Establishing the truth of any matter has never been easy. The basis on which the subject matter at hand is questioned has been subjected to numerous tests. Each time something new is discovered the reliance on the practiced belief system turns out to be precarious. So, whatever was believed to be the most prudent method of evaluating the truth turned out to be a mere whim, once a counter view was observed to exist?

Science itself, which from time immemorial was believed to be the most rational basis of discerning the factuality of any matter, could not resist the tumultuous winds of discovery. Aristotle gave the world the theory of realism. For many years, the world’s factual machinery rejoiced under the umbrella of realism, until the very foundation became questionable at a very miniscule level of understanding: the subatomic particle arrangement, but Aristotle’s child needs an introduction before the debate gets heated.

Realism, as the name somewhat suggests, is about basing judgments on the crystal clear reflection of reality. It connects with reality like a hand in the glove and once empirical facts have been picked up by observing whatever is real and common sense is applied to understand any matter worth pondering. So whatever matter perplexes the human faculties, can be understood by the sheer observation of reality and based on the observation, a tinge of common sense is used to establish that “Eureka moment”. Therefore, the truth prevailed by the bonding of reality and common sense.  

 This belief was well accepted by all disciplines of study. Understanding at the empirical level was never questioned and was used to fine tune so many concepts that kept on surfacing. It was only when challenging new theories came to the forefront which started to deviate from the tried and tested paths groomed by realism.  “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle” and “New physics” were some of the newer theories which started to question the fundamentals of realism. On the one hand, realism was weakening and, on the other hand, a brand new theory was emerging.

The theory of idealism

The question was what ignited the fire against realism? What cast this shadow of doubt over an age old phenomenon of establishing the status quo over almost any nature of problem that had existed? The answer lays in the random behavior that subatomic particles exhibited while in their existence. The random behavior of subatomic particles meant that any sort of pattern or trend expected of the existence of particles was but a flawed understanding of nature. Since the order of things was so erratic at such a fundamental level of existence, was it even right to assume that a reality was possible. What, after all was real, if even the basic tenet of nature was not stable? This observation changed the direction of thought and science was at crossroads of systems, yet again. Idealism took the reins and concluded that there was nothing real. Everything that common sense perceived gave the illusion of reality. If one had to gain insight into a confusing concept, one had to draw conclusions based on ones’ own understanding of that concept. This meant that similar concepts could have different meanings for different people. It was all a question of perception of reality. Reality was but an illusion as idealism was claiming it to be.

Knowledge about anything meant knowing the absolute truth. Absolute truth itself meant completeness or without any ambivalence. If something was true, it had to be an absolute fact without any degrees of certainty attached to them. However, given the fundamental difference between realism and idealism the question that haunted the scientific community was whether knowledge could be ascertained rightfully. For if realism was to be practiced, then there could be only one simple truth of any concept since reality would yield only a single outcome. On the other hand if idealism was the world’s thought process then different results would become possible which in turn would twist the basic definition of knowledge, that of absolute truth. What then was a safe bet?

Realism countered the pointers of idealism but pointing out that randomness at the subatomic levels could not be extrapolated to larger levels of existence. Larger levels of existence exhibited patterns, which meant that empirical sciences were the correct way of enquiring the truth. They stated that nature exhibited symmetry in all forms. This clearly meant that pattern was the truth and so reality was no illusion and so facts could be simply extracted out of the empirical nature of science. Refuting the existence of a real world and saying that reality about a concept or framework was different for different people was a farfetched conclusion.

The debate kept rolling between proponents of realism and idealism. Not only did it jilt the manner of establishing the truth, it also brought about some categorical changes in the way various disciplines were being understood. Philosophy, history, mathematics, psychology and science itself had to undergo a scanner. They were segregated for their empirical and non- investigative natures. Where, once upon a time, disciplines were shown respect by conferring the term “scientific” onto them (for the deployment of empirical means), were now merely being looked upon as being historical and philosophical. The debate did make the rationality of science seem skeptical when it said that, “there is no science of science”.