The other day I was having an otherwise uneventful conversation with one of my favorite people when he mentioned, in very general terms, that a particular opinion he held was most certainly The Truth. Curious, I asked him exactly what he meant by The Truth. Viewing me with suspicion, he asked what I was talking about, since everyone knew what The Truth means.
Taunting him, I asked him if, for example, gravity is The Truth. In other words, is it The Truth that gravity exists? His response was yes, certainly, gravity quite plainly exists. When I told him that gravity was not Truth, but theoretical, he proceeded to attempt to prove the existence of gravity to me, by lifting a fork from the table and releasing it, thereby allowing it fall back to the table. With the smug expression of a child showing off his clean hands after having been asked if he’d washed for dinner, he folded his arms as if to say, Case Closed. I picked up the fork and dropped it myself, then retorted that I had not proven gravity’s existence. I had only proven that things not held up go in a downward direction. That is simply a behavior, not an explanation for the behavior. He was not happy.
Newtonian gravitational theory suggests that bodies of mass attract each other. Newton used what is referred to as inductive reasoning (as compared to deductive reasoning). This method uses probability as Truth. For example, since every human I’ve ever met breathes air, it is probable that the next human I meet will do so as well. This is not proof that every human breathes air, but it is a quite powerful argument for it. This is why the Newtonian theory of gravity was considered The Truth for quite some time. Using inductive reasoning, since masses have electrical charges that tend to attract one another, it was quite probably, in Newton’s mind, that this is what holds houses, apples and farm animals to the ground, rather than allow them to float in the sky.
Then that pain in the ass Einstein came along…
Einstein suggested that bodies are attracted to each other due to the fact that space and time are curved by the masses within them. Imagine a bowling ball on a bed. The weight of the bowling ball causes a depression in the mattress. Anything in the area of that depression will roll toward the bowling ball, since the top of the mattress is now sloped toward the bowling ball. Well, according to Albert, that is exactly what happens in space. The mass of the earth causes a depression, or curve, in space, causing us, as well as cars, buildings and dinner forks, to fall toward it. We spend our entire lives taking advantage of this thing called gravity. From girls jumping rope to an Olympian leaping off a diving board, we all rely on something that has never been proven-by anyone. This is not to suggest that gravity is a lie, but it is certainly not The Truth.
The point I made with my good friend is that those of us who take a side in an argument, be it political, social or scientific, should remember that when our greatest scientists can’t decide why a released fork doesn’t float into space, we should not be so sure that our favorite news pundit knows what he is talking about either.