be excited and honored to publish it in Immortalists Magazine. Thank you for your time and your open mind.
Click on the image to access the original workshop