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The Changing Truth

I am sure that things change, yet I try to say what they are in tokens that do not change. So if it is sunny sometimes and sometimes clear I say “It is sunny sometimes and sometimes clear” and that sentence does not change. So it is true.

But of course it might be false, if the meaning of the words changes. If it takes me a very long time to say, let’s say a thousand years, and during that period of time the word “sometimes” changes it’s meaning from “sometimes” to “always” although I may start to say the sentence with the best of intentions, by the time I actually finish saying it, it will be false. In fact it will be self-contradictory.

A problem!

And while this may seem a far-fetched example, supposing I started to say “A man can own another man” in 1600 and it took quite a long time to say it. That sentence might have been true when I started to say it and false when I finished saying it.

Now, we might want to say — it was always false. It wasn’t that it became false. It was always false and we just didn’t realize it.

I can see why we would want to say that, in part because we don’t want anybody to make it true AGAIN, and people are always trying to do that, trying to own us, and we want to push back. And that makes sense.

But on the other hand, it can also make us a little lazy, a little complacent, if we think it is already decided what’s true or false. We lose the fact that it’s up for grabs and thus that we have to fight to make things true that we want to be true. We can’t just wait for the truth to manifest. We have to make it manifest.

And in a sense the “it was never true that you can own a person” position — there are timeless truths and we just need to wait so to speak for the dust to get brushed away and they can stand, resplendent, for all right-thinking people to acknowledge — in a sense that position does not give enough credit to those who fought for those truths to be true, when nobody else accepted it.

It ignores the work of poets and people like poets (everybody?) to make the language say what we want it to say.

Sometimes I think the problem is that we are trying to be true to a changing reality with unchanging tokens. Either made-up (imaginary, white-mythological) tokens — propositions — or tokens that we sort of hope won’t change — sentences.

Because what if instead of trying to say what was true about the weather with a sentence — “It is sometimes rainy” I used an app on my phone that said “rainy” when it was rainy and “clear” when it was clear and if the meaning of English words changed, changed accordingly. This app would be “truer” — more trustworthy, more responsive to reality, whatever “true” means (not sure! a discussion for another day!) — than the sentence “It is sometimes rainy sometimes clear”.

The changing app is better than a sentence for being true to a changing world. It might be a problem in other ways — it might cost a lot, or fail when the grid fails, or bug me too much — but it would be better than the sentence along the axis of “truth”.

Similarly if you want a good likeness of yourself as you look right now, seek out a mirror, rather than a photograph.

I sometimes think I should come up with a theory where the bearers of truth value are not sentences or propositions but something that changes. I’m not sure how, or what such a theory would look like, or even if it ought to be a theory.

But although it’s not a theory, the idea that the the bearers of truth value are changing themselves, does strike me as true.

Maybe the bearer of truth-value — i.e. the thing that can be true or false — is my body, or my life, or my own beating, mutable heart?

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