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What is Absolute and What is Relativism


Jack is a volunteer at the CCNY Archives. Before retiring, he worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 100,000 views.



One major point of contention between the left and the right is the idea of absolute vs. relativism. Conservatives believe there are certain well established absolutes that were gained from history and experience. While progressives like to think all things are relative and that things can change due to new circumstances.

Of course both sides have merits but the debate is on what real items belong to which camp. Is morality absolute? or relative?

- Dec. 2020


As an engineer and a scientists, I do believe in absolutes. For example, the temperature scale is an absolute. We have come up with the Kelvin temperature scale. Absolute zero temperature is defined as 0 degrees Kelvin. This is the point when all atoms slows down to a minimum it could be. The lowest temperature that is theoretically possible, at which the motion of particles that constitutes heat would be minimal. It is zero on the Kelvin scale, equivalent to –273.15°C or –459.67°F.

Another absolute is the field of mathematics. When we discovered the number pi as the ratio between the circumference or a circle and its diameter. 3.141592...it was profound. The same goes with the Golden Ratio = 1.62803399...

It is thought by astronomers that someday in the future, when we meet another species of intelligent beings, we would communicate with them using math. It is universal and the concept of math, once understood is the same on earth as it would be anywhere else in this universe.

Physics is the study of our world and the laws that governs all things. Newton's law of gravitation is universal.

Einstein came along and expound on it with the theory of relativity. Not that Newton was wrong but under a different circumstance, like on the molecular level, a new set of equations apply.

Here is another absolute. Time travel is not possible. Despite all the science fiction stories and movies it is one of those absolutes. At least in our world. I will open the possibility that in an infinity dimension universe, time travel may exist but only in parallel universes. The problem is simple. In our universe, time is traveling in only one direction and that is forward. If not, all things break down. One glaring example is the paradox of you going back in time and accidentally killed your parent. What happens then? You see what I mean?

Singularity is an impossibility. Here is where my bias for humanity comes through. Singularity relates to the proposition that at some point in our future, robots with intelligence that we help create will surpass our capabilities where it makes humans obsolete. the science fiction movie "Terminator" series explore this possibility.

Here is the problem. We have no clue as to how the human brain works. We have made progress in computer technology and in various specialities such as IBM's Deep Blue defeating the World's chess champion Kasparov. Even IBM scientists who accomplished this, will readily admits that their program is not "intelligent". It is merely following a set of instructions and backed up by a vast memory of past moves that would lead to a winning outcome.

These are examples of specialized computer programs or robotics designed to do a particular task very well and indeed can even beat the human counterpart. What is lacking is consciousness. These programs and robots do not have a mind of their own and do not have self awareness.

Humans have general intelligence and so far, all robots and AI, have only achieved specialized intelligence. Until we have a better understanding of how our own brain works, replicating it would be impossible. It would be like we think we are Gods.

Remember the tower of Babel story from Genesis. That was when man think they can build a tower so high, they can reach heaven and be like gods. God disbursed them by creating languages of different sort to confuse and confound them.


What is a Theory?

In everyday use, the word "theory" often means an untested hunch, or a guess without supporting evidence.

But for scientists, a theory has nearly the opposite meaning. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts. The theory of gravitation, for instance, explains why apples fall from trees and astronauts float in space.

What is Relativism?

Relativism is a family of philosophical views which deny claims to objectivity within a particular domain and assert that facts in that domain are relative to the perspective of an observer or the context in which they are assessed.

One argument against relativism posits a Natural Law. Simply put, the physical universe works under basic principles: the "Laws of Nature". Some contend that a natural Moral Law may also exist, for example as argued by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion (2006)[19] and addressed by C. S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity" (1952).[20] Dawkins said "I think we face an equal but much more sinister challenge from the left, in the shape of cultural relativism - the view that scientific truth is only one kind of truth and it is not to be especially privileged".[21] Philosopher Hilary Putnam,[22] among others,[23] states that some forms of relativism make it impossible to believe one is in error. If there is no truth beyond an individual's belief that something is true, then an individual cannot hold their own beliefs to be false or mistaken. A related criticism is that relativizing truth to individuals destroys the distinction between truth and belief.



Intelligence is something we humans are endowed with by our Creator. We have the capability to discern. We can study and gather facts and then do research and test various hypothesis and finally reach our own conclusions. As a species, we have also developed tools and processes that makes the propagation of knowledge possible. From one generation to the next, there is a continuity. We learned from our past mistakes and try not to repeat them. Truths that are established is passed on as knowledge. That is progress.

Some people think that there are no boundaries. Base on our past progress, we can achieve anything and everything. That is a falsehood.

In mathematics there are various sets of problems. In one specific set, called NP hard, these problems cannot be solved. No matter how fast the computer or how powerful, no amount of computation power can suffice. That is boundaries right there in front of our eyes.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jack Lee