What is the brutal truth about programming

What is truth

Mathematician's Thoughts

Arnold Neumaier
University of Vienna

Factual and personal truth

We don't want to live in vain. When we have grown old and look back on our lives, we don't want to have to say: It was all in vain, indifferent or accidental. We want to be able to say: I did well. I was successful. I've done what was worth doing. To get there we need Truth - what it takes to be effective.

When the term truth comes up, many think of it factual truth: that which is independent of the circumstances, regular, repeatable and objectifiable; what science studies. The apostle Paul once said: `` Test everything and keep what is good '' (1 Thessalonians 5:21). That is exactly what we scientists do. We have learned to test purposefully through well-designed experiments, and we have developed quantitative methods of distinguishing the better from the worse. As we eliminate the bad, the good gradually accumulates. And that is the reason why, after 2500 years of scientific tradition, we have an ever richer treasure trove of experience. Hence, science is largely so objective that we can rely on it. So we see: the quality of the natural science that we have achieved today lies not so much the factual truthbut about how what we consider factual truth has been sighted and improved over time. The quality of the known truth depends on how it is dealt with.

That shows a very different aspect of the truth that I call personal truth want to denote; it is the cause of quality: it decides how we deal with factual truth in a concrete situation. It is the truth brought to work in personal action. In natural science, especially in teaching, factual truth is in the foreground; In research, however, if quality is to be achieved, personal truth is at least as important. The fact that the concept of truth is often only used in the sense of factual truth is a dangerous narrowing.

Factual truth can provide a basis for decision-making for our actions in all areas in which the essentials behave sufficiently regularly. But personal truth determines how we decide. This is true not only in research, but even more so for our situation as a human being: the statements that natural science has to offer are only valid to a certain extent. Each of us is unique everyone is different from the other. If someone tries us We feel misunderstood to be pressed into a scientific scheme. The suggestions that are then made to us are only patent remedies that we cannot apply properly because our personal situation deviates from the norm. Personal truth, on the other hand, provides us with an inner attitude and orientation for our actions. It gives us strength and enables us to do unfamiliar things, including those that are risky or that do not suit others. Personal truth provides everything we need to translate factual truth into effective action - into action that has a future.

When we act, we almost inevitably make mistakes. If these are severe, they threaten what was previously built up constructively with great effort. Doing something well takes one continuous Effort; but one only one Mistake can ruin everything again. Since we only experience many situations that really make a difference to our lives once, it is crucial not to make any mistakes.

The problem with personal truth is that it is a matter of dealing with what is always new and unpredictable. Personal truth actually eludes scientific analysis because natural science applies to the repetitive, the regular. The result is that personal truth is much more difficult to objectify, that we have to describe what is meant with pictures and relatively vague words. We have to keep refining the content of these words for ourselves in concrete situations.

Characteristics of personal truth

Truth is a term intended to give us orientation as to what is worth acquiring and keeping. On several points I want to address some important features that appear to me to be characteristic of personal truth. Perhaps some of the things that I classify under it are a little surprising to you. But if you think about it, you will see that this is part of successful science - but also part of successful life.

As a first point, I would like that To rule call. This is an elementary human instinct: in the hope of achieving what we want happens, we use the whole spectrum of possibilities to exercise domination - from passive hope to seductive seduction and gentle coercion to brutal demonstrations of power. And the desire to secure and expand power has always played a major role as a driving force in the natural sciences, in addition to the pure enjoyment of knowledge, but effective To exercise dominion requires that we ourselves with love empathize with our domain. After all, there are others who also want to rule and with whom we have to get along. Regimes of violence are short-lived because they destroy their own foundations. It is the same on the factual level: When we do natural science, we have to empathize with matter until we are familiar with it. We don't get very far with hau-jerk recipes.

It is like someone who wants to make friends with a person: he has to become so familiar with him that he can meet him in such a way that the other approaches you voluntarily in the way you want yourself to be. On a factual level it is really the same: if we want a crystal to grow the way we want it to, then we have to be comfortable with treating the crystal in such a way that it grows that way can, and that requires empathizing with love in order to get to know one's way of growing. Love is a very complex matter, however one of its most important characteristics is that love perceives the individual case. Love doesn't work like a watering can that we can hold over anything. Love is also not a catalog system in which we can classify all individual cases, but rather it perceives what is special about the individual and takes it into account in our actions.

