Posts Tagged ‘codes of behavior’

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth” – Part 2

May 8, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “What is Truth” a few weeks ago brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. For an in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

A quick refresher from those blogs: There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In my first response, I only dealt with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. Because that “higher being” topic, and the last comment about “wisdom”, were much more involved and subjective, I said I would write an answer in another posting. Here it is.

A Higher Being/Consciousness vs Philosophy

While there can are many definitions of this, I’m going to try to simplify it a bit so that this article can actually get finished. I absolutely concede that all monotheisms (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are searching for a “higher being”, as are all polytheisms (although, to my knowledge, the only strong polytheism still in practice is Hinduism, with Shinto, Taoism, etc., comprising very small populations).

One of the problems westerners have in conceptualizing Eastern life philosophies (as opposed to such Western philosophies as existentialism, nihilism, and others that are blatantly atheistic) is that they assume (incorrectly) that all Eastern philosophies are religions. In fact, all of their definitions and texts list Confucianism and Buddhism as religions, when they are nothing of the sort.

Confucius taught that when societies operate under laws, people are punished by authorities after having committed illegal activities. People generally conform to the laws, often without necessarily understanding the rationale behind them. He promoted a different way: to internalize behaviors so that actions are controlled beforehand. Because relationships are central to Confucianism—particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others—people will then behave properly because they wish to avoid feeling shame and want to avoid losing face. In theory, the result is a reduction in the number of coercive laws required for smooth functioning of the society. “Social harmony — the great goal of Confucianism — therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well.”

You will notice this is actually a philosophy of social behavior, having nothing to do with a being more supreme than the head of state, and nothing to do with a world consciousness. While Confucianism does not necessarily negate religion, most adherents do not find religion necessary to attain this “proper” behavior toward others.

But Confucianists are a pretty small group, so let’s move on to Buddhism. According to buddhanet.net, the generally agreed minimum number of Buddhists is estimated at around 350 million (6% of the world’s population).  The numbers range up to 1.5 billion. By any reckoning, that’s a significant amount. So what is Buddhism?

Between 563 B.C. and 483 B.C. a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived who taught that life is suffering, and that we must each find our way to ultimate enlightenment, at which time we will also become a Buddha. While it’s difficult to summarize Buddhism succinctly, moral conduct is an important part of the beliefs because it promotes harmony with all living things. Karma, a concept that states that a person’s actions have consequences over him/her in the future, is an intrinsic part of this morality. A person’s basic essence (the “soul” for you monotheists) can experience either rebirth or reincarnation (not the same), which gives a person the opportunity for attaining enlightenment through meditation, loving kindness and compassion towards all human beings.

http://www.ehow.com/info_8198007_major-beliefs-buddhism.html#ixzz1uDtQIzPM

Note two important factors: nowhere is a supreme being/consciousness mentioned. The first Buddha was a man; he never claimed to be a god or even a prophet. Further, every human has the potential to become a Buddha. Second, there is no heaven, hell, or life other than on this planet. The phrase “one with the universe” is very literal, in that every little dust mote is a particle of all others, which is a very scientific concept, not one given much credence by any monotheism. While Buddhists chant, perform meditation, and do other activities that Westerners perceive as religious, they are actually contemplating their own flaws, attempting to focus on what they personally need to do to improve themselves as a person. Yes, they often do these things in a group with a ritual, but the same could be said about political parties, social organizations, and even sports enthusiasts. That doesn’t make those things a religion. Well, with the possible exception of the Green Party, but that’s another story. If there is a “supreme being/consciousness” in Buddhism, it is the potential enlightenment each person might achieve for themselves, with the ultimate goal of reaching such perfection that will make them into a Buddha.

Is “The Search” Universal?

In my personal studies of religion and philosophy, it was this belief in the potential enlightenment of each individual—including myself—that attracted me to Buddhism. As I cannot accept the concept of rebirth or reincarnation of the “life essence” within each person, however, I ultimately rejected that philosophy as well. However, I was not searching for a god, I was searching for a way to make myself a better person.

