What is a fact?

Preface

What is a fact -There is a great deal of confusion around this question, which in turn causes a great deal of pain and confusion in many areas of human life. Facts are the building blocks on which we base our actions, our views about reality and our judgements. If a people believe it is a fact some race is inferior or even evil, or that god ordered to kill all infidels, or that there is an afterlife and final judgement, or that there is definitely no afterlife, this will critically affect the behaviour and fate of those peoples. If a man thinks it a fact that he is not good enough for something it will have a major effect on his ability to get, do or receive said thing.

A scale

One of the main things clouding this issue is that the word fact indicates an authoritative truth about the world, but in most cases facts are not that at all. In reality, there is a great variety of entities we call facts, most of which we do not completely or even remotely know are true. Virtually all the facts we know of are comprised of part truth, and part assumption or imagination material. The less assumptions and imagination, the more true it is likely to be. We could arrange facts on a scale, from the most solid ones to the most fickle, creating a sort of fact ladder. I will offer here a reasonable scale, but it is not the scale that matters, really. It is the basic understanding of the nature and validity of statements people make about the world that is important.

What is a true fact?

A true fact is one that could never be denied or proven to be false. That is the literal meaning of the word. It is so. Fact. Let’s call that a fact of the first degree. This is a truth that you can safely base any action or attitude on. There is no way it is ever going to be not true. It is real. And you know beyond any doubt that it is real.

How can you know if you posses such a fact? Simple. You ask yourself if a fact in question might be untrue. If it might be untrue, if there is the slightest possibility that this fact is not the way things are, then it is not a first degree fact. Actually, if we want to be strictly honest, it is not a fact at all. Because how could there be a fact which might not be true? Let’s consider the law of gravity. Could that not be a fact? Yes, the scientific theory that goes by that name has already been changed during the last century. But even the fact we are drawn to the ground or that we are breathing air now, which are much stronger, react to the casting of doubt. Maybe we are actually in outer space dreaming that we are on a planet called earth, breathing? It is not probable. Not at all. But it is possible. And possible is the key word here. If it is possible that it is not a fact, then you cannot know that it is a fact. And if we cannot know something is a fact, in the most simple meaning of the word, then why do we call it that?

This type of fact is the only thing we could call a true fact with complete integrity.

Second degree facts

Next down the truth ladder we come across the experiential fact. The only thing you need to assume here is that your senses are not lying to you. You are breathing now. This apple does taste sour in your mouth. I am feeling a bit shy right now. These facts are much weaker than pure facts because we know the senses might be inaccurate, but there is only one assumption you need to make about the world for them to be true. My senses are true. They relate accurately to the real world. All lesser degrees of facts share this assumption and add layers on top of it.

I am not touching right now the layer of virtual reality we all live in when we think that these objects we consume are actually called apples. Or that your name is actually your name. Or that you are a human being, living in the year 2017 on earth. Or that nature behaves according to the laws of physics (As far as we know, nature does not adhere to our laws. we observe it, and do our best to understand, describe and predict). I am not touching all of that. Those are all facts of 4th or 5th degree, and we will discuss that later. Still, even though the apple is not truly an apple, and “sour” is just a name we gave a whole range of sensations originating in our mouth, these are relatively strong facts. Unless I am somehow dreaming, or my senses are completely off, I took a bite from this thing, and had one of the sensations we call sour.

It is important to note that this second type of fact is non-transmittable. If the apple was sour on my tongue and I report that to you, you can choose to believe me or not, but you cannot know with any certainty that resembles mine if I found this apple sour. If you taste the apple you will know if it was sour for you or not, but not how it tasted in my mouth. If you connect to my brain with some machine and find some indication that I experience a sour taste, you could choose to believe your machine, based on many previous tests (3rd degree fact), but you will still not be able to know it. You will have to trust that your machine, as well as your senses and mine, are all correct.

Third degree Facts

These are much weaker facts than the previous ones. They contain a lot of imagination. A lot of assumptions. In this category we will find all scientific facts which are based on direct observations and make the generalizations which produce a kind of law, provided that the research is solid and credible. Here the facts are also based upon the direct sensorial experience but, through a process of methodical testing, they declare the existence of some natural law: “This is how this thing works”. Sometimes they will be called theories, and sometimes laws. If we are speaking of one of those theories in which all tests resulted in the same outcome with no exceptions – we dropped a ball on the floor a billion times and so we say that every time we drop a ball it will fall to the floor – there is a good chance it will be referred to as a fact. This is a good example of a relatively strong third degree fact. It is an assumption that the ball will continue to behave the same way each and every time. It seems to be a very solid statement, and relatively speaking, it is, but it is one that requires an infinite number of validations to make it true on a 2nd degree level. The law states – This is how balls behave. It will be true tomorrow, and in every tomorrow.  That is a lot of imagination material there. It’s sheer mass is breathtaking. A second degree fact doesn’t have that layer of imagination. In the second degree fact there is only me watching a ball fall to the floor right now. It fell to the floor. Fact. Generalizations are very useful imaginations. We would not have all the wonders of our modern world without them. We have devised a way to be very very reliable with some of our generalizations. But still, they are imaginations, not facts.

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