One of the preeminent concepts that shapes our thinking about virtually everything in the modern world is evolution. It is often argued that almost all classical ideologies and belief systems partake to some degree in Platonism – in the belief that certain things retain the same essential form throughout eternity. Evolution constituted a paradigmatic sea-change because it argued for mutability instead of permanence, for the temporal instead of the eternal, and – in almost all interpretations – the contingent rather than the preordained. (The significant implication of the latter point being that there were a variety of other forms that the basic building blocks of nature could have taken – and no inherent necessity in our emergence from the primordial stew.) An unavoidable implication of the William James quotation cited in previous posts is that truth may itself be a quantity subject more to evolutionary mutation than to unchanging Platonic perfection. (To clarify, I mean truth here not in terms of a record of events – such as the Holocaust – but rather in terms of the underlying bedrock of how we understand ourselves and our position in the universe.) It rarely occurs to evangelical Darwinists to extend the evolutionary paradigm into the realm of truth itself. Science must always juggle its awareness of the temporal nature of theories – the principal of falsification – with its strongly Platonic impulse to discover eternal and immutable laws and theories.
In order for truth to be a fully evolutionary entity – it would require that truth be more a creative than a receptive activity. Being an activity grounded in the reception of exterior things would allow for the progressivist outlook that fuels most mainstream science – for the belief that our perception of those external realities becomes ever more acute and clear, until we can arrive at a system of postulates which will remain irrevocably true for all time. (The holy grail of this particular outlook being the Theory of Everything eagerly sought in certain factions of the physics community.) On the other hand, truth being an activity more thoroughly grounded in interior mental processes allows for a whole slew of complications to intrude on the principal of objectivity – for the most self-evident, commonsensical truths to be hopelessly enmeshed within a wider net of physiological, linguistic, socio-ideological , emotional, and evolutionary factors. If this is correct, then truth may be envisioned as a entirely temporal, constantly mutable entity – a creature that grows a coat of fur when the weather is icy, sheds it when the sun shines, and developes a poisonous sting when threatened by larger predators. The movement towards truth may not be, as the progressivist envisions it, a journey along a linear path towards a definitive destination, but rather an endless amble through a labyrinth in curved space. A labyrinth in curved space would be traversed forever, so long as its inhabitants maintained the assumption that it conformed to the standard, and possessed a way out, however ingeniously hidden; but what appeared to be the way out would always be the way back in again.
(The popularity of the labyrinth as a metaphor in contemporary culture, evident in Borges, Escher, Last Year in Marienbad, and elsewhere, is often related, no doubt correctly, to the theories of Einstein. But many of these ideas were already evident in the works of Kafka, who was writing more or less contemporaneously to the great discoveries of Einstein. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether the creative artist or the scientist has priority, or whether both are merely carving shapes from the same clay.)