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What are Facts?

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posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 06:27 AM
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Thomas and Sebastian, two long-time friends, are having a philosophical discussion about politics. While previous debates became rather heated, this one appears to be rather calm and collected. Suddenly, the conversation steers in a different direction.

Thomas: Sorry, but you have no facts to back up your arguments. You see, I not only employ logic and reason when expressing my ideas, I also have concrete facts to back them up!

Sebastian: Facts? What exactly is your definition of “facts”, Thomas?

Thomas: The Earth orbits the Sun. Radio existed before television. Aristotle was born after Plato. Spain won the 2010 Football/Soccer World Cup. These are all facts.

Sebastian: I didn't want examples, I asked for a definition.

Thomas: Objective statements that are verifiable.

Sebastian raised his eyebrows.

Thomas: A fact is an objective consensus on a fundamental reality that has been agreed upon by a substantial number of people.

Sebastian: That is a fairly good definition. But, I question your understanding of what exactly a fact represents.

Thomas: And why is that, Sebastian?

Sebastian: You speak of 'facts' as though they are concrete, unchangeable pieces of knowledge.

Thomas: That's because they are!

Sebastian: No, they are not. Even by your impressive definition given before, we can see that, in essence, facts are just shared opinions by lots of people that agree on the same thing. “There are no facts, only interpretations” as Nietzsche said. I think he was right.

Thomas: Facts are not opinions. They are the antithesis of an opinion. Fact: I was born in Melbourne, Australia in the year 1980. It does not matter how hard you try, you cannot disprove that fact.

Sebastian: I don't intend to disprove anything. All I wish to do is show you that your understanding of what constitutes a fact is problematic. For example, the last piece of information you presented as a “fact” is just an opinion.

Thomas: How so? I can show you my birth certificate if you don't believe me...

Sebastian: Is that the piece of evidence that convinces you that you were born in Melbourne?

Thomas: Well, that and the fact that about fifty people can confirm the date I was born. And the fact that the video recorder that my dad used has the date, time and location exactly the same as the certificate. Also, there is a newspaper announcement that my mother has kept that states the same. You see, I have good reason to know I was born at this time, on this date and in that location!

Sebastian: I don't doubt that. You do seem to believe very strongly that this is the case and have given examples of why it is reasonable for you to feel this way.

Thomas: Then what's the problem? It is still a fact, isn't it?

Sebastian: What do you believe is the key feature that distinguishes a fact from an opinion?

Thomas: Probably the objective verifiability of the information. To be more specific, a fact is a piece of information that can be directly observed by a subject as true.

Sebastian: So then, you are suggesting empirical observation by the self of some sort?

Thomas: Yes.

Sebastian: Then how can you verify that you were born in Melbourne in the year 1980? Doesn't all your 'evidence' that you presented rely on anecdotes from others? Even the video recorder that you mentioned was designed by humans and is prone to error. Were you actually there to witness your own birth, Thomas?

Thomas: No.

Sebastian: Therefore, the 'fact' that you were born in Melbourne in 1980 is just an opinion, shared by your family, friends and those you tell. There is no way you could directly confirm the date, location and time of your birth because you were not there to witness it yourself.

Thomas: I suppose.

Sebastian: You see, Thomas, it is rather easy for us to become reliant on 'facts' and forget to really think about things. There is no way for us to verify whether something is true unless we can directly experience it ourselves. This does not mean that we should automatically dismiss everything that we have not ourselves witnessed. It just means we should think critically and reasonably about the information we are told is factual before accepting it as true or authentic.

* * * * * *

Some questions to ponder:

- What is your definition of a fact?
- Aren't facts really relative?
- At what point does a piece of information become a fact?
- Are facts more believable when they are announced by people in positions of authority?
- What if 50% of the global population believes something as factual while the other 50% believes something that contradicts the previous view as factual?




posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 06:29 AM
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"Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact." -Ralph Waldo Emerson




posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 06:32 AM
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Originally posted by Dark Ghost
Thomas: A fact is an objective consensus on a fundamental reality that has been agreed upon by a substantial number of people.




A fact is so, even if not a single person in the world agrees on it.

Once Thomas has given his poor definition, Sebastian quite righly leaps on it and chews it to bits, thus making that whole bit of text look like a deliberate straw man argument.

---

Edit - to answer your questions...