Therefore, I will give you all the monotheists and polytheists. I will even give you most of the agnostics—after all, being “in doubt” means the person is searching for something. Many agnostics say they are “spiritual” (which often means some flavor of pantheism), although they don’t subscribe to any formal religion. However, I suspect a lot of people who identify as agnostic are hedging their bets, and many who identify as theistic don’t want the social stigma (especially in the United States) of admitting they are atheists.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people in the world who openly state they are atheists. In fact, in many countries they are the majority! Look at these figures: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

It’s very difficult to estimate, but combined I would say at least 15 percent of the world’s population are openly not hunting for any supreme being/consciousness. Never mind that any child born into a religious household is instantly indoctrinated into that religion and only emerges from that life-long submersion if they are of a very strong mind and willing to do a lot of “seeking” (see my blog on Holy Smoke). But let’s just use that conservative figure.

On March 12, 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated that the world population exceeded 7 billion. That would mean more than a billion (1.05) people are in no way deistic. The search for a supreme being is a “Universal Truth”?

On a somewhat separate note, I find it highly ironic that these two major Eastern philosophies, which are truly founded on the concept of “moral” behavior in the sense of society, have never as an organized force waged war. They have never used any form of force to convert others to their beliefs. On the other hand, every single monotheism has a history rife with physical coercion. (While Judaism never to my knowledge forced conversion, since escaping bondage in Egypt they have never shrunk from killing those of other cultures and faiths. They still have a pretty damn good military force.) Therefore, being a highly religious person does not necessarily make one a “good” person, in the sense of being tolerant, considerate and compassionate to other members of the human race.

Ignoring “The Truth”

The second point I wanted to address was her comment that “men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth”. This is an argument that goes back at least to the Persian Empire before Greece became united, when the Persians claimed that their religion was “the truth”, and all other people ignored this truth because they were not wise enough to recognize the obvious. To sum it up: “I know the TRUTH, and if you don’t believe me you’re an idiot!” This is almost too smug, self-serving and ludicrous to address. But I will.

How do they know the truth? Because their holy book (Torah, Bible, Qur’an) tells them what the truth is. Never mind the book was written by the hand of mere mortals. They were all “inspired” by god, weren’t they? In the case of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a resurrected Moroni visited Smith and kindly delivered engraved plates to him (The Book of Mormon), which he simply had to copy before they made their way back up to heaven. And every single one of the books is the absolute truth.

But, because I’m a little skeptical about this divine inspiration—or at least which version to believe—and am indeed searching for my own “flawed philosophy” based on truly being kind and considerate of others rather than killing them in the name of god for being unbelievers, this makes me stupid. Okay, I can live with that.

I believe in the theory of evolution because there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence in support of it, and more comes in every day. It’s still a theory. Every single religion throughout the history of Mankind has developed a creation myth for both the universe and for man. Yet there is not one shred of evidence, in spite of every religion looking for that proof, which supports creationism.

Who is being wise here, and who is ignoring wisdom (i.e., logic based on evidence) in order to cling to their terribly flawed beliefs?

The NCAA is Hypocritical About Pay for Sports vs Other Activities

April 18, 2012

In the long-gone days when I was in college, I competed in many civic public speaking tournaments, sponsored by such organizations as the Rotary, Toastmasters, Lion’s Club, and even the city judicial oratorical contest. I won a number of cash prizes; nothing major, but up to $100, which was quite a bit in those days. I also competed in inter-collegiate debate and public speaking competitions. Another inter-collegiate competition I participated in, again winning certain prizes, was contract bridge. As a matter of fact, my primary side income during college was working as a professional bridge player at a local club. This involved teaching lessons, playing “rubber” bridge as a form of gambling, and being paid by clients to play with them in tournaments. At the time, my girlfriend played for the school orchestra, which participated in inter-collegiate musical competitions, and she also played for money for small local orchestras and at a few restaurants.

This is not meant as a form of bragging (well, not totally!), but rather setting the stage to ask the question: Why should my girlfriend and I be permitted to make money in the exact forms of competitions we were involved in as a college students, when students who were on the inter-collegiate sports teams were forbidden to take a cent, in any form or manner, related to their sport, and even other sports?

