There are no facts, only context.
Armchair philosophers will tell you that’s a contradiction in terms. I am, in fact, stating a fact, namely, that there is no such thing as a fact. They’ll tell you that I’m full of shit. I’m a schizophrenic on LSD paraphrasing the liar’s paradox.
I’m done with facts. What have they ever done for me?
The Berenstein Bears never existed. Curious George didn’t have a tail. Hannibal Lecter never said “Hello, Clarice.” All of this can be attributed to the Mandela Effect, a term describing our collective miscounting of history. The term is taken from the myth that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. He didn’t. Yet, millions of people are still convinced he did.
The entire human history of incorrection is replete with facts. For a time, the world was flat, and it was the center of an infinite, static universe created by God. Today, the world is spherical, and revolves around the sun in a finite universe still expanding after the Big Bang. Don’t even get me started on Pluto.
This was all science at one time or another, based on facts.
Science is nothing more than glorified observation that delivers professional, peer-reviewed estimates of the world around us. I’m not saying that science is useless, only that anyone taking “facts” so seriously needs to understand that observation itself is inherently flawed, and P values aren’t nearly as reliable or as objective as previous generations of scientists would have you believe.
For example, 270 authors tried to reproduce 98 original papers from 3 psychology journals in the largest replication study ever done. It showed that only a third of those published and peer-reviewed experiments could be replicated, which is a huge problem since reproduction is a central tenet of the scientific method.
The ‘hard scientists’ in their pristine laboratories, flatulating into their Griffin beakers and opining on the latest issue of Nature, Cell, or Science, were probably all pointing at the field of psychology and wetting themselves with laughter. They must not have read the U.S. National Institute of Statistical Sciences study in 2014, which claimed only 5-10% of epidemiological observational studies from 2001-11 could be replicated.
Replication problems arise mainly from varying statistical practices, and any variance at all can give way to the same abuses examined by Thiese, Arnold, and Walker in 2015. Do you think BigPharma would allow an arbitrary set of measurement standards influence one of their drug trials?
Unfortunately, the scientific publishing culture makes all branches suspect. See this cold slice of humble pie by Daniel Sarewitz of The New Atlantis:
While most of the evidence of poor scientific quality is coming from fields related to health, biomedicine, and psychology, the problems are likely to be as bad or worse in many other research areas. For example, a survey of statistical practices in economics research concluded that “the credibility of the economics literature is likely to be modest or even low.”
He goes on to say that scientific studies aren’t useless, but rather “the results of research — however imperfect — are reliable in the context of the existing state of knowledge, and are thus a definite step toward a better understanding of our world…”
I agree. I think there’s a lot of validity to the scientific method, more so than informal and unregulated observation. I believe that getting closer and closer to “the truth” is sufficient, but anyone hoping to use science to unequivocally define existence will be left holding a bucket of incongruence.
There is no such thing as a fact, because the scientific method relies on measurements that are inherently subjective.
The February 13th, 2014 issue of Nature cited Steven Goodman, a physician and statistician at Stanford:
Change your statistical philosophy and all of a sudden different things become important…Then ‘laws’ handed down from God are no longer handed down from God. They’re actually handed down to us by ourselves, through the methodology we adopt…The wake-up call is that so many of our published findings are not true.
In other words, scientific methods are self-referential, meaning all scientists are told how and what to study (and its significance) by other scientists.
Obviously, in order to maintain any modicum of integrity in the scientific community, standards of methodology must be in place. Moreover, I’m fully aware that scientific methods have improved since the days of geocentrism, so I’m not holding science’s past against it.
What I’m saying is that anyone standing firmly by facts today is likely ignoring the never-ending displacement and extinction of facts.
But surely there are real, factual constants out there, right?
The speed of light is a great example. It is the quantitative bedrock on which the entire metric system is based. If we can’t accurately measure the speed of light, then we can’t measure anything else, period.
Light-speed is technically a constant, known by its value of c. Its speed is 300 million meters per second. Actually, it’s 299,792,458 meters per second, but humans like rounding off the world around them, which is why we have stereotypes.
The “speed of light” refers to its speed in a perfect vacuum, i.e. the complete absence of matter. Perfect vacuums cannot physically exist, even (if not particularly) in a laboratory, which means the speed of light has never been, and cannot be, 100% accurately measured.
Still, physicists will tell you that they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what c is.
They can get very close to a perfect vacuum in a lab, and every new measurement of the speed of light removes a little more uncertainty from c. From 1676 to 1973, ten different speeds of light were measured, meaning the most reliable speed in the universe has been anything but constant.
It’s not even constant today. Researchers at the University of Glasgow in 2015 discovered that focusing or manipulating the structure of light pulses reduces their speed, even in vacuum conditions. Once again, a universal constant was shown to be unreliable.