- What is your definition of a fact?
Something that is true. Or as KrzYma put it, something that has really occurred or is actually the case.
Whether humans know this to be true or not is irrelevent.
eg. Yersinia pestis bacterium causes the Bubonic plague. Although in the year 1400 you would not find a single person to believe this, let alone find a consensus.


- Aren't facts really relative?
No. They just are.


- At what point does a piece of information become a fact?
A fact is always a fact. Information assists humans in discovering them.


- Are facts more believable when they are announced by people in positions of authority?
Yes. People believe any old crap that people in positions of authority tell them, fact and falsehoods both.


- What if 50% of the global population believes something as factual while the other 50% believes something that contradicts the previous view as factual?
Doesnt matter. The fact is still so, no matter how many or few people know about it. In fact it could easily be the case that both halves of the population are wrong, and the real facts of the matter are something else again.


edit on 4-1-2013 by alfa1 because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 06:40 AM
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"A fact (derived from the Latin factum, see below) is something that has really occurred or is actually the case. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability, that is whether it can be proven to correspond to experience. Standard reference works are often used to check facts. Scientific facts are verified by repeatable experiments."



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 07:27 AM
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Originally posted by Dark Ghost
Some questions to ponder:

- What is your definition of a fact?

A fact is something that is a fact.



- Aren't facts really relative?

A fact is a fact. A fact being "relative" does not make any logical sense, does it?



- At what point does a piece of information become a fact?

When the piece of information is a fact.



- Are facts more believable when they are announced by people in positions of authority?

That is irrelevant to the fact.



- What if 50% of the global population believes something as factual while the other 50% believes something that contradicts the previous view as factual?

Then 50% of the population are not able to understand what they are talking about.



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 09:10 AM
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A fact is an absolute, either it is or it is not. You can not have a fraction of a fact, it would be like saying a woman was a little bit pregnant. The fact would be either she is or she is not.

There have been many so called facts in this world that were merely opinions subject to change. The earth was the center of our solar system and the universe at large and everything revolved around it. This was taught as a fact. Galileo proved this to be wrong. The fact that 0 Kelvin is the absolute bottom in temperature was proven wrong today, you can have negative Kelvin or in other words less than 0 Kelvin. Yet 0 Kelvin was taught as a fact. Yahoo News

Thus the only true fact is an absolute, one that is 100% true. Anything short of that is an opinion and subject to change.


edit on 1/4/2013 by pstrron because: Added link



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 12:01 PM
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reply to post by Dark Ghost
 


Great post Ghost. Also, I enjoy the use of the old greek dialectic ala Plato.

I agree with Nietzsche that truth is metaphor.

But in logic and language, I enjoy Wittgenstein's Atomic Facts:


1 The world is everything that is the case.

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the
facts.

1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and
also all that is not the case.

1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.

1.2 The world divides into facts.

1.21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything
else remain the same.

2 What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.

2.01 An atomic fact is a combination of objects (entities, things).

2.011 It is essential to a thing that it can be a constituent part of an
atomic fact.

2.012 In logic nothing is accidental: if a thing can occur in an atomic
fact the possibility of that atomic fact must already be prejudged
in the thing.
....

Tractartus Logico-Philisophicus

S&F



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 12:12 PM
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A Fact is evidence which has been accepted.

A "fact" is completely subjective.


If I refuse to accept the fact that Kennedy was assasinated then all of the evidence in the world isn't going to mean jack squat. You only have evidence, and you can not PROVE it unless I agree to accept that evidence as fact.

"Fact" is like "freedom" or "time".
We all think we know what it is until we try to define it.



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 12:31 PM
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reply to post by alfa1
 


Facts are absolutely relative, they start by being dependent on the capability of the observer to understand them, and the observer is in not way restricted in later on changing its view on those facts or extract more information (or reduce what it had gotten) from new realizations. This can be extended to the interpretation that is given to a group of facts that seems to create another factual realization. The fact is that all facts exist in a structure not by themselves.

I agree with some points but stopped reading on this bit, I do not like the format the OP chose to present the issue as indeed it serves his purposes but not really the full understanding of the concept of what facts are.


edit on 4-1-2013 by Panic2k11 because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 12:46 PM
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Look folks...