Frankly, it really doesn’t take a lot of research or contemplation to figure out why. It’s simply that no or very few spectators will pay to watch those events, and there is no outside organization, such as television or radio, willing to pay colleges money in order to broadcast or otherwise make money from those other collegiate activities. In actual fact, there are really very few inter-collegiate sports that the broadcast media want, because they are not supported by commercial messages. Obviously football and basketball are, and certain major events such as the College World Series of baseball, but really not many. Of course, the NCAA, as dictated by the college presidents, insist that the broadcast media pick up many other sports as part of the package because they want to promote those sports (read: want to pretend that they value them just as much as they value the actual revenue producing sports), but how much play does the media give those other sports, and how big of an audience do they actually draw, paying or not?

Naturally, the NCAA can’t be “hypocritical” about total amateurism versus a “student athlete” making money in any of those other sports, which oddly includes golf, which is about as athletic as the contract bridge I used to play. If one sport is banned from the participants making money and still playing at the collegiate level, then they must all be banned. Frankly, I don’t think the NCAA really gives a damn if the athletes in volleyball or tennis or water polo play for money and then play for their college team. However, it would look really bad if they were allowed to when the “major sports” athletes were not allowed, so the NCAA has to make a blanket policy.

But not for other activities, as I’ve pointed out. What, really, is the difference? Money. That’s it. The NCAA makes money off of certain major sports, makes not a dime from any other type of activity that college students do, and so they have to create a way to control the product so that they can maximize their profits.

This goes way back in history to the pretense of “amateurism” in the Olympics, tennis tournaments, and other sporting events. Both the Olympics and tennis were making hundreds of millions from gate receipts and broadcast rights without paying the athletes a dime (well, the tennis tournaments did give players “expense money” under the table, but it wasn’t a lot). Eventually, the professionals boycotted the major tennis tournaments until they forced promoters to give them prize money, and the Olympics “allowed” professionals to join in, but for the same pay as the amateurs: medals.

There have been countless articles concerning the hypocrisy of the NCAA itself, as well as the universities, making billions of dollars through broadcast contracts, gate receipts, souvenir sales, sponsor endorsements, and other income streams, without allowing any athlete to openly accept one penny–even a free lunch from a recruiter–for his or her efforts. There have been countless articles about how much the coaches make, the ADs make, and even the trainers make, while the athletes must sacrifice their bodies, perhaps even their minds, for a few cheers and a pat on the back. This article is not about those things.

This article is meant to ask one question: if college students can participate in inter-collegiate events in any other field of endeavor, and then accept pay to do the exact same thing out in the real world, what gives the NCAA the right to forbid athletes from having the same right as any other student? There is only one difference, and that’s money. The NCAA can mouth pious sermons about the sanctity of amateurism in sports until they are blue in the face, but I only have three words in response: hypocrites, hypocrites, hypocrites.

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth”

April 13, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “truth” brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life. For a more in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In this blog, I will only deal with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. It’s clear where she’s going with that “higher being” topic, and I’m writing a book on it, so that will be a long answer for another posting.

Wisdom?

As to the last comment, I will further address that in the same post about a supreme being. However, I will say now that it’s clear this “truism” implies that anyone who doesn’t believe in the “wisdom” of a true believer (i.e., a religious person) is ignorant, and intellectually blind to the “truth”. I absolutely confess to being ignorant about many subjects. I may even be a fool. However, I personally don’t think that not believing the “wisdom” some preacher hands down or a text clearly written by men (Torah, Bible, Qur’an, etc.) makes me either one. It just means I don’t think the same way as you do. Ironically, this is not a religious person vs. atheist thing; all religions use the same argument to “prove” that their religion is right and all the others wrong.

A Little Math…

I beg you for a little indulgence here: I studied probabilities and statistics when I was young and even more foolish, so part of this “universal” thing is related to total population. You can skip the next paragraph, but the point is even tiny statistical variations can mean millions of people when talking about “everyone” in the world – which is what universal means.

“In statistical significance testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis (i.e., no relationship) is true. In this context, value ‘a’ is considered more “extreme” than ‘b’ if ‘a’ is less likely to occur under the null. One often rejects the null hypothesis when the p-value is less than the significance level α (Greek alpha), which is often 0.05 or 0.01. When the null hypothesis is rejected, the result is said to be statistically significant. When you have a large sample size, very small differences will be detected as significant. This means that you are very sure that the difference is real (i.e., it didn’t happen by fluke).”

