There are no facts

People get very emotional about facts (and their great uncle, Truths), but the reality is they do not exist. Outside of mathematics, there are very few statements with a universal quality that would justify the word fact.

There are observations and there are interpretations about those observations.

An observation is recorded with an instrument that has a known error tolerance for accuracy. Examples of instruments could be your eyes, ears, binoculars, microscopes, cameras and so on. Improvements in instrument accuracy could well reveal different recorded observations about the same object.

Our eyes are not accurate enough to observe the phases of Venus, and for a large portion of our history, we concluded that the sun went around the earth. Galileo invented a telescope and we recorded different observations about Venus which ultimately led to different consensus.

Observations are only half the story. Once they are recorded, they need to be interpreted. Interpretation of the same observation can differ based on your background knowledge. People who have studied a subject for decades may well have a different interpretation from those who have not.

Expert consensus is reached when people with the most background knowledge conclude the same interpretation about a set of observations. This doesn’t mean 100% of those people agree. It just means a high enough bar that the question can be settled for now.

Of course, it may be the case that new observations (made with different instruments) may emerge in the future and those same experts may reach a different interpretation. This is because there is nothing universal about observations and interpretations. They are merely transient records at moments in time.

Contrast all this with beliefs. Beliefs are something you hold on to in lieu of going through the process of collecting observations and forming interpretations. Instead, you acquire the belief from a central authority – a teacher, a religious leader, a friend, a government or whatever. Beliefs and facts are intertwined – two sides of the same coin.

Most people today believe that the earth rotates around the sun, even though most have not peered through a telescope at Venus to confirm this for themselves. They are happy to accept the current scientific consensus on this matter. They do not have the desire, will or energy to do otherwise.

People also like to cherry pick their beliefs. There is a current scientific consensus on the contribution of human activity to climate change. Yet many people hold a different belief, perhaps inspired by different authority figures they look up to.

The scientists from 1,000 years ago were not “wrong” when they stated that the sun went around the earth. The observations, models and theories all pointed towards that conclusion.

Similarly, the scientists of today are not “right” that the earth goes around the sun. New instruments, observations and interpretations may emerge in the future (perhaps we are oscillating in a fourth spacial dimension that we cannot see yet).

There are no facts. There are only observations and interpretations at single points in time.

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