Traveling truth-spots: Oracles, labs, courts, & alters


EXCERPT: . . . Oracles such as Delphi have fallen out of favour as homes for legitimate understandings. These days, we build tailor-made places where diverse judgments about different kinds of realities get settled: churches and other sacred spaces for sustaining transcendental verities; laboratories for making scientific claims about the natural world; courthouses for deciding the facts of a case. Such specialised ‘truth-spots’ lend credibility to beliefs or claims that come from there. They are not merely settings where decisions about beliefs and propositions just happen to be made. Rather, through their outward materiality, their geographic location and the stories we share about them, these places contribute actively and vitally to the making of truth.

Ordinarily, truth-spots stay put over time, and those who seek believable knowledge must travel to them – not the other way around. Two millennia ago, the journey to the Oracle at Delphi was a long and tough slog through the mountains, and there were no short cuts. The Temple of Apollo stayed put and its enduring location on remote Parnassus contributed to the oracle’s mystique as the provenance of credible prophecy. In the same way, today’s religious buildings, laboratories and courthouses are stationary places. Once built, none is easily or cheaply moved around, even though copies might be cloned from a single fixed model and built in different places.

But is longevity in a particular location always needed in order for a place to make people believe? Some truth-spots travel: they inhabit a place only temporarily. Sometimes a portable assemblage of material objects might be enough to consecrate an otherwise mundane place as a source for legitimate understandings – but only for the time that the stuff is there, before it moves on. But if a church or lab or courtroom can be folded up like a tent and pitched someplace else, can it really sustain its persuasive powers as a source for truth? Here is how it works....


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