Okay, now for some really BIG numbers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes an epidemic as affecting around (yes, the percentage fluctuates…) seven percent of the population of a given area. Therefore, if even seven percent of the people have different opinions from what some people consider “the truth”, this would represent a huge number of people in the world.

Love

So, given the above, we’ll start with love. I suppose this is the closest “universal truth” that I would agree with. However, we don’t all seek the same kind of love. Some people truly only seek the “love” on an alien space being who is all-powerful. Some people are really happy being loved by their pets, and don’t want anything to have to do with other humans. You think that extreme? A sociopath is a person “with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” They hate people and do not seek love. While there are many people who have either neurotic or actually psychopathic degrees of this disorder, there are many other “normal” people whose motto is “I don’t like being around other people”. In fact (very ironically), there is a website entitled Experience Project where they discuss their feelings, presumably without ever wanting to meet. There are undoubtedly many others who want to totally ostracize humanity by having no contact whatsoever.

Security

We’ll move on to security. This is a little lower down the Maslowian “Hierarchy of Needs” discussion, which is a big part of the teacher education process. That means it’s more basic, but not less important than love. First, “security” is a very abstract word. What does it mean to you? According to Maslow, it’s equivalent to safety. Does it mean not being killed? Does it mean having a home or situation you can count on? Second, I know of many people who actually want “adventure”, whatever that means. To most of them, it means moving on from home and security, to a life of excitement. When I was a young man, I loved cliff diving. Others I knew did hang gliding, or drag racing, or other dangerous activities. Perhaps as a person grows older they desire security, but how many young people really seek it out? That is a huge part of the human population.

Motivation

As to motivation, I’ve written articles on that. I claim there is actually no extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic. You’ll have to read the article on that to fully understand what I mean, but basically it’s that other people—your parents, teachers, preachers, et alia—can only seek to push the buttons that motivate you as a person, they cannot in themselves make you act in a certain way outside of coercion, which is vastly different from motivation, which is the desire to act in a certain way. What is more, some people in love act like “maniacs”, quite often killing or committing other externally destructive acts to demonstrate their love, while others will commit any act of self-sacrifice to prove their love.  This is not “acting one way”; such actions are polar opposites, and there are many variations in between. The same applies to hate: some people become subservient to those they hate in order to try to gain favor or sublimate their feelings, while other may murder and mutilate someone they truly hate. While hate is the flip side of love, in many people it manifests the same manic reactions.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is much along the same psychological path, one step higher than the social need of love. Yet it’s a much more slippery slope. Not only is “self-esteem” a variable from one person to the next, I don’t agree that everyone seeks it. An extreme case: I know there is a BDSM community out there where many men and women not only seek humiliation, they enjoy it. There seem to be many people who subscribe to that particular “enjoyment”. Would most of us describe receiving the desired humiliation and subjugation as seeking self-esteem? Seems a very bizarre interpretation of self-esteem to me. There are a surprising number of religious people who actually enjoy being told by their clergyman that they are “evil sinners”, and will go straight to hell if they don’t seek god’s forgiveness for their inequities. There are many, most prominently Catholic sects, who practice self-flagellation. Frankly, I don’t consider either of those as people with great self-esteem; they simply seek their humiliation in different ways from the BDSM crowd. Then there are people, mostly women, who will remain in a severely abusive relationship because, deep down, they know the man really loves them and only hits them … what? Because he can’t control his temper? Because they actually deserve to be abused? Not my idea of self-esteem. Have we started to hit epidemic proportions yet?

Security

Security is a myth, and we don’t all seek it. Let’s start with the thrill seekers: diving from cliffs, racing cars or motorbikes on highways at terrible speeds, shooting hard drugs, playing Russian roulette, and so on. Some people don’t have to be homeless, but they prefer it. Addictive personalities, such as die-hard gamblers or alcoholics, are certainly not concerned with security. The tens of thousands of people in the world who commit suicide each year are not seeking security (although some of them commit suicide because they have no security; go figure). I could go on, but the point is the numbers here are huge. In fact, we can’t even define security: again, each person has their own concept of what that means. Definitely way past epidemic proportions!

SO – NO!

