Counting on Truth: A Parable on the Multiple Forms of Truth

Posted on 1 January 1993


Ages ago, before humans knew counting, there was a man who preached that the world was number and that it could be counted, and that there is one true science of counting. He showed people how to add, subtract, and even multiply. After he went on, wandering off into the mountains, a cult grew up around this doctrine and people spent their Sundays counting rocks, communing with the divine order of things.

One day some cult members got word of another strange cult across the mountains that also had similar doctrines of counting. Some members made the journey and heard the doctrine of this other cult. To their amazement, these people were counting wrong! This whole cult was engaging in totally different rituals and had very different rules about adding and subtracting and multiplying their numbers. It was blasphemy!

They began to argue with these people, showing them their “true” science of counting. But these other people insisted that their counting was the true doctrine. Anger grew, until finally fighting broke out between them. They threw rocks at each other. It was a holy war. They were even counting the rocks as they threw them. The one group was throwing them, shouting 1,2,3,4,5,… as the rocks flew. The other group was throwing their rocks shouting 1,10,11,100,101,…

Appalled by such insanity, many people declared such counting cults as irrational. This counting knowledge obviously had serious epistemological problems, they said. These people were claiming to have verified two conflicting doctrines. They think “I tried it, it worked for me, therefore it’s true.” The subjective nature of their knowledge clearly shows that it is not a true science, but arbitrary belief.

Meanwhile, the visionary wandering counter, whose teachings had become the doctrines of these cults, was relaxing under a tree in a far off land, enjoying the summer breeze, and marveling over the beautiful unity of counting, and the wonderful diversity of manifestations it takes.

Posted in: Philosophy