Sideband #2: Truth and Facts

A bit of Haiku:

A Thing is rarely
The whole or the only Truth.
Most Things are that way.

It’s useful to break the connection between the idea of fact and the idea of truth.  A fact is a datum that stands on its own regardless of opinion, belief or perception. A truth does reflect the opinion, belief or perception of a person.

It is a fact that most pizzas are round; it is a truth (for me) that sausage pizza is the best pizza. Other people see a different truth (they’re wrong, of course, especially if their truth involves anchovies).

When it comes to the best pizza, truth is opinion; a matter of taste (literally in this case). But it’s not always so clear where facts leave off and truth becomes opinion. Consider the classic Left/Right truths about the role of government. Both sides marshal considerable fact to support their truth. In the end, it comes down to worldview.

Sometimes truth follows fact and changes as our knowledge of fact improves. For a long time, it was true that the sun (and everything else) went around the earth. That seemed to follow fact; anyone could see the sun rise in the morning, move across the sky and set in the evening. You could see it move while you were clearly standing still.

The actual fact of the matter turned out to be different.

It’s tempting to wish it always worked this way; that once we fully understood the fact, we would all share the same truth. Sometimes that’s the case, but in most of the interesting cases, truth has a lot to do with belief. Even when in full possession of fact, people can see the truth differently.

I think that’s an important aspect of reality. That no matter how well we know the facts, we can always still hold different truths, and these truths are often equally true.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “Sideband #2: Truth and Facts

  • Tim Fox

    Truth describes the relationship between facts. For example, when our legal system pursues the truth it does so through a set of rules established and continually refined to enable a reliable identification of the applicable facts and a viable reconstruction of the relationship between those facts. Reasonable doubt is the measure of how many truths are likely to exist about the issue at trial. When there is only one truth the verdict is guilt.

    So when the universe of facts is agreed upon, its more likely that the truth will be to. As new facts arise the truth needs to be re-evaluated. Of course, on of the tricks then is to reach agreement on the facts before you start demanding adherance to the truth. Perhaps that’s where our current political conversation has gone off the rails. People are arguing truth and not even looking at the facts. I suspect that if the conversations centered on facts then the emotion quotient will go down and the result quality willl go up.

    So does this lead to the conclusion that there is no absolute truth (based on the fairly safe assumption no one has the ability or capacity to know/understand all the facts)? I think not, but that’s a conversation for another day…..

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Certainly if all the facts were known (and no tricks were played), both the O.J. and Casey Anthony trials would likely have different verdicts. And now that we all know the facts about Anthony Weiner, I think we all know the truth about him.

      The monkey wrench here is that quantum physics is pretty clear on the fact that we can never–even in principle–know all the facts, which would seem to imply we can never quite arrive at absolute truth.

      And, FWIW, I believe that even in lesser cases, where we can know “all the facts” (for some reasonable definition of “all”), even then people can have different truths. I believe that learning to live in a world where that is true is key.

  • Tim Fox

    So is that to say there is at least one absolute truth? 😉

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Touche! Good one!! Once again proof the universe is perversely ironic. The only constant is nothing is constant; the only absolute truth is there’s no absolute truth. (Or maybe just none we can ever grasp? [shrug])

      Gotta be a good blog post in there somewhere….

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