Can we ever know the truth about reality?

Richard Vincent
5 min readMay 28, 2022
Photo by Pixabay, Pexels

In the fourth century BC, the philosopher Aristotle described nature as having two types of motion: natural motion, which does not require an external force, and violent motion which goes against natural tendencies by requiring an external cause. The natural motion of earth and water is to fall, and air and fire to rise. These were the four terrestrial elements, with a fifth — the aether — in the celestial sphere.

The planets and stars were embedded in concentric spheres that rotated at constant rates. There was no need for gravity, just a tendency for bodies to move along their natural trajectories.

Fast forward to the early modern times of Galileo, then Issac Newton and you’ll find Aristotle’s ideas being dismissed as wrong. After centuries of accepting Aristotelian physics as the truth, it was replaced with completely new laws of motion that described the celestial bodies moving under gravity. The natural motion of planets no longer applied because gravity provided a cause, thus making it violent under Aristotelian physics.

As we approach modern-day, Einstein came onto the scene to completely change and uproot the description of gravity provided by Newton. For one, the idea of an aether — carried across from Aristotle to Newton, albeit in a different form — was scrubbed from textbooks. Space is a vacuum. There are no infinite speeds or instantaneous interactions, and light is as fast as you can travel. There is also no such thing as an absolute reference frame. Even reference frames that disagree on the most fundamental facets of reality, like time and distance, are all accurate measurements of the universe.

Yet, even Einstein’s theory cannot be completely correct.

Throughout history, theories have been found to fall short of describing the truth again and again. These paradigm shifts tell us that even the greatest minds can get things wrong and that we should maintain a healthy scepticism toward anyone who claims to have found the truth, no matter how convincing.

We are no different to the generation of Aristotle, Galileo or Einstein in that we are also living in a paradigm. All our beliefs and thoughts are contorted by the society in which we live, our education and what we accept as already being true. Our future…

Richard Vincent

Physics graduate. I write about physics and sometimes philosophy, ethics, psychology and insights found at the intersection of these.