All of those warnings you hear about using medications (‘May cause this or that’) are because no human body reacts exactly the same to any given drug. The same drug and dosage may cause anything from no reaction to death, depending on a person’s body chemistry. Multiply that by about a million times of complexity and you get the human mind. Do you really think all people react the same to the same stimulus? If so, that shows a deep ignorance of the psychology of most human beings.

So, no, Ms. Responder, you have not proven to me in the least that there are universal truths. There are perhaps some “general population” truths, but even the particular flavor of that truth changes according to individual taste buds. I stand by my previous contentions.

Your turn!

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 8, 2012

Part 2: What is the value of Truth?

If every single person has their own version of “the truth”, then what’s the value of even having such a word, or a concept? The most obvious use is that it gives us a starting point for seeking agreement on any given subject, whether the subject is scientific, legal, political, philosophical, religious, or “other”. Within those subjects, we devise a code of behavior by which we can live. Within that code of behavior there are (in my opinion) two basic, distinctly separate sets of guidelines. The first is morality, and the second is ethics.

There have been many definitions of those worlds. In the most simplistic sense, I like to think of morals as the group code of behavior. Ethics are the individual’s code of behavior. These could be exactly the same, but they rarely are. Generally speaking, codes of behavior are truly specific to the individual, no matter how much the individual may strive to adhere to the code of their group.

No matter what the group, each one has a basic code of behavior, although not every single aspect of behavior may be encompassed by that group. Certainly every religion has a highly codified set of behaviors, which are usually all-encompassing in the lives of the adherents of that religion. More to the point, each group has a unique code. While every religion has a morality, each sect and each church has its own variations. Each school or subgroup within that school, each business or division or department within that business, each ethnicity or segment within that ethnicity, each culture and subculture, each neighborhood, and so on, all have their own general codes of behavior. If a person belongs to that group, they are expected to follow that code of behavior as much as possible.

However, while most members will generally identify with the behavioral precepts of the group (or else they would not be a member!), it is within the nature of humans to have their own opinions that may differ with some of the group’s precepts on behavior. That’s where ethics enters into the picture. Whenever the individual differs from the group, they do so because, within their personal set of beliefs, a particular code or behavior of the group is not right for them. If a person finds that there is no general group code to which they can “in good conscience” subscribe, then they must form their own code, which is personal ethics.

Therefore, to be “amoral” does not necessarily mean that a person is “bad”, although every religion and many other organizations (such as governments) would wish you to believe so. On the other hand, if a person considers themselves to be ethical, that does not mean anyone else in the world would consider them to be “good”. Many serial murderers considered themselves to be very ethical. There is little doubt that Tomás de Torquemada, the Dominican friar who was the first Inquisitor General of Spain, considered himself to be highly moral. It is all a matter of viewpoint. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Act II, scene 2).

After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else. That is far more complicated than it sounds, and perhaps no human is capable of completely following that maxim. After all, sometimes just a careless comment to someone can be insulting or otherwise hurtful to them. Still, given that basic maxim, it is then possible to build an entire ethical system by which a person may strive to live–that is, as long as that person subscribes to that particular belief.

Another important reason for understanding “truth” is that we can more easily relate to the behavior of others if we are aware that our truth is not necessarily that of someone else and, even more importantly, that ours is not any more valuable than that of the other person. After all, how can we prove that our truth is correct and that of the other person is wrong? For example, the question of whether or not god exists cannot be proven. For an atheist, how can you prove the non-existence of a non-existent being? By the same token, if god does exist, then which religion is the correct religion and subscribes to the “true” dogma? Many wars have been fought, and many people have died trying to resolve that issue.

… and the Truth Shall Set You Free

How much more tolerance could there be in the world if everyone honestly thought that another person’s truths were just as valuable, within the world of that person, as their own truths are to them? How much more peaceful would the world be if fanatics of all stripes did not seek to impose their “truths” on other people by force? That is not to say that we should never seek to convince another person toward our way of thinking, if invited to do so, by the force of our logic. But, if we do so, we should be just as willing to listen to their counter-arguments. Once again, that is one of the great values of having an open mind. Just like a cage, we have no freedom if the door is locked tight.

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 7, 2012

Part 1: What are Truth, Information, and Facts?