You take the good, you take the bad... you take 'em both... and there you have it.





posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 01:33 PM
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A fact from my perspective, feels like something very external. Think of a leaf floating on the surface of a pool where the leaf is a fact and the pool is knowledge and by reaching the bottom of the pool one will find the TRUTH of the fact.

One may say that truth and fact are the same thing, and that is true, in one aspect, in one perspective. The universe allows that things can be the same and different. Those who are familiar with the concept of duality will know what is being referred to here. With this in mind lets view truth and fact from a different perspective, one in which they are two different things.

Since the idea I'm trying to convey cannot be described directly with this form of communication I will try to give a more indirect example.

Say that you go outside and look at the grass. What color is the grass? You would say that the grass is green of course and that is a FACT. You see, with your own physical sense of sight that the fact of the grass being green is an indisputable fact.

Now, this is what I mean when I say that I feel facts to be external and floating on the surface. Think about the idea of the statement, "The grass is green." Well, what is GREEN exactly? How would you describe green, or any color to a blind individual? Green is but an idea that humans have agreed upon to describe this certain hue within a spectrum of colors that is filtered through to your perception of reality.

A dog for example, would see the grass as being a light yellow color due to their filtered perception of reality, but to them it would be an indisputable fact that the grass is yellow. A snake, which posseses thermal vision, would see the grass as being dark blue, or purple and again, that is a fact. Now, neither animal is wrong, as humans are not wrong in their believing of the grass being green, but they are not right either.

With this being said, the fact is that the grass is green. The TRUTH is that the grass is any and every color and only through the direct observation of a perceptive entity does it get filtered through to become this one aspect, this one color of this entities reality.

I hope this did not create too much confusion as it is like all reality, a very simple concept.



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 10:18 PM
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Originally posted by alfa1
A fact is so, even if not a single person in the world agrees on it.


Really? Interesting you should say that. I happen to disagree and will explain why later on.


Once Thomas has given his poor definition, Sebastian quite righly leaps on it and chews it to bits, thus making that whole bit of text look like a deliberate straw man argument.


The intention behind this thread was to encourage others to think more deeply about what us humans consider knowledge and facts. I'm not sure what you think my intention was ("deliberate straw man?"), but that was the main thing I wanted to achieve with this thread.

---


Edit - to answer your questions...

- What is your definition of a fact?
Something that is true. Or as KrzYma put it, something that has really occurred or is actually the case.
Whether humans know this to be true or not is irrelevent.
eg. Yersinia pestis bacterium causes the Bubonic plague. Although in the year 1400 you would not find a single person to believe this, let alone find a consensus.


How did you reach the conclusion that "Tersinia pestis bacterium causes the Bubonic plague" is a fact, though? You might have studied about it in Biology and even had it confirmed by credible sources (scientists)...but how do you know it is indisputably true?

What if in five years there are medical advancements that suggest it is NOT the specific bacterium that causes the Bubonic plague? Would you be willing to admit that it was only factual based on the time and technology available at the time?

This ties in with my views that facts are relative.


- Aren't facts really relative?
No. They just are.


"They just are" is not a satisfactory explanation for the nature of facts, in my opinion.



- At what point does a piece of information become a fact?
A fact is always a fact. Information assists humans in discovering them.


I agree that 'true facts' are concrete and unchangeable, but do us humans actually know ANYTHING for certain without any form of doubt? I don't believe so. our whole framework of knowledge is based on interpretation.



- Are facts more believable when they are announced by people in positions of authority?
Yes. People believe any old crap that people in positions of authority tell them, fact and falsehoods both.


Agreed. This is why it is so important to think critically about information when it is presented to you, even when it comes from an authoritative source.


What if 50% of the global population believes something as factual while the other 50% believes something that contradicts the previous view as factual?
Doesnt matter. The fact is still so, no matter how many or few people know about it. In fact it could easily be the case that both halves of the population are wrong, and the real facts of the matter are something else again.


Let's use your example from before. Let's say roughly 50% of the global population believes "Tersinia pestis bacterium causes the Bubonic plague" and the other 50% believes "Uzsera pestis bacterium [made up for sake of discussion] causes the Bubonic plague".

How do we determine which one is a fact? Probably by determining which one seems to be the more credible (not truthful or accurate) explanation. Which is my point: what we humans call facts are really just relative truths based on the amount of knowledge and advancement of technology that we have available at any one time, which relies on a consensus of - usually - authoritative people.



