What if Truth is a sphere?
The limitations of what we think we know
It happened to me before. I had a quote in a book that I wrote and then could not find the reference eventhough I noted down the original book where it came from. Turns out that I had confused the original story with my own version that I retold later. Maybe I’ll tell you about that sometime.
This time it was something that, I believe, Ibn Arabi had written with regards to how we see the truth. Now Ibn Arabi was an “Andalusian Sufi mystic, poet, and philosopher” who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries.
He held that if truth, any truth, was a sphere, like say the earth, then the view or views that we hold of it (our truth that is) would just, at best, be a quadrant of that truth seeing that we are limited (in terms of our sight and circumstances) and only really able to see to the horizon. Your view might be quite valid and even provable but that does not mean that another’s opposing view could not also be valid and provable. The opposing view might well be from someone standing at a different vantage point where they are also only able to look as far their horizon. They are just in another country or another city where the geography is much different from yours.
Now let’s say you are able to get a better vantage point like taking a look at your world from a hot air balloon. That would still be limiting because even from a satellite, you would only be able to see half of the earth. But if, for arguments sake, you have the instrumentation to see the whole earth, there would still be the matter of what lies below the surface.
Can you see where I am going with this?
Today we know so much about the earth, the different climates, the oceans… We know much about the tectonic plates, the various stratospheres, the earth’s magnetic forces and yet so little at the same time. Human beings have yet to observe the earth’s core, for example. What we can yet know about this blue sphere is virtually infinite which is precisely how I described Ibn Arabi’s notion of ‘truth’.
The theory of light fits fairly well into this notion. At some point scientists believed that light was a particle and dies when it hits a surface. Others held that light is a wave and bounces off surfaces if it cannot travel through. They conducted experiments that proved the validity of their opposing viewpoints. Today we know that light can be both particle and wave and yet is “a phenomenon which is neither a particle nor a wave”. Quantum mechanics is now telling us that, despite all we now think that we know about light, it “is actually something that cannot be fully imagined”.
By now, in my excited and animated explanations, I am talking about how Ibn Arabi saw truth as not just a sphere but also one with an infinite surface or skin! I am now telling my avid listener(s) how different viewing instrumentation can both enhance or obscure your view of the truth and giving examples that you can plug into this theory to see how it works but Ibn Arabi, it turns out, had not really said all this…
I had read much of this into Ibn Arabi’s discussions of cosmology and its relation to mysticism and using astronomy as a metaphor for understanding different faiths’ perception of God. Maybe I had combined this with my readings at the time of Michel Foucault and his discussions of the will to truth, how truth is constructed, in whose interests and what it ignores.
Or maybe I just dreamt it up…