What is Truth?

In his autobiography, titled “The Story of my Experiments with Truth”, Gandhi writes about his pursuit of Truth:

“For me, truth is the sovereign principle, which includes numerous other principles. This truth is not only truthfulness in word, but truthfulness in thought also, and not only the relative truth of our conception, but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.”

When I first read this passage, it was difficult for me to understand what Gandhi meant by absolute truth. Beyond truthfulness, what is Truth?

A short essay by MIT professor Neil Gershenfield helped me understand one answer to the question “What is Truth?”. Gershenfield writes that “scientists do not seek and find truth, they seek and find better models”. When the predictions of planetary motions by Kepler were improved by Newton, Kepler did not become wrong – Newton’s models (and later Einstein’s) were based on different assumptions and had a different accuracy, not a different truth.

By accepting that there is not one absolute truth, we can let go of dogma, and make experiments to explore how reality works (and accept that we will not find “the” answer). Truth is not absolute, but a model.

Armed with this idea, we can move closer towards personal truth. When actions lead to a different outcome than expected – for example, the job we started does not bring us fulfillment – we can write down assumptions why the outcome was different than expected. By testing those assumptions in new situations – moving towards a sales role in stead of engineering, because we assume that computer work does not make us happy – we can learn more about personal truth.

As Gershenfield writes:

“Violations of expectations are opportunities to refine them.”