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Facts / Opinions / Evidence / Truth

24/03/2015

Justin P McBrayer[1] recently posted an op-ed piece with the NYTimes called Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts [2] where he relates the following:

“When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

“Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

“Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

“…So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?

“First, the definition of a fact waffles between truth and proof — two obviously different features. Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.

“But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:

“Me: ‘I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?’

“Him: ‘It’s a fact.’

“Me: ‘But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.’

“Him: ‘Yeah, but it’s true.’

“Me: ‘So it’s both a fact and an opinion?’

“The blank stare on his face said it all.”[3]

To quote one of the great rhetoricians of our era:

sam-jackson-retort-468x350

“Facts,” “truth,” “evidence,” and “opinion” are not the same thing. They may overlap when referring to concrete examples, but that’s a function of language, not reality.

Facts, so to speak, are the atoms of reality: They is what they is. They carry no moral weight of judgment, no meaning in and of themselves. A fact either is or it is not.

Truth is the summation of several facts in conjunction or juxtaposition against one another. The “truth” of water, for example, is a summation of several facts about it: Its molecular formula, the pressure and temperature points where it freezes or vaporizes, the way it interacts with other molecules, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

Evidence are facts assembled to produce a truth, either in whole or in part.

Opinion is a belief, preferably based on informed knowledge about the facts and evidence before one, that makes a presumption about what truth is.

Fact: I was born

Opinion A: I was born within the borders of the United States at that time

Opinion B: I was not born within the borders of the United States at that time

Without fact based evidence to prove either Opinion A or Opinion B, they are both equally valid assumptions.

I’m the flippin’ Schroedinger’s Cat of procreation, and lacking facts in evidence my birth within / without the borders of the US are equally valid assumptions.

Only one of those opinions is true, of course.

And all the logic, rhetoric, assembled supporting evidence, sincerity of believe, and numbers of believers does not alter the factual truth one iota.

There are no moral “facts”,
but there are moral “truths”.

Unlike facts which can be fixed in time and space, truth does not need observable concrete evidence to be true or not.

There was no cup of coffee on my desk an hour ago, there is a cup of coffee on my desk now, there will be an empty cup on my desk in an hour are all valid statements of fact even though they do not represent the same exact thing. They can be assembled to form a truth about my having a cup of coffee while working.

Or more precisely, they can be assembled to produce an opinion about the truth; for all you know I’m just shining you on about the coffee, the desk, and me working. Or more precisely still, the truth is that it’s possible for me to drink coffee, and that truth remains unalterable regardless of the facts of my coffee drinking / non-drinking.

McBrayer wants to have his imaginary cake and make you eat it. George Washington’s status as the first president of the US stands independent of McBrayer’s belief, no matter how much evidence he assembles to prove it. He is right in his opinion — this time.

But he could just as sincerely believe even more and better evidence of other facts and assemble them into a conclusion that is not the truth.

It drives hard line moralists nuts to live in a universe where their opinions are not automatically revered and treated as fact, but to quote another great rhetorician:

“Dem’s da conditions wot prevails.”

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[1] Yeah, I know: “Who?” Bear with me, I gotta fill a quota on this blog and this one’s an easy pop fly.

[2] Probably for the same reason they don’t think there’s any dry water, either; McBrayer is using mutually contradictory terms.

[3]  Congratulations, Justin, for opening a can of pseudo-intellectual whup-ass on your seven year old…

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Boulet Gets All Metaphysical On Yo Ass

22/03/2015

EN-Pixelphysics051

da man be fnckin’ wid yo hed

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Thinkage

12/03/2015

“Bizzle’s rap contains all the usual anti-gay bugaboos: gays are uncontrollably lusty; they’re like pedophiles; they violate God’s rules and summon his wrath; they trounce my religious freedom to persecute them; and now they’re becoming violent—oh, but by the way, while I hate their sin, I love them and just pray they’ll become straight like me.  Indeed, what’s most marked about today’s homophobia is what a clear expression of narcissism it is, along with how unrigorous its rationalizations are.  Homophobic people seem unable to see past themselves, to transcend their most rudimentary emotions and arrive at a place that’s often reachable only if we apply a modicum of reason—often spurred by empathy—to challenge old mental habits.

