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Arithmetic true | Seth’s Blog

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Arithmetic is true. It’s true because

1. we accept the terms for what they mean

2. it’s timeless, past and present and future are the same

3. it’s testable

In every fourth-grade classroom, the statement, “9 is bigger than 7” is clearly true. We can count out nine marbles. We have a mutual understanding of what “bigger” means in this context. From this shared understanding of the axioms and vocabulary, we can build useful and complex outcomes.

On the other hand, “Cheryl is a better candidate than Tracy” might be true for some people, but it presents all sorts of trouble if we look at it through the same lens of “truth” as a term we learned in arithmetic. We know who Cheryl is and we know who Tracy is, but it’s not clear what “better” means in this case. Are we describing who will win an election in two weeks? That’s awfully hard to test in advance.

And ‘words as building blocks of truth’ gets even more complicated when the ideas intersect with both science and culture. The statement, “The theory of evolution is our best explanation for how we all got here,” is demonstrably true in the realm of science, but for people with a certain worldview who value cultural alignment more than verifiable and testable evidence, this statement isn’t true at all.

The words matter. It matters whether we’re talking about ‘arithmetic true’ or simply an accurate description of what works for part of our culture.



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