The search for the truth can never stop.
This is a first obituary (of a sort) for these writings. I do not think I would have predicted that this would be a playwright, not a mathematician. This might seem a little off topic, although I guess it does fit into communication and art, however do not worry I will get on my soapbox and twist things round to my view on the world before the article is finished.
First however let me say farewell and give thanks for the life of Harold Pinter.
In 2005 Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize. In his acceptance speech he deals directly with an idea that to me is central to the quest both for science and art. The impossible hunt for truth. Unsurprisingly his words on the subject are far deeper and full of insight than mine could be, so I really suggest you drop this and read them instead.
I do want to add something small to what he says, mainly to point out how close his words, written about drama, sum up how I feel about doing mathematics and I believe sum up something that links many areas of intellectual enquiry. However it is hard to start paraphrasing something that is already taught with meaning, so I hope you will forgive a long quote.
In 1958 I wrote the following:
‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’
I believe that these assertions still make sense and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?
Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.
and a more succinct one:
But as I have said, the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.
Of course the quest for truth in mathematics is subtly different to this. Mathematics has a sense of a definition of truth and the idea of proof. These are not necessarily quite as absolute as we like to think, but at least there is method of arguing and convincing beyond simple opinion. However as soon as one tries to use mathematics to model the world the multiplicity of models possible feels to me very close to the shadowy truth described above.
Having discussed truth in the abstract Pinter discusses the difference between the world of art which relishes in uncertainty and the world of politics, where we do need to accept facts. In particular he vigourously attacks the politicians who are more interested in power than politics and the world that lets them pervert language to there own ends and gives little come back when their assurances are proved false.
Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words ‘the American people’ provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don’t need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it’s very comfortable.
Mathematics like language can be perverted and used to mask as well as reveal. The world needs those who value truth from mathematical truth through scientific truth and the murkier truth in current affairs to the personal ephemeral truth of art. We must stand up and take our responsibility, to question, hold to account and help build something better.