“Instead, homophobes assume that the only natural way of being, for everyone, is straight like them.  The late philosopher and psychoanalyst Elisabeth Young-Bruehl once wrote that those with narcissistic prejudice ‘cannot tolerate the idea that there exist people not like them.’  It’s a telling diagnosis, given how freely anti-gay thought characterizes gay people (as opposed to anti-gay people) as narcissistic—presumably an artifact of the Freudian notion that homosexuality stems from a developmental block in the path from self-love to love of others.  Borrowing another concept from psychoanalysis, homophobes may be especially likely to project their own narcissism onto others as a way to deflect taking responsibility for their own issues.” – Nathaniel Frank, The Narcissism of Today’s Homophobia

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Thinkage

6/03/2015

“The zombie scenario goes as follows: imagine that you have a doppelgänger. This person physically resembles you in every respect, and behaves identically to you; he or she holds conversations, eats and sleeps, looks happy or anxious precisely as you do. The sole difference is that the doppelgänger has no consciousness; this – as opposed to a groaning, blood-spattered walking corpse from a movie – is what philosophers mean by a ‘zombie’.

“Such non-conscious humanoids don’t exist, of course. (Or perhaps it would be better to say that I know I’m not one, anyhow; I could never know for certain that you aren’t.) But the point is that, in principle, it feels as if they could. Evolution might have produced creatures that were atom-for-atom the same as humans, capable of everything humans can do, except with no spark of awareness inside. As Chalmers explained: “I’m talking to you now, and I can see how you’re behaving; I could do a brain scan, and find out exactly what’s going on in your brain – yet it seems it could be consistent with all that evidence that you have no consciousness at all.” If you were approached by me and my doppelgänger, not knowing which was which, not even the most powerful brain scanner in existence could tell us apart. And the fact that one can even imagine this scenario is sufficient to show that consciousness can’t just be made of ordinary physical atoms. So consciousness must, somehow, be something extra – an additional ingredient in nature.” – Oliver Burkeman, “Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness?” 

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The Fixer’s Manifesto

26/02/2015

The Fixers Manifesto

originally found here

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Thinkage

23/02/2015

“We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.” — José Mujica, president of Uruguay

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Thinkage

5/02/2015

“According to Ecclesiastes, ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose.’  For me, today, that means a time to seek justice and a time to mourn the dead.

“And a time to shut the hell up.

“The recent brutal murder of two Brooklyn police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, is a national tragedy that should inspire nationwide mourning.  Both my grandfather and father were police officers, so I appreciate what a difficult and dangerous profession law enforcement is.  We need to value and celebrate the many officers dedicated to protecting the public and nourishing our justice system. It’s a job most of us don’t have the courage to do.

“At the same time, however, we need to understand that their deaths are in no way related to the massive protests against systemic abuses of the justice system as symbolized by the recent deaths—also national tragedies—of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and Michael Brown.  Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the suicidal killer, wasn’t an impassioned activist expressing political frustration, he was a troubled man who had shot his girlfriend earlier that same day.  He even Instagrammed warnings of his violent intentions.  None of this is the behavior of a sane man or rational activist.  The protests are no more to blame for his actions than The Catcher in the Rye was for the murder of John Lennon or the movie Taxi Driver for the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  Crazy has its own twisted logic and it is in no way related to the rational cause-and-effect world the rest of us attempt to create.”

– Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The Police Aren’t Under Attack. Institutionalized Racism Is.

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Jim MacQuarrie On The Subject Of White Privilege

2/02/2015

I volunteer with a food program here in town. It was started by a black man, run by a black church, operates in a mostly black neighborhood.

Funny thing: after I had been helping for a few months, they asked me to join their board (I had to decline due to work). I asked why they wanted me, since I was just a guy volunteering to serve mashed potatoes one night a week, not important or particularly influential in any way, and prone to insulting prominent people. The founder told me plainly that because I’m a middle-aged white dude, I could go places and say things that the other board members couldn’t.

The other board members are pastors and retired businessmen and known in the community, but random white guy me has access that they don’t have. Seriously. As obnoxious, cranky and undiplomatic as I am, I’m more respected than people who have worked and served the city for decades, simply because my ancestors were from Europe.

That’s white privilege. When somebody uses the term, they aren’t calling you a racist, or playing the race card, or making excuses for their own condition. They are stating a fact. A white jerk who never graduated college and can’t behave politely in public is more respectable than a successful retired black businessman.

– Jim MacQuarrie 

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A Quote To Kick Off Black History Month

1/02/2015

“Your crown has been bought and paid for.
All you must do is put it on.” — James Baldwin

 

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Let’s Play “Reverse The Polarities” With Jen Sorensen

27/01/2015

…aw, c’mon — it’ll be FUN!!!

torturereport1

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