A much liked and shared example of modern opinion re: facts
Word of the Year 2016 is… After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as: ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Nov 8, 2016
Smart people in the Advertising industry and political spin doctors have known this ‘truth’ for years and have used it very successfully on the less-aware population of our planet to successfully (mostly) achieve their aims.
Most of us like to think that the truth is the truth for all of us and a lie is a lie: that facts are only facts when they are indisputable and proven to be correct, otherwise it is just a claim of possibly dubious repute and therefore not to be trusted or acted upon.
We’d LIKE to think that and most of us do, in ‘fact’, believe this to be ‘true’.
But is it?
I looked up the definition of ‘Fact’ ( on that most trusted source Google – where else? )
According to the Cambridge Dictionary a fact is: “something that is known to have happened or to exist, especially something for which proof exists, or about which there is information“
Google also referred to similar searches concerning the word fact including this one:
What is an example of a fact?
It is a fact that the Earth is round. Licensed from iStockPhoto. noun. The definition of a fact is something that is true or something that has occurred or has been proven correct. An example of a fact is that the world is round.
I found this a little disturbing… mostly because it is not actually a true statement and it is claiming to be an example of a fact from what should be a fair and unbiased and able to be relied upon source.
I say it is not a true statement for 2 reasons.
Firstly, scientists tell us that our world is actually a mis-shapen oblate spheroid, not only does it bulge at the equator, but because of uneven mass distribution in the planet it’s also very slightly pear-shaped with the biggest bulge below the equator. RoundISH but definitively not round. So it’s fairly accurate – but not a fact in the strictest sense.
The second reason is less pedantic but far more relevant to what we see going on in the world today – The World of Trump amongst many, many others. It is not a true statement – IF YOU BELIEVE IN AN ALTERNATIVE VIEWPOINT! In this case if you actually honestly believe (and sadly, trust me on this, there are MANY who do) that the world is actually Flat!
To those people, some of whom can actually appear in all other respects normal and even intelligent people, the world is flat is a fact and the above example is considered by them to be beyond their belief. Some of them have even come up with a new version of reality in which Gravity does not exist and NASA is a gigantic government conspiracy to FOOL people into the belief that Newton was right and that the world is round. (For reasons i am unable to comprehend).
So, going back to the Cambridge definition of a fact as something that is known and for which there is proof or information. We must ask ourselves the following:
- who are the people who ‘know’ the thing?
- how reliable is the proof or information related to the thing?, and
- what are the parameters for any conclusions reached or implied regarding the validity of the fact?
Number 1 is important because, if the fact is only known to a select few (presumably including yourself), it is of little practical use if most people you meet are of an opposing belief regarding it. People rarely will change their own world view based upon a fact that is not in common knowledge.
Number 2 is important because information can be, and is frequently, interpreted differently by different people which means that what is a fact to one may not be so to another (even if both agree on the information’s quality, but disagree on it’s interpretations based upon differing views of relative background issues or underlying assumptions of reality).
Number 3 is vitally important to the quality/validity of the fact in question. For a fact to be a fact it needs to apply in all circumstances NOT JUST THE ONES WE PERSONALLY KNOW OR ARE AWARE OF. If this is not the case then we can have the ludicrous† situation (as indeed we do often with Mr Trump) that one person can say one thing and another person can say something that is contradictory to the first about a single commonly observed thing/event, and both claim that their statement is a fact or THE truth concerning it.
Number 3 is particularly worth considering carefully because, as i have been made increasingly aware of of late, humans can be very biased and selective (towards their own, or what they see as “everyone’s” or the “right” belief). All of us place an inordinately high value on both our individual and our group (be that family/community/country/race/species/planet) ‘s interpretation of reality. Reality is most often these days in the eye and mind of the beholder and increasingly has no true existence outside of us. What is ‘real and true’ for one can be something entirely unreal and untrue for our neighbour.
Pontius Pilate amongst others is claimed to have said: “What is truth?”
The truth is… facts (and truth) are now more defined by who and what each one of us presently believe in than by what actually ‘is’.
Paradoxically, while most of the world’s population is now more informed and has ready access to vast amounts of information and data with which we can check ‘ facts’, there is arguably less consensus and agreement between the people of the world, who, in general, tend to mostly agree with the facts and truths that best fit with their own strongly held viewpoints while denying those held by others which do not.
Welcome to the world of Post-fact!
† – while i SAY ludicrous i am aware of some situations where two people can be looking at the same exact same thing and truthfully say two (or more) seemingly contradictory statements to one another and both of them are being honest and, from their viewpoint, factually correct! As just one example consider the story of the four blind men and the elephant in which a snake, a fan, a flywhisk and a tree trunk are used by each one to describe what an elephant is like.
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