Even Facts Need Explaining

From: L. Michael Hall
2021 Neurons #72
November 8, 2021
Facts #3


Once you have a health skepticism about “the facts” that you are regularly fed by the media, you can prepare yourself to think through those facts to determine their validity, truthfulness, and usefulness. That facts are critically important, no one will deny. To think clearly we need facts. And we need them for many reasons.

For one thing, we need facts in order to be sane. As facts ground us to what is real and actual, they save us from living in an imaginary, pretend world. That’s why we scour for facts. We collect them, analyze them, interpret them, and then use them to build knowledge. Learning works best when it is connected to reality. Alfred Korzybski noted this in his classic, Science and Sanity:
“Men do not ‘go crazy’ in response to facts as such. They tend to ‘go crazy’ as they get away from facts, out of touch with reality—when what they say and think no longer stand in an adequate relationship to their world of not-words.” (1933/1994, p. 175).

When a statement is “true-to-fact,” rather than “false-to-fact,” you can build up good useful mental maps and take actions that will lead to being effective and productive. That’s why it is so important to be able to determine what is and is not a true factual statement. Our lives depend on it. When you take any statement, ask, “Is it a fact or not?” The answer will always be, “It depends.” As noted in Neurons #71, it depends on context, criteria, theory, level, and kind.
∙ “That’s a rubber mat.” Visually it may look like it is made of rubber, but is it? How will you test it? When a manufacture calls something ‘a rubber mat,’ that labeling does not make it so.
∙ “She is our third child.” That fact is dependent on not counting a child that die at birth. In some cultures, they would count the child that died as number three, so now there are four. Here, facts are influenced by the culture in which they arise. A fact in one culture may not be a cultural fact in another.
∙ “That is a big truck” “That is really loud music.” These are relative facts because these “facts” depend on who is making the statement and what criteria the person is using. “Big” and “loud” in comparison to what? Here we actually have comparative deletions.

To be a clear, creative, and critical thinker, you have to be able to test language to determine if something is factual or not. So while we normally think of facts as items that we trust and automatically treat as valid and true, it is not wise to do that. While advertisers present facts as unquestionable and absolute, always keep in mind that it may not be so. It is not irrefutably true. Check it out. What kind of “facts” is being presented? At what level is it being offered? In what context and what is being left out? According to what theory or assumption?

Yet things are not that simple. Facts, as statements that assert things, are based on data — which keeps changing. Korzybski explained in this way:
“Since no two things are the same and no one thing stays the same, your inability to adjust to reality will be in proportion to the degree to which you insist on certainty as to facts—and believe that you have achieved it.” (Korzybski, Science and Sanity, p. 187).

We often attempt to sneak a map-territory confusion into our conversations and reason by talking, thinking, and feeling that some things are “facts” —meaning, real, actual, “a real happening,” etc. Yet the term that we are using is not so one-dimensional as it seems.

So, facts are not the last word about an issue! That why, more typical than not, facts do not bring an end to an inquiry. They are essential to every inquiry if we are to build up robust knowledge about things. We need facts and so that’s where we start, “What are the facts of a case?” Then we have to consider context, background, hidden premises, etc.

Post Script
After five years of false information used to keep a conspiracy theory alive, John Durham’s investigation has now led to indictment against Igor Danchenko, for his work providing information to former British spy Christopher Steele for the dossier. He was the Russia analyst who contributed key research to the so-called Steele dossier that detailed alleged ties between ex-President Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 election was arrested Thursday as part of a probe by special counsel John Durham. Finally, the facts of the case come out, although it is certainly five years late. As it turns out, the Russian hoax had nothing to do with Trump and everything to do with the Clinton campaign.