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 10:27 PM
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Originally posted by Nevertheless
- What is your definition of a fact?

A fact is something that is a fact.


That is a rather circular definition. It's like saying "a synonym is something that is a synonym."



- Aren't facts really relative?

A fact is a fact. A fact being "relative" does not make any logical sense, does it?


Maybe what you are referring to are true facts. My opinion is that while true facts (things that are irrefutably true and unchangeable) might exist, we are yet to discover them. And we probably couldn't even acknowledge them because every bit of knowledge we possess exists within a human framework.



- At what point does a piece of information become a fact?

When the piece of information is a fact.


This question encourages you to think outside the box a little.



- Are facts more believable when they are announced by people in positions of authority?

That is irrelevant to the fact.


Maybe to "real facts" as I mentioned before, but could you name one 'fact' you believe is irrefutably and unchangeably true? If so, what evidence do you have that this is, in essence, an actual fact?



posted on Jan, 4 2013 @ 10:32 PM
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reply to post by pstrron
 


I agree. As I stated in other replies, I am open to the idea that "real" facts (100% true, irrefutable and unchangeable) might exist, but I do not believe we have discovered any as of yet. I also believe that no human can state (or even comprehend) any real facts because all of our knowledge is interpreted by human cognition.



posted on Jan, 5 2013 @ 03:14 AM
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Originally posted by Dark Ghost
How did you reach the conclusion that "Tersinia pestis bacterium causes the Bubonic plague" is a fact, though? You might have studied about it in Biology and even had it confirmed by credible sources (scientists)...but how do you know it is indisputably true?


Well, I only threw it in there as an example, but yes, if you wish to get more specific then I totally agree that I dont know for sure about the relationship between Yersinia pestis bacterium and the Bubonic plague.
It could very well be that I, like many others, are simply mistaken on this matter and the facts are something else.
The fact of what causes bubonic plague hasnt changed, that is still fact, just what I personally happen to think about the topic will have to be changed.





Originally posted by Dark Ghost
What if in five years there are medical advancements that suggest it is NOT the specific bacterium that causes the Bubonic plague? Would you be willing to admit that it was only factual based on the time and technology available at the time?.


I would admit nothing of the kind. I would however be willing under those circumstances to say I was mistaken.
The fact of what causes bubonic plague hasnt changed at at. That is still a factual matter.
The difficulty is merely in that humans often make mistakes and think things to be something when they are actually something else.




Originally posted by Dark Ghost
Which is my point: what we humans call facts are really just relative truths based on the amount of knowledge and advancement of technology that we have available at any one time, which relies on a consensus of - usually - authoritative people.


At this point we're going to have to admit another quirk of reality into the discussion and recall that humans use the English language in many varied ways. A word in English has different meanings depending on context.
The word "theory" is often MISused this way by creationists, for example.

I havnt bothered to check but I would hope any decent dictionary would give multiple definitions of the word "fact".
So we have (at least two)...
(1). The stronger one I've been trying to explain, in which the factual truth remains the same and human beliefs do not enter into the matter.
(2). The more colloquial definition you're using, that relies on "strong" evidence and "consensus" of what humans believe. With this definition, "facts" can indeed change over time.

So... originally I thought you wanted to have a discussion about (1), but now it seems (2) was more what you had in mind.
I'll leave you to it then.



posted on Jan, 5 2013 @ 03:51 AM
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Originally posted by alfa1
(1). The stronger one I've been trying to explain, in which the factual truth remains the same and human beliefs do not enter into the matter.
(2). The more colloquial definition you're using, that relies on "strong" evidence and "consensus" of what humans believe. With this definition, "facts" can indeed change over time.

So... originally I thought you wanted to have a discussion about (1), but now it seems (2) was more what you had in mind.
I'll leave you to it then.


I am happy to discuss number (1).

Could you please clarify and elaborate on what you mean by number (1)?



posted on Jan, 5 2013 @ 11:11 AM
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Originally posted by Dark Ghost

Originally posted by Nevertheless
- What is your definition of a fact?

A fact is something that is a fact.


That is a rather circular definition. It's like saying "a synonym is something that is a synonym."

It was highly intentional.
Because it's a fact that a fact is a fact. And that too, is a fact.



Maybe what you are referring to are true facts.

Yes, because untrue facts aren't facts.
Why on earth do you want to consider things that are not facts as facts? That doesn't make any sense.



