The Jig Saw

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Facts Vs Truth

Shantaram alais Gregory David Roberts, once known as Public Enemy Number One and Australia's Most Wanted Man talks on The Search for Truth -

When I talk about what we know, or when I call some piece of data a fact, I’m proceeding from the point of view that nothing in the universe is absolutely true, and I’m then making a distinction between what is merely believed to be true (without some supporting data) or what simply might be true, on one hand, and what has a high order of probability of being true, on the other hand.

When I say that something has a high order of probability of being true, what I mean is that to the best of our understanding and knowledge, at this time, the statement of fact is more likely to be verified than contradicted, through observational tests and closely examined predictions of outcomes. An example of this kind of "fact" and its "high order of probability of being true" is the statement that all men are mortal. It may be that all men are not mortal, and that an immortal person will be born tomorrow, but based on all the data we have, the high order of probability is that each new human being born will be mortal. Thus, for the purposes of our discussion here, I would accept the statement "all men are mortal" to be a fact, which is to say that it has a high order of probability of being true.

Now, I know that there may always be people who won't or can't accept even this use of the word "fact", or the word "true". If you happen to be such a reader, and if you just can't get past this point, then I advise you to stop reading right now. It's not my intention to cause distress to anyone who might read this series of seminars, and it's not my practice to try to convince anyone of my point of view. If a reader finds that something in my method, or some conclusion I draw, is upsetting to her or his sensibilities, I advise that she or he should simply stop reading, and leave the seminar series with my best wishes.

I’m talking to the body of people – the very large number of people, in my estimate – who think it useful to proceed on the assumption that some pieces of data, on the basis of a high order of probability, should be considered facts. I’m not ruling out the possibility that new evidence might emerge that might show me that the piece of data wasn't a fact. On the contrary, my method demands that we must learn everything we can about the universe, and constantly subject what we've accepted as facts to the test of new evidence. One of life's greatest delights, it seems to me, is the emergence of some new research or insight that reveals a previously accepted "fact" to be quite wrong. While I don't accept everything in the analysis of Popper (more of Karl Popper in later seminars), I do share the delight he felt in seeing long-cherished scientific tenets overturned.


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