As another point, I would like that Serve call - serve to work. The secret of successful rule is that we can serve, that we can fit into the whole. Being effective does not only mean that we achieve something, but that what we achieve also after some time still represents what we had planned. In the longer term, doomed is all the things we do without regard to the environment in which we live and work. The only thing that is consistent is what we do to serve the environment in which we live by recognizing and considering its needs.

If you are programming yourself for a career as a young person, you are ill-prepared for the point in time when you will get stuck; B. when all higher positions are filled. Every career comes to an end at some point. But if your goal is to serve, you can do it in any position. And once you learn, you will be happier because what you achieve is in alignment with what you want. And maybe you still have a career on the side without worrying about it.

Belong to personal truth Goals that have a future and don't change every few days. We are not effective when we let the influences around us drift like autumn leaves in the wind. We need longer-term perspectives so that later on we are not dissatisfied with what we have done. In order for us to be effective in the long term, it is also necessary that we Develop perseverance and perseverance. What distinguishes people who act effectively is that they have staying power, that they can plan, that they do not give up immediately when difficulties arise, that they can cope with a fair amount of stress; that they do not let themselves be deterred from pursuing a goal anyway and overcoming the obstacles on the way there. We must weigh up can, judge, evaluate and compare, find a balance between competing interests, including those that want to gain power within us.

It also belongs Enthusiasm in addition, because without enthusiasm our inner powers, with which we are at work, weaken; then creativity dries up and life becomes routine. And a routine life lacks the essential core of personal truth, namely love - then we do everything according to scheme F and dull ourselves and others.

We also need a feel for Beauty and harmony. These are very effective guidelines that help us to discover and develop the constant. Perhaps this is particularly true in natural science, where the basic principles in physics, in mathematics, are all characterized by inner beauty, by a cohesion and a fit. It is extremely surprising, given the diversity in our world, that a few laws that can be listed on one printed page together describe the whole world. And when we gain insight into connections, when it suddenly dawns on us how everything fits together - that is progress and a very great experience. The insight we have gained in the process soon becomes a matter of course for us, so that we no longer think about it any further. But while we are experiencing such an insight - it is a rare high point in life.

Then we need Eyes for what is possible and Eyes for what is needed. These are two different things. Learning to see what is necessary often makes us sad and depressed - when we feel our own powerlessness because there is so little we can do. But it is important to see that so that we can choose from among all that would have to be done what we can actually do. And we also need eyes for what is possible. Often what is unconventional is possible, and often things are possible that seem impossible to others. If we don't think about it, we won't be able to change anything.

Besides the eyes, we also need Ears. We need ears for others, so that we can hear what they tell us, that they can correct us, help us, and also set limits for us. We need ears to listen to advice. The more we hear, the broader our horizon we can make better, more effective decisions. Depending on the state of affairs, we will accept advice, amend it or make something better of it. But we not only need ears that we are served ourselves, but also so that we can hear what others need and notice how we are someone really to be able to help. It is uncomfortable to attract attention by imposing our help on others without having learned how to really help them.

After all, it belongs to personal truth Endurance. When we see what is needed, we are first of all depressed. We have to endure suffering from what we see and not close our eyes just to experience the urgency of doing something in the first place; so that we can then find constructive ways out of the force that creates the urgency.

All of the above characteristics of personal truth must be combined with that right time for execution: we have to can wait and we have to can dare. Doing good things at the wrong time often makes it seem like we've done something bad.

Limits of factual truth

The Greek philosopher Plato wrote in dialogue over 2000 years ago Timaeus `` As being is to becoming, so is truth to belief. '' It is interesting to compare being with truth and becoming with belief, with what we have experienced from incomplete knowledge but with reliability. Then he points out that the truth, insofar as we humans can recognize it, consists only in the fact that we do it at least as well as the others (an aspect of personal truth!) And only be satisfied with it in the absence of anything better, what we have achieved.

