“If I take a lamp and shine it toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth… for understanding. Too often, we assume that the light on the wall is [Truth], but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the sense of revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search – who does not bring a lantern – sees nothing. What we perceive as [Truth] is the by-product of our search for [Truth]. It may simply be an appreciation of the light… pure and unblemished… not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes we stand in front of the light and assume that we are the center of the universe – [Truth] looks astonishingly like [our own values and beliefs] do – or we turn to look at our shadow and assume that all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose, which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and in all its flaws; and in so doing, better understand the world around us.” [i]


The wall is never entirely illuminated. Far more exists of Truth than any one individual can ever see. We can all confuse the truth that our lanterns illuminate with The Whole and Absolute Truth. We each have our own little lantern, and the little patch of wall that our lantern illuminates. The more intense one’s desire to find the goal of the search, the more likely one will see what one wants to see, whether or not it is there.

When someone else looks with his lantern, his light can overlap with yours, and you think that he is Right, or his light may not overlap, and you may think that he is Wrong. Two people may look upon the wall with their own lanterns and each see their own circle, never intersecting, they may see truths that do not correlate, or may even contradict, and yet both are valid, as they both reveal part of Truth. A person can find this threatening; as if the existence of the other circle of light that contradicts his own somehow calls into question the validity of his view. He may seek to extinguish the other person’s lantern in order to defend his own. Yet he is missing a rich opportunity here. If he tries to step away from his own lantern in order to see what the other person sees with theirs, he may find that instead of contradiction, his circle of light is expanded by the experience. His lantern light now includes something new. His circle of illumination expands to include something that he did not see before.

On the other hand, relativism has its limits. Sometimes a person’s perspective or idea is wrong; not invalid, but incorrect. There may be reasons why he sees things the way he does, but that does not change the fact that the idea is mistaken. Other ideas are so commonly shared that we treat them as facts. There are some who believe that there is no way of knowing what is objectively out there, independent of your subjective perception. It is impossible for me to distinguish my view of truth from the Truth that I am attempting to see. The scientific method suggests that facts are based on evidence, but not just any evidence. In order to know if something is valid scientifically, you have to attempt to disprove it. The scientific method requires that you frame your idea as a disprovable hypothesis, and to attempt to devise an experiment that controls as many variables as possible so that the result will clearly tell you if the results disprove the hypothesis or not. With enough replication and third party confirmation, certain hypotheses evolve into theories, which is sciences’ way of saying ‘all the evidence supports this to be true, so I will treat is as fact, with the knowledge that some day a new theory may alter that assumption.’

At some point, practicality demands we treat certain things as facts, even if it is true that there may be elements we are not aware of and these facts may someday be proven inaccurate or incomplete. The idea is not to get lost in a sea of relativism. Objective reality is, to some extent, what you and I agree we are both looking at, even if we are never really sure that we mean the same thing. In the end, this is a philosophical debate that cannot be resolved in the confines of this post. The point is that when people’s perspectives differ it is natural to believe your own beliefs and to discount others; and yet, an opposing perspective may offer you valid information that you would not have seen yourself.


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“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”      – William James

[i] Paraphrased from Babylon 5 (TV series 1994-98), written by J. Michael Straczynski. While the show spoke of the wall as God, I suggest that the wall, in its theoretical entirety, is Truth.


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