Some have argued that existing scientific paradigms are pretty meaningless since they keep changing. I wouldn’t quite consider currently existing paradigms meaningless. We only exist in this brief era so whatever this era’s paradigms are helps us come to terms with this era’s version of reality, otherwise known as our current understanding of life, the Universe and everything. The same applied to those living in the pre-relativity / pre-quantum paradigm. The same applied pre-Newton. Ditto those existing in any pre-Copernican era. The same will apply for those trying to come to terms with reality decades, centuries, millennium from now.
Science isn’t about absolute truth (or ultimate answers), again, because what’s true today may be falsified tomorrow; paradigms change and evolve. Science appears to be rather about providing the best explanation possible in the here and now; a better explanation than that was provided yesterday; ideally providing an even better explanation tomorrow.
So science is an ever unfolding, ongoing, evolving an unveiling of reality, which is how I like to see science. Science can’t be a quest for the truth since what is considered true today can always be falsified at a later date. So IMHO science is just the quest to come to terms with the nature of reality as best it can, given the circumstances it finds itself in at any given time. For example, before the inventions of the telescope and the microscope, our version and vision of reality was more restricted than after-the-fact.
So, what is true? What is truth? Is there any absolute universal truth?
Actually there is one and only one thing that you (no matter how much science you read or do) can consider to be true, and that is that you (i.e. – your mind) exists. That aside, there’s no absolute truth anymore in [Einstein’s] Relativity. That is, one person may see events A & B simultaneously; another person sees A before B; a third person sees B before A. So, what’s the truth of the matter?
If you travel into a Black Hole, as you cross the event horizon time seems to flow at one second per second; to an external observer you’re crossing the event horizon as would the flow of molasses in an Antarctic winter! What’s the truth of the matter?
Before you look, is Schrodinger’s Cat dead or alive? What is the truth about the state of the Cat?
Is it true that Antarctica is cold? If you are a human in your birthday suit, then yes. If you are a penguin then not so much. But compared to the concept of Absolute Zero, Antarctica is really quite tropical!
Is it true that Pi has a value? If so, what is it?
Once might suggest that the speed of light (in an absolute vacuum) is an absolute truth, except that we don’t know for absolute certain that the speed of light has been constant over cosmic time intervals.
Is it true that the Universe extends infinitely in all directions? If so, if that is true, how could you or anyone else for that matter ever prove it? Actually I quite accept the idea and that there could be lots of expanding and contracting universes (i.e. – a Multiverse) within this postulated infinite Cosmos, but how could an infinite Cosmos be proven to be an absolute truth?
Isn’t gravity or the force of gravity a universal and absolute truth? But can that be entirely true since while a theoretical graviton particle might convey the force of gravity, it itself doesn’t have any mass and has no gravity in and of itself. Further, I’ve read speculations regarding the Multiverse concept (many individual universes within this infinite Cosmos) that the laws, principles and relationships of physics could be quite different in each universe even to the point where it’s not inevitable that there is a graviton or any gravity in some universes within the Multiverse. Even in a universe without gravity particles could still form into atoms and atoms into molecules and molecules up to whatever structures that are consistent with being held in place by electromagnetism (assuming that exists in this hypothetical universe). In fact positive – negative attraction is a form of pseudo-gravity. So what might be an absolute universal truth(s) across a Multiverse?
Back to gravity. Is it absolutely true that if you drop an apple it will fall towards the ground? Well no, since it is theoretically possible that all of the relevant forces could against all probability but not against all possibility push the apple upwards. In a similar fashion, it’s not true that you can’t walk through a solid brick wall. If you’re willing to wait trillions of years, quantum probabilities are such that you could quantum tunnel through a brick wall and live (you and wall both totally intact) to tell the tale.
Once upon a time it used to be scientifically true that: dinosaurs were sluggish, their tails dragged behind them, they were cold-blooded, and couldn’t out-think a fly; all swans were white; Jupiter just had four moons and no rings; the Sun went around the Earth; there was a vital life force; there were just four elements (air, earth, fire and water); stones couldn’t fall from the sky; comets were harbingers of gloom and doom; there were hundreds of (pseudo) snake-oil medical treatments for ailments that really treated nothing of the sort; Venus had a natural satellite (Neith); unicorns, dragons and related really existed.
In that spirit I predict that one day the ‘truth’ that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating will be falsified.
Earlier I asked what might be an absolute universal truth(s) across a Multiverse?
I have my own trilogy of absolute truths. 1) Something cannot be created from nothing. 2) Causality rules absolutely*. 3) Something cannot both be and not at the same time and in the same place. In fact something cannot both be and not at the same time – full stop. But not everyone agrees with my absolute truths so maybe the best that can be said is that each person has his or her own version of ‘the truth’.
There are of course logical truths that are true based of exact definitions. For example, it’s absolutely true based on accepted definitions that you can’t have a spherical cube. There are also mathematical truths as in two parallel lines will never intersect no matter how far they are extended in Euclidian space. Of course no one has ever performed the actual test of that to verify that absolute truth, but that’s just quibbling.
But “truth” is a rather slippery word or concept and philosophers have had a field day over discussing it. I rather doubt philosophers, or even professional scientists for that matter, really expect there to be such a thing as one and only one version of universal truth. Perhaps it’s best to avoid the word, apart from that lone absolute truth that you (i.e. – your mind) exists.
My preferred phrase is “what is the nature of reality?” since one reality (i.e. – Mother Nature’s reality) can incorporate several versions of ‘the truth’ (i.e. – Einstein’s Relativity).
*And therein lies my other absolute truth – motion. I’ve already argued that time is nothing but change and change is nothing but motion, but causality also requires motion. Motion therefore is to my way of thinking the most fundamentally absolute property that the Cosmos has.
Science librarian; retired.