In the Bible, which is also almost 2,000 years old, the apostle Paul puts it this way: `` Our knowledge is patchwork, and our predictive power is patchwork too '' (1 Cor. 13: 9). We piece our knowledge together; sometimes pieces fit like a puzzle and a larger patch is created, but the whole thing always remains sketchy and incomplete. And that is also the experience of us researchers: The more we research, the more we see how incomplete everything is and that knowledge is only reasonably complete in the very elementary areas.

The foundations of factual truth have also been shaken today. Is the real Truth not that Safe, that what irrevocable certain is what to look for absolutely can leave? Under the strict standards of modern science, this security slips under our fingers, even in the most exact natural sciences, mathematics and physics.

It is common to think that mathematics teaches absolute truths that are safe to rely on. But mathematical problems are decided on a contestable basis: when a mathematician proves statements, he says: On the basis of such and the definitions or axioms and on account of these or those propositions that have already been proven, I can deduce this and that. In this way he assures himself that the proposition he wants to prove is correct. At the beginning there are unproven principles, so-called axioms, which are not questioned further; then why - if at all - are they valid? And we see that the absolute truths which we mathematicians proclaim have their ultimate causes in quite subjective matters. In the course of time we have had very good experiences with it, we have seen how powerful our assumptions are that with good mathematics one can get a grip on many technical, physical, chemical problems, and recently also biological and medical problems. Our assumptions have proven themselves many times over over a long period of time.

So we take the axioms and the mathematics built on it simply because they have been shown to be trustworthy. The predicate true So turns out to be just an abbreviation for ``we have had so many good experiences with it that we no longer believe that it could be wrong. '' And so, ultimately, the basis for the truth is simply trust. We have confidence in science because it has proven itself reliably.

But at the same time as success is growing today, there is also a growing feeling of unease about science. Because everything depends on trust, on belief in their reliability; but since the effects produced by natural science are not always as they should be, people feel that something is missing. And that undermines trust, creates discomfort and sometimes even active opposition.

In physics, instead of absolute truths, one has experimental evidence. In principle, this can be repeated by anyone at any time for control purposes; always with approximately the same result within the scope of the measurement accuracy. So instead of proof, a physicist seeks experimental confirmation that the theories are true. He makes a few tries, maybe even a few hundred or a few thousand; in any case, there are always only a finite number of them.

However, no matter how many individual cases, we cannot infer all cases with certainty. From the fact that the sun has risen every day for as long as there have been written records, we cannot even infer with certainty that it will rise tomorrow. And in order to be able to stick to a simple statement, we even prefer to adhere to the dogmatic truth standard believethat the sun rises every day, although we do not always see it. We to construct so truth and think of an explanation that tells us why the sun is not visible today. Such constructions, while convenient, are subjective; there is no way to logically convince a doubting person.

Even theories that have been tried and tested a million times over had to give way to better ones; so the classical mechanics and electrodynamics of quantum theory and relativity theory. The reason was that until shortly before they were discovered, only a fraction of the possible individual cases had been examined and therefore extreme cases that deviated greatly from the theory were overlooked.

Another pillar of security, the deterministic worldview, can no longer be upheld. Chance plays a dominant role in modern natural science: in quantum mechanics, also in thermodynamics and solid state physics, everything is probability, statistical mechanics, and chance also rules in biology and ecology.

Jesus Christ - the source of truth

You may never have picked up a Bible, but it is worth reading. If you do, you can use the accounts of Jesus - they are right at the beginning of the New Testament - to personally verify that his attitude corresponds exactly to what is necessary to be able to lead a fruitful life; the characteristics of personal truth mentioned are characteristic traits of his: ruling through loving empathy; Love that responds to the individual; Serve to work. Goals that have a future; lasting prospects. Being able to weigh up, be persistent and enthusiastic; Seeking to discover beauty and harmony. See what is needed; do what is possible; others can hear. To be able to suffer, to be able to wait and dare.

