What is Proof or Truth?
We use the term, “Proof” or “Truth” in many guises every day without even realising it. We often say or overhear being said, “I can prove that such and such…” or “There’s no proof that God exists” or “I can prove that…”. Most people think establishing a proof is simple. But what is proof really?
To be taken seriously a scientific proposition has to be set forth in the form of a proof. This proof must be demonstrable, repeatable, clear and based upon measurable and objective facts.
Strange as it may seem, a proof must also be open to question and potentially be capable of being disproved by subsequent discoveries (Sir Karl Popper, 28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994, Philosopher of Science). This seems to imply that a proof is not written in stone, as it were, and that a proof is only valid for the moment.
Admittedly, some ‘truths’ such as 1+1=2, if disproved would completely shatter the scientific fabric on which all western science is based. Not so I suspect in the universe of Doctor Strange, a fictional character in Marvel Comics (writer Stan Lee, artist Steve Ditko, July 1963) whose alternate universe existed outside our ‘normal’ space, time continuum. A place where the mind could control and determine the very fabric of the universe.
So where do we begin to determine the truth or not of a proof? Well we cannot begin by saying things like, “the universe is a big place” because that statement, from a proof point of view, is full of ambiguities. We have presumed the universe exists, it might not, this may all be a dream, and what is this concept “big”?
- For a proof to be valid it cannot be circular, that’s to say, the argument cannot assume its own truth as part of its proof.
We have to begin by presuming the thing which needs to be proved does not exist. When a proof has been validated, this proof can then be used as a foundation on which to base other proofs, i.e. if we can prove 1+1=2 we can use this to validate other mathematical propositions.
We use this method in other areas of our daily lives without really thinking about it. In western law for example, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The accuser has to show the accusation is founded in fact in a manner which can survive hostile cross-examination. But if further evidence comes to light at a later date the original “truth” can be disproved and a new “truth” proposed.
We may all be stuck to this Earth by gravity, but if someone can prove that gravity does not exist that may not always be the case!