What is TRUTH and what is FACT, and what is VALIDITY?
We had a rather interesting discussion about this topic in this weeks class. We talked about our definitions of truth, fact, knowledge, knowing and what it means to have knowledge of something. It was a great session that brought up a lot of interesting different views and talking points, some pretty entertaining. However the part of the discussoion that intrigued me the most concerned truth and facts.
So what is truth? or ‘A truth’? Well, to my mind a truth is a piece of information that someone, be that a single person or an entire society, believes to be true. Obviously different people can have different truths, people see things from different angles, they interpret events differently and sometimes they downright lie or unconciously convince themselves that something is true when it obviously isn’t. These factors that influence peoples view of the truth can depend on many things, education, social demographic etc, there is probably also a degree of cultural bias in the way that people see a truth. A good example would be a person that believes West Ham are a better football team than Leicester City, whilst a West Ham fan may believe this to be true, a Leicester City fan would clearly see it as wrong. However both West Ham and Leicester City fans would truly believe that Spurs are rubbish and they would most probably be correct, this is because it is a FACT.
So then, what is a FACT? Well, to my mind a genuine FACT is something that ‘IS’. A piece of information that is correct and can be verified using some form of proof. In our society we know a lot of ‘facts’, such as the size of the earth, the movement of the stars in the heavens, the amount of time it takes us to revolve around the sun. or at least we think we know them.
Are these things that we call facts actually facts? Once upon a time it was a well accepted ‘fact’ that the earth was flat, then some crazy people came along and insisted that we all live on a giant ball. The argument would have raged for a long time, mathematics eventually proved beyond reasonable doubt that the earth was flat, yet still, any fool standing on a beach could gaze out over flat sea for as far as the eye could see and wouldn’t understand, nevermind believe, the mathematical proof of a spherical earth.
Eventually Magellan sailed around the world and proved that indeed the earth was round. Although society now had some proof, there were probably still a lot of people that didn’t believe it.
And that’s the thing with things that we mere mortals deem to be a facts, well they might not be the actual facts of the matter at all. These so called facts, might only be a good guess based on the information that we have available to us at the time. At some point in the future of understanding of the universe may change and ‘facts’ that we took for granted might all of a sudden be glaringly wrong. We find that quite hard to cope with.
One of the most memorable books that I read as a teenager was called ‘The Planiverse’. The book is the account of a computer engineer who encounters a 2 dimensional world. The world is called Arde and the Ardeans have developed a complex civilisation similar to our own but existing in only 2 dimensions. Ardeans live on a flat plane and only have up, down, left and right, they can’t walk forwards and backwards. Ardean society is similar to our own in many ways, although there are certain key differences, such as the fact that they can’t walk past each other and if they need to pass they must climb over one another, this behaviour is perfectly normal to an Ardean, but would be slightly odd in our world with that useful extra dimension that allows us to walk forward and aound someone.
In the book the scientists in the 3 dimensional world are able to communicate with the 2 dimensional Ardeans and are can fairly easily comprehend how everything works in the 2 dimensional world. However, the 2 dimensional Ardeans, are completely unable to understand how the 3rd dimension can exist.
The point is, that like the Ardeans trying to comprehend a 3rd dimension, we don’t know what we don’t know and only the sharpest of minds can even make a stab at conceptualizing it. So, looking again at our understanding of our own earth, as far as our tiny minds can tell, the planet is a big ball floating through space, we only exist in 3 physical dimensions, we can imagine and conceptualize a 4th dimension, but up until today (and I’m assuming including tomorrow), we are not able to experience a 4th Dimension and so we can’t really truly knows the facts of it. It could be the case that there are ONLY 3 physical dimensions and the facts that we know about our planet and its place in time and space ARE the genuine indisputable facts, but it could be the case that there is a 4th dimension out there and we don’t see the true facts right now and maybe never will.
So, back to the original question: What is a fact? Well, a fact is a piece of information that we believe to be correct, we are able to prove it with some means that we have available to us. It may be the case that a fact that we accept turns out to be incorrect, to change our way of thinking on a fact is a major thing and doesn’t happen easily, but it can happen.
It may actually be the case that some of the information we accept as a fact is already correct, although we may never truly know.
On a side note:
I wonder if there are people in a 4th dimenson right discussing how their world would work only in 3 dimensions, and some of the compromises they would need to make to do so. I wonder if these same 4 dimensional being try and conceptualise a 5 Dimensional World?
I wonder if there are people in that 5th dimenson right discussing how their world would work only in 4 dimensions, and some of the compromises they would need to make to do so. I wonder if these same 5 dimensional being try and conceptualise a 6 Dimensional World?