My opinion is that while true facts (things that are irrefutably true and unchangeable) might exist, we are yet to discover them.

What...?
A fact is a fact.



posted on Jan, 5 2013 @ 11:42 PM
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reply to post by Nevertheless
 


You have still failed to explain what a fact is. Given your repeated use of circular answers, I am assuming you do not really know what it means?

When I use the term "true facts" I am talking about pieces of information that are genuinely factual. When I use the word by itself ('facts') I am referring to the problematic way society tends to use the word when what they refer to does not really involve facts, but 'perceived' facts.

* * * * * *


* 'asdfdaaaa' is a series of letters, and if you are questioning it, it is a fact that there is something wrong with your logical thinking.


How do you know 'asdfdaaaa' is a series of letters though? Just because you have been programmed by others to view this as the case does not make it true or factual.

Had you been programmed to believe that '12345678' is a series of letters and 'abcdefgh' is a series of numbers, you would be saying those are factual statements. See the problem?

Questioning things does not indicate there is something wrong with an individual's sense of logic.
edit on 5/1/2013 by Dark Ghost because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 6 2013 @ 06:38 AM
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Originally posted by Dark Ghost
reply to post by Nevertheless
 


You have still failed to explain what a fact is. Given your repeated use of circular answers, I am assuming you do not really know what it means?

I haven't failed because I haven't tried to explain what a fact is. I have intentionally used the definition of a fact as the argument for telling that a fact is a fact - because it is indeed a fact.
I assume that you have already looked up the definition of "fact" in your dictionary and Wikipedia. The definition is very clear. I don't see how me repeating it to you would make any difference.
You already know that there needs to be some way to verify a statement/claim for it to be a fact. But you do not seem to be able to comprehend what this means.



When I use the term "true facts" I am talking about pieces of information that are genuinely factual.

You should use the term "fact" when you are talking about information that are genuinely facts.
Anything that is not a fact is not a fact (see, I did it again).



When I use the word by itself ('facts') I am referring to the problematic way society tends to use the word when what they refer to does not really involve facts, but 'perceived' facts.

Then you are using the word incorrectly, as the definition is not "a problematic way society tends to use the word when what they refer to does not really involve facts, but 'perceived' facts."
There's your problem.

* * * * * *



How do you know 'asdfdaaaa' is a series of letters though? Just because you have been programmed by others to view this as the case does not make it true or factual.

You seem to have a very hard time understanding not only the definition of a "fact", but also, the definition of "definition". This leads to something of a paradox. I would like you to look up the definition of "moron", but it's pointless per definition.

Letters were originally designed in such way that verbal communication could be recorded in written form.
Symbols describing different sounds were made up. Whether these symbols were (or are) randomly chosen/invented is irrelevant, as long as someone defines them to have a certain meaning.
These letters can then be put into a series of letters to form a flowing combination of sounds, so called "words".
All of this you seem to be able to grasp as you know how to do this.

In other words, 'asdfdaaaa' is a series of letters in this context, and that is a fact.

You could, of course, let each letter represent penises of different men that you would like to touch, and instead of calling it "a series of letters", you could call it "a series of penises that Dark Ghost would like to touch". This is perfectly fine, as long as you have made such a definition and can show it, then that too, would be a fact.




Had you been programmed to believe that '12345678' is a series of letters and 'abcdefgh' is a series of numbers, you would be saying those are factual statements. See the problem?

No, there is no problem.
I have not been programmed to "believe" that '12345678' are numbers, I'm merely taking advance of the fantastic definition of numbers because they are useful to me.
You do realize that 'AAFF' is also a number in the context of hexadecimal notation?
Or they could be the penises you are craving.

You are confusing definitions and context somehow and then having a problem with the definition of a fact.



Questioning things does not indicate there is something wrong with an individual's sense of logic.
edit on 5/1/2013 by Dark Ghost because: (no reason given)

That, on the other hand, is completely correct!
However, if it turns out that the reasoning behind it lacks logic, then that in turn suggests that there is something wrong with an individual's sense of logic.



posted on Jan, 6 2013 @ 10:54 PM
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reply to post by Nevertheless
 


I have two valuable pieces of advice that I think will serve you well:

1) Don't engage in ad hominem attacks. They make your argumentative skills look poor.
2) Don't project your sexual fantasies onto others, unless asked to do so beforehand.



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