Fact Check: The Glass is Half Full
“Let’s get the facts straight.” “Just give me the facts.” “The facts of the matter are…” “Factual speaking…” “I’ve seen the facts.” “Face the facts.” “Your facts are wrong.” “My source is factual.” “Facts, facts, facts…”
Many discussions in our current society begin or end with the term “facts” being thrown around, with one side trying to prove its point through the use of the “facts” they have. Yet, despite the high utilization rate of the term “facts”, it doesn’t seem to be changing too many opinions.
What is going on? Most of what we hear today seems to be concerned only with some nebulous term called, “facts”. Why is the term nebulous? Because many people feel that they know all of the “facts” and others are completely ignorant or unintelligently ignoring the “facts” that they know. You may know someone that believes there is only one set of “facts” and that they have somehow found the metaphorical pot of golden facts at the end of the rainbow of truth while anyone who may see things a little bit differently is either ignorant or willfully blind.
How can that be? How could one group of people have full access to the truth while the other wallows in blindness and despair? What causes such a difference in opinions among people that are similarly situated? And how is it that both groups are convinced that they’ve got it right and their opponents have it all wrong?
Human beings are imperfect. They are full of a wide variety of faults, often appearing at the most inconvenient times. How is it that a group of beings that suffer at various times from being incapable, weak, short-sighted, selfish, biased, prideful, arrogant, ignorant, petty, cowardly, and a host of other pejorative adjectives, could believe that they had managed to find facts through their own efforts while another group so similarly equipped with the same weaknesses that beset humankind remains in an unenlightened state?
The answer to this question may differ from person to person, yet a similar principle may affect us all. The “facts” we see or accept may be tied to what we believe inside. In other words, our beliefs may limit or inform what we view as factual or true.
This isn’t to say that truth does not exist or cannot be found. Quite the contrary. I believe in an absolute truth and in a way to find it. But the key to that statement is the word “believe”. There will be no discoveries of truth if there is no belief. In order to understand this, it is important to understand that there is a difference between absolute truth and what we commonly call “facts” today.
What are these facts and how do we find them? In the quest for facts today, many people lean on something they term as “science”. What they are typically referring to is more accurately known as the Scientific Method. Defining this loosely – which is necessary because a single “scientific method” is not actually agreed upon – this method involves making an observation, developing a hypothesis about the nature of the observation, testing the hypothesis, drawing conclusions based on the results of the test and refining and retesting the hypothesis as needed.
Based on this process, it is typical to draw a conclusion regarding the accuracy of the hypothesis of the initial observation. Once thoroughly tested, a hypothesis can become a theory. That is the end of its journey; at least, until someone is able to disprove the theory. Some believe that scientific theories become scientific laws but that is not the case. A scientific law describes scientific phenomena while theories explain them. In short, a law explains the ‘what’ and a theory explains the ‘why’ or ‘how’.
This is an incredibly valuable tool, and humanity owes many of the wonderful technologies and conveniences we enjoy today to this process. But it’s also important to remember that the end result of this process is a theory. The scientific process makes no claim to facts1. It makes claims to theorems and leaves them open to anyone that should wish to challenge them. There is no, “settled science”. Even mathematics, which hangs its scientific hat on its proofs, has a large number of theorems that are only believed to be true. They have no proof of their validity but, as of yet, a proof invalidating them does not exist. Check out the Twin Primes theorem or Goldbach’s Conjecture if you are interested.
So where does this leave us? Are we hunting for facts in a sea of theorems? Are we “following the science” when we should be “following the scientific method”? Are we calling science settled when the scientific method itself makes no such claim? Did we forget how flawed we are? Did we forget that bloodletting, smoking, and opioids were all, at one point in time, “scientifically proven to improve your health”? What allows us to now make any claim on “facts”?
Is it possible that we have this all backward? We’ve found ourselves in a world bound and determined to let “science” dictate each policy, to let “facts” decide fate and to censure any idea that might exist in opposition. Never mind that each significant scientific discovery began with a minority of people working to convince a majority of its validity; never mind that science can only ever be as accurate as our ability to measure; and never mind that science has never been able to lay claim to any moral virtue; rather, it’s full speed ahead with “facts”.
We’ve forgotten that “facts” are only important when guided by virtues. The scientific method is as aptly applied to curing cancer as it is to the process of merging Ebola and smallpox. The one we consider a virtue and the other a disaster; but science itself doesn’t make that determination. We do, based on our beliefs.
Which brings us all the way back to the title of this article. Is the glass half full, or half empty? Can the scientific method answer the question? What tests will you apply, or measurements will you take to make that determination? Am I even asking a question about a physical glass filled with physical liquid? Is this question trying to understand the amount of liquid in a glass and whether the glass was being filled or emptied, or is it a question that is far more concerned about how you perceive the glass and its contents?
A far more powerful question and one that transcends science is, “Do you believe the glass to be half full or half empty?” The answer to that question is far more compelling. It gives insight into an individual, their motivations, and their state of mind. Furthermore, lets postulate that the scientific method somehow “proved” that an individual’s glass of goodness in life was half empty. Would that make a difference or somehow limit a person? If that individual believed their glass to be half full, even though science said it was half empty, they would be able to act with more power than science could ever bestow.
A person’s belief then becomes more powerful and important than the “facts” we develop with the scientific method. It is important to reiterate here that this is not discounting the scientific method. Instead, the point is to define a hierarchy of value that sets belief above the results obtained from scientific inspection.
The reason for this is simple. Imagine that you have prioritized the scientific method above anything else. You would be very aware that scientific theories change regularly. The more we practice the method, the more we learn, and the more we learn, the more we realize that what we previously shown scientifically to be accurate may not be correct. If science can prove something to be false tomorrow that you believed to be true today, why follow “the science”? The answer is because you believe the process brings value. You would not follow the scientific method if you did not believe in it.
Belief, therefore, is the primary virtue. It’s a principle of power that transcends facts. So, what will your belief empower you to do today? What goal do you want to accomplish that the “facts” indicate may be difficult or even impossible, but your belief whispers that you can do it? Your actions based on your belief can change you and, subsequently, can change the world. All the scientific discoveries in the world will not create a moral person, let alone a moral society, but your actions because of your beliefs can.
For those that watch the “facts” on the news, the state of the world may look depressing or negative. However, at Believe, we still “believe” there is more good in the world than bad. We fully believe that there are many good people, and the more we believe it, the more we see it all around us. It has been encouraging to recognize that the more we believe in something, the more we find it all around.
We invite you to join us in our efforts to build good in the world. Believing in something is truly a transformational principle that can change our lives, and as you associate with others that also believe, your life may never be the same.
Disclaimer: This article is missing context
This article has been checked by independent fact checkers and was found to be missing contextual information that would indicate that the most important facts are the ones approved experts have given you today and any modification to these facts in the future shouldn’t lead you to question the facts today but merely question your own desire to question facts given to you by distinguished, approved experts.
See https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/if-you-say-science-is-right-youre-wrong for some context. The title and sub-heading run as follows: “If you say ‘Science is right,’ you’re wrong”. “It can’t supply absolute truths about the world, but it brings us steadily closer.”