But for now, the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second, which we’re told is close enough to be considered a fact. This definition only makes sense because the speed of light in a vacuum is assumed to be the same value for all observers.
It’s fitting that we demonstrate the fallibility of such a critical idea, since Einstein himself used the speed to light to express a theory stating that the physics of the universe are relative. That is, existence, or at least our observation of it, is reliant wholly on context.
Einstein is the most famous physicist who ever lived. He was also a gifted applied mathematician, in that he could use math to validate his theories and translate them into terms that other physicists could understand and attempt to replicate. If the theory of relativity were an apple pie, the speed of light would be the apples and math would be the directions on how to bake the pie.
Mathematics is the language of the universe. Literally, everything that occurs in the physical realm of existence can be explained through numbers. For instance, you are reading these words because of the chemical composition of silicon, a series of binary code, and a custom number of neurotransmitters, mitochondria and other cell organelles at the synaptic endings in your brain.
But what if I told you math doesn’t really exist?
Most of us were taught that math, along with tautologies and deductions from pure reason, were a priori; that is, it represents objective knowledge that exists outside of experience and regardless of disposition. No matter what tongue you speak, religion you follow, or weird fetishes you have, 2+2=4 and that’s that.
The problem with math is that it’s self-referential. Math is the study of numbers we’ve devised to quantify the world around us, and since you can’t study math (i.e. you can’t see math happening unless humans are performing it), you can’t study it empirically. We literally have to do math for it to exist so that we can observe it being done.
But who cares if math can’t be empirically studied? Based on the unreliability of scientific research mentioned previously, I don’t necessarily consider this a bad thing. At the end of the day, math isn’t knowledge, information, and facts so much as it is language, meaning, and context.
Ask yourself this: Do we discover math, or do we create it?
There’s a body of thought out there that mathematical concepts like integers, algebra, pi, etc. are created by human brains and are entirely fictional sections of math’s story. In other words, the formula “2+2=4” is as real as the statement “Woodrow Wilson was the 28th U.S. President” or the observation “red and green make yellow.” These statements are only true within the context of what we happen to know about them.
Woodrow Wilson wouldn’t be #28 if he hadn’t beaten Taft, or if one of the four other single-term presidents prior to Taft had won their re-elections. Grover Cleveland, who lost his 1889 re-election, was later elected to a non-consecutive 2nd term, meaning Wilson is the 27th U.S. President if we’re counting people and not administrations.
Colors only exist in your brain as interpretations of light, and mixing the colors “red” and “green” together produces certain blends of light that, by our observation and definition, create “yellow.” We’ve all agreed on what these colors look like, even though some people cannot see them at all, or see them differently.
2+2=4 because, over the course of millennia, we have come to agree on what two and four represent, that two twice is four, and that half of four is two. Mathematics itself only exists because human brains are here to observe it, which is also a stretch in terms since, as I stated above, we can’t actually see math happening outside of our own manipulation of it.
Hardline mathematicians contend that math does exist outside our experience of it, and that as our knowledge of existence grows we will find new maths that explain everything. We just haven’t discovered them yet.
But this is like saying that language can exist without a people to speak it. I agree that there are physical things deep in the universe that, once discovered, will require the creation of new formulas to explain them. However, these phenomena will not bring with them new math, only new physical characteristics that we will interpret mathematically.
Now we’re confronted with a much bigger problem.
How does one justify the belief in a single point of existential derivation (i.e. God) that would create a universe where nothing is real, including said creator, even if we observe or experience it?
Atheists won’t have this problem. They’re as convinced of a Godless universe as zealots are that God created everything in a week. In fact, anti-realist atheism is the easiest philosophy I can imagine, if only for its philosophical convenience and arrogant lack of spiritual accountability. Religious people won’t have trouble here either, because they’ll simply say “Of course God exists, duh, and everything He created exists too, you drug-crazed hippie.”
I mean, what the hell is even going on anymore where atheists and religious folks have more in common with one another than with me?
We’re here, right? I’m writing this. You’re reading it. We both feel warmth, see colors, hear sounds, understand words, and dream. If nothing is real, what’s happening right now? Something is happening somewhere at sometime for something to be happening here, now. Whatever exists, whenever and wherever it has existed, is a result of something having existed somewhere at sometime or another. So, there is a source code for existence, whether we’re a direct part of it or just ancillary fabrications and rounding errors.
Solipsism, delayed-choice experiments, quantum theory, Schrodinger’s cat….these are all expressions of the empirical doubt to which I subscribe.
So, to anyone mocking the contradiction of “There is no such thing as a fact,” let me remind you that time and existence are infinite, this entire universe is self-referential, and you’re a figment of your own imagination.
Get with the program.