There are many words that we bandy about that have deep meaning in our lives, both emotionally and intellectually. Among the most powerful is the word “truth”. Most of us believe we know what the “truth” is, yet it is such an incredible object of argumentation for most of the people in the world. So, what is the truth?

All information you have recorded since you became sentient, all thoughts you have weighed, all external opinions you have absorbed, and all emotions you have felt, have led you to what you believe: to your truths. Some of these truths are as simple as daily activities, such as you might believe you must brush your teeth at least once a day if you want to keep them healthy. Some are as profound as your most deeply held religious and philosophical principles. If you are open-minded and willing to absorb and consider further information on a given subject, you may decide to change what you believe–your truth. However, until that moment, what you believe now is, for you, the truth.

Therefore, the truth is whatever you believe it to be. And that is the truth. There can be no other definition, or even explanation of what truth is. Isn’t that a pretty closed-minded statement? Only if you believe in “universal truths”, that is, statements that would be true for every single person in every single circumstance. But that would mean that every single person would have to share the same circumstances and the same manner of thinking, which would be a very boring universe indeed.

Many writers and speakers try to convince us that what they believe is the truth, the absolute truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god you’d better damn well believe them. They use phrases such as “it’s a fact” and “the information is clear” and “everyone knows” to try to prove their contentions. Do those words have any value? Let’s examine them.

Information

What we call “information” is everywhere. We gain information from looking at the sky, from tasting objects, from reading books. However, even most information is subjective. For example, we know from looking at a thermometer that the air is at a certain degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit), but is the temperature warm, hot, or just comfortable? That depends on how our individual body reacts to temperature. We can measure the direction and speed of the wind, but is it a mild breeze or a stiff wind? That depends on how we react to wind, and whether we find that amount of wind to be useful (such as in sailing) or a nuisance (especially when it’s blowing in our face). We can taste a particular bottle of wine, but is the wine bitter, sweet, dry, acidic, full-bodied, or oakie? Does a dish have too much salt or not enough? That depends on our taste buds. While the “information” may be the same for everyone, the opinion about the information may be quite different depending on each person’s preferences.

Facts

Facts are not subject to subjectivity–which is why there are so few of them. A fact is something that can be proven, over and over and over.

The speed of sound is 343 meters per second (1,125 ft/s). At least, it is in dry air at 20 degrees C (68 degrees F). How do we know that? Because many scientists, using different methods, have measured it. No matter who does it, or how they do it, the results always come out the same–as long as the instruments have been calibrated properly and the conditions are similar. Naturally, the speed of sound varies at different temperatures, so we must take that into account when discussing the “fact” of the speed of sound. It also varies when passing through solids or liquids, so we would have to consider the circumstances as well if we wanted to be perfectly objective.

On the other hand, an object pulled by the force of gravity accelerates at 32 ft/sec/sec. The equation for the force of gravity is F = mg, with the general result being that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass. Gravity on the moon and on other planets would have different values of acceleration due to the different sizes and densities of those bodies, but the effects of the force are similar. Of course, we’re assuming no other influencing factors, such as a parachute slowing down the object due to wind resistance. So, we can pretty much take the acceleration of a falling object on Earth as a fact. But you can see that’s also a bit arbitrary!

There are certain pieces of information that everyone today accepts as facts, many of which were not accepted hundreds of years ago. For example, all heavenly bodies in our solar system revolve around Sol, as proposed in the 3rd Century BC by Aristarchus of Samos. In spite of what the Catholic Church insisted on for centuries, Galileo proved heliocentrism … over and over again. Another fact is that all living objects must have water for their existence. Every living object will someday die. Those are facts. Most of the rest of the things that we know are either raw information or factoids, both subject to interpretation.

What’s a factoid? Something that sounds like a “fact”, but is actually only a generalization of accepted information. For example, the world is round. Really? Actually, the basic shape “approximates an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator.” (Milbert, D. G.; Smith, D. A.) It also has such an irregular shape that the highest peak, Mount Everest, is 8,848 meters above local sea level and the deepest “canyon” is the Mariana Trench, 10,911 meters below local sea level. Why “local”? Because even sea level varies from place to place and from time to time. “Sea level” is also a factoid.

Tomorrow: What is the value of Truth?