When I discovered the Bible for myself at the age of 25, I was fascinated by the way Jesus acted. I was drawn to his ways: Jesus had similar goals; it was also about truth and effectiveness. But it was easy for him, what was difficult for me and where I failed. That's why I wanted to learn from him, to copy him, how he does it.

But Jesus says even more about himself, he says: `` I am the way and the truth and the life '' (John 14: 6). Jesus denotes yourself than the personal truth. When we get involved in a relationship with Jesus, we experience that our being in the encounter with him and with his word changes in such a way that we become more capable of living more truthfully. That we become more capable of leaving bad things behind and doing good things, so that we can change even where we would not have thought so. That the truth we live fills us with life and paves the way to God.

Almost 2,000 years ago Jesus said: `` You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. '' Indeed, the true knowledge that science has accumulated over time can set us free from many things: from hunger, from many diseases, from heavy work, from routine work. But what was the hopeful motto of natural science centuries ago and which seemed within reach a hundred years ago has become more questionable again today - at a time when many feel threatened in one way or another by our modern, technically dominated world.

So we have to make a question mark as to whether we really the truth that sets free have recognized because a lot is missing. The knowledge that we have accumulated brings not only good things, but much destructive things that oppress us. That is a deficiency in science as we experience it today. We recklessly create things that we barely have under control; we thoughtlessly produce things that we can hardly get rid of; we short-sightedly make many things possible without considering the consequences. Environmental pollution, nuclear power, overpopulation, genetic engineering - science is proving to be a double-edged sword everywhere.

Why is that? A clarification emerges from the context of the quote: `` There now Jesus said: If you will abide by my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. So they answered him, We are Abraham's children and have never been slaves to anyone. Then how do you say: You shall be free? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin '' (John 8: 31-34).

Sin - that is acting without God, the result of our lack of personal truth. Sin expresses itself on a small scale in tendencies towards untruth, lovelessness, discord, arrogance, greed, envy, self-pity and the like. If left unchecked, these tendencies grow until they take on destructive forms - contempt for human beings, hatred, violence, robbery, alcoholism, drug addiction, fraud, infidelity, divorce, suicide, murder.

At first glance it looks like we are free. But when we look at our concrete life, then we are more than we would like - sometimes almost slavishly - bound into constraints: old untruths have to be covered by new ones. Our lack of love provokes lovelessness and a vicious circle. Constraints dominate us. The greed for success and recognition makes us hunted people. The tendency towards convenience and status makes us dependent on technology.

So Jesus is right when he questions our freedom. In the course of history we have tacitly dropped the crucial point: what is missing is what Jesus calls the prerequisite for freedom: ``If you will stick to my word then you will recognize the truth and the truth will set you free. '' Only the encounter with God's word, the acting in responsibility before him, makes the truth perfect - factual and personal truth integrated in our life.


Factual and personal truth share in God's qualities. They are real, perfect, permanent, harmonious; they are powerful and effective; they are to be feared and loved. We have learned to fear science in this century, and we are beginning to learn from it. The love of science sustains many of the most successful natural scientists; also many who are successful but radiate less to the outside world because they are working on problems that do not attract attention. Likewise it says of God: `` The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom '' (Prov. 9:10) and `` Love the Lord God with all your heart '' (Matt. 22:37). Factual truth lives through natural science, personal truth lives through Jesus Christ.

Get serious about your efforts for factual truth in natural science, do not pursue it for the sake of secondary things, but to grasp the truth in it. I love being a scientist and I really enjoyed it. And get serious about grasping personal truth in fellowship with Jesus Christ. I discovered that much later, but it has also brought me a lot of luck in my life, and from this community I draw strength and courage to truly live.

Jesus says: `` The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid; and in his joy he went and sold everything he had and bought the field '' (Matt. 13:44). I would also like to wish you the same: Discover behind the everyday life of the natural sciences the treasure of divine truth that is worth all the effort.

Thoughts on living as a Christian
My Views on the Christian Way of Life
Science and Faith
On Christianity
my home page (http://www.mat.univie.ac.at/~neum) Arnold Neumaier ([email protected])