We cannot access the Truth
An Italian city council banned the keeping of goldfish in round bowls, reports Stephen Hawkins in The Grand Design. They reasoned it would give the fish a distorted view of reality.
Hawkins then goes on to challenge the idea that any of us can have an undistorted view of reality. The goldfish could still formulate scientific laws based on its curved view of the world. These laws would be correct in its context but false in ours. The way we access the world is determined and limited by
the position from which we view it.
Colour is a Fiction
Another example. Our sense of colour is created from the frequencies of light waves. Yet light waves are colourless. Colour is something our brain creates from the light frequencies. Our perception of colour is something that happens only inside our heads. We believe we are seeing the world as it exists but all it is a psychological state. Colour is not ‘real’ and yet it is.
We may believe we have the entire truth but in fact we just have a perspective (to borrow from Nietzsche). Our perspective is ‘true’ because it is ours – it reflects the reality of our own goldfish bowl – but it is not the Truth. That’s not to deny there is an objective reality – it’s just that our access to it is invariably distorted from the angle in which we view it.
The view from some else’s fishbowl
Africa has been persuaded to take on a view of the world, and of itself, which does not belong to it. We have all been convinced that there is only one game in town, only one way to see the world, and that is the one based on the idea of economic development. Europe is developed; Africa is not, so we are told.
This view plays on the strengths of the countries that developed the concept. It reflects their economic view of the world. Out of this have arisen structures developed from the traditions of those countries. When these foreign structures don’t work the way we are told they are supposed to in Africa, we seem surprised.
Africa’s history, traditions and worldview are radically different but she has been persuaded that development represents the Truth of improving yourself. Improving yourself, in the eyes of the economists, means never being content. It means always attempting to expand in a world with limited resources and land mass.
Development is only one way to see the world
Economic Development is simply one perspective which may have worked for certain countries but is not the whole truth for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, its success relies on expansion, which means convincing others it is the entire Truth. Africa’s role was never to be a player but to be the fodder on which development’s exponents can continue to develop (at Africa’s expense). Development is little more than a development of colonialism.
Without falling into relativism, we need to question those that claim direct access to Truth. Their internal logic can often appear convincing and make us feel inexpert. But we should never forget our own view of the horizon and the truth it offers for us. Equally we should be careful not to hold on to outdated views of the world that no longer correspond to the realities of the world.