Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Truth and Where to Find It

The word truth, and the concept of truth, are both much abused. But some uses of the word are not intended to deceive. They clearly refer to a concept that is not truth in the normal sense and they do not hide the meaning they denote.

In bullfighting there is an important quality of 'verdad' which refers to an absolute sincerity in the intention of the movement performed, and a determination to do things properly and with no trickery. Verdad may be a general quality of a bullfighter, but it is more commonly applied to a particular action, or series of actions. I vividly remember the death of the banderillero Manolo Montoliú in 1992, his heart pierced by a bull he got too close to because to place the banderillas properly in that bull that was where you had to be. It was said repeatedly, and truly, that he had died of 'verdad'.

A very odd place to find the word truth is in quantum physics. As I vaguely recall (trans: I can't be bothered to do any proper research), one of the first properties of subatomic particles to be verified was connected to angular momentum and so was called 'spin.' But the subatomic world is a very strange place and particles don't spin in any way that makes sense to us. The confusion caused by the name was such, even among physicists, that when further properties were discovered they were given purely abstract names that could not be misinterpreted in any physical sense. So we have charm, beauty (now known much less beautifully as bottomness), truth (also referred to now as topness) and strangeness. Presumably Keats and Bacon are being remembered in some way.

Wikipaedia now has a very good article on attempts to identify the truth (to which I haven't contributed, though I might). I'm not sure about the reference to 'professional philosophers'- the idea seems to lack truth- but other than that there is much worth reading.

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