Are truths and facts the same thing?
Is a truth always a fact?
Can a fact ever be untrue?

35 Comments

  1. Quick answer: No, no and no 😉
    Rambling answer: The truth can be objective. I can say that I’m in a good mood for example and as far as I’m concerned I am telling the truth. Somebody else might see a rather stressed person. Both views are the truth to the observer.
    In this instance the “fact” may be that I’m not that cheerful but my perceived truth differs. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t truth to me.
    I don’t see that this can work the other way around. If something is established fact then it is either true or untrue. We may think it is true and be mistaken but that would mean it wasn’t a fact, not that the fact was untrue.
    As I’ve typed this it occurs that this is really a continuation of the last discussion on labels – true and false, fact or fiction. Which of course would make my answer subject to a different social interpretation of the labels.
    The fine line would occur in cases where a person had convinced themselves of a certain truth – the obvious example being a criminal that has convinced themselves they are innocent, even though they committed the crime. Does their testimony count as truth because they believe it and even though it isn’t factual?
    I think I’ll stop now before I come completely full circle 😉

  2. You ask some really interesting questions, Mike!
    Your court wondering is especially telling.
    We are bound “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth” when we swear to testify in court — but by which standard of truth are we vowing to tell? Ours? The courts? That of the Gods?
    Are facts the only things that prove truths?
    How do we reconcile –- as you suggest — the fact that two witnesses can testify to their truth but then to later be found in contempt of court for lying?
    Can the truth have more than one version and, if so, how can anyone really divine the truth if there isn’t one way something happened or a single method of how something can be known?
    Are lie detectors really “truth tellers” –- even though we know they don’t really work — where the subject under scrutiny must be found truthful in their answers if the machine doesn’t detect a lie?
    Does the body lie? Or is the body always true?
    Or is it possible for a person to neither lie nor be truthful?
    Is a fact always a fact? Or is it a truth that facts change?
    Is a fact ever untrue?

  3. Chris —
    I agree this can be a mobius strip discussion, but facts and truths lead to the ideal at the core of us: Honesty.
    It is possible to be honest while being untruthful and non-factual?
    Or is honesty the conflation of factualness and truthfulness?

  4. Hi David,
    I don’t think one can be honest without being truthful and factual.
    But, as you suggest in your comment above, there can be two perceptions of an event that lead two people to give “truthful” testimony that is competely different.
    I’ve heard that lie detectors aren’t a good way to detect if someone is “lying” about something they believe. If they hold something to be fact, their physical reactions to questioning shouldn’t change. It is only when they know something is false that a reaction is measured.
    I remember a friend telling me a story about an auto accident case he had where the defendant testified to one set of facts and the plaintiff another. Both were sworn in to tell the truth and both probably told their perceptions of the truth.
    But, the truth was to be had in the cold hard facts that weren’t subject to human frailties, such as being inattentive or not seeing something someone else sees.
    The case came down to the way a roadway was designed.
    When I did suborgation cases, I always looked at the drawing of the intersection before anything else because it would guide my understanding of the case.
    The drawing and the damage done to the vehicle could tell the story about a case often better than the witnesses’ narrative.
    If a side street had traffic controls and a car driving on the main line was hit in the side, one could easily determine that the car with the stop sign was at fault because there is no reason why the driver should have hit the car with the right-of-way.
    The tough cases were ones where there were four-way stops, both cars had front-end damage, and there were no disinterested witnesses.
    Both drivers might tell the “truth” that they had the right-of-way because of their belief and perception.
    Of course, only one in reality had the right-of-way.

  5. Lie detectors work on physiological responses. People with the right training can beat them even in lies that would be obvious to a human.
    I was talking to a friend (who’s just got a doctorate in a similar field) about this the other day and apparantly the latest research indicates that brain responses take measuably longer (read milliseconds) when somebody is lying than if they are telling the truth. So perhaps an fMRI scan is the way to go in court.
    I’ll be interested to see if there is a way to beat that.
    (On a related subject there’s a free download of “The Truth Machine” here
    http://coins.heritageauctions.com/ttm/
    I read this a few years back and it’s basically about the consequences of somebody discovering a 100% accurate method of determining if a person is telling the truth)
    Another one that’s worth reading is “Blink” – http://www.gladwell.com/blink/ – it has a decent section on facial microexpressions and how they can give away a persons true feelings (I had something that went into this in more depth but I forget the title and it’s in storage at the moment).
    Chris:
    I think insurance cases are a bad example simply because people are encouraged to deny responsibility by the insurance companies.
    In Australia last year I had a woman reverse the wrong way down a street into the side of my car and claim it wasn’t her fault.
    Again – we’re not so much in the realm of lying here as coming back to the theme of personal responsibility (and how people don’t seem to want it these days)
    Regarding being honest – I would equate this with being truthful, not necessarily factual. If you truly (honestly!) believe you are telling the truth then I’d say you are being honest.

  6. Chris!
    Truth and reality are interesting bedfellows. I suppose reality is the context for truth where, if you are lucky, you have an intersection and a flow of traffic to help define the truth in legal, factual terms.
    I was in an accident one time a long time ago at an unprotected intersection on the back streets of Lincoln. There was a giant bush blocking my view to the right so when I checked for traffic there was nothing there. Then, when I went through the intersection I was smashed into by another car on my right rear side panel. I kind of flew all over the place.
    The woman driving the brown car — which was the same color as the bush — claimed she had the right of way and that even though she hit me the fault was mine because I did not yield.
    I told her she hit the rear side panel of my car so I had “made” the intersection before she had and, I also contended, since there were no stop signs the intersection was open and — at least in our jurisdiction at that time — there was no such thing as “right-of-way” because in an unprotected intersection on a side street it is “every person for themselves” as far as the law was concerned. No one had an automatic right-of-way.
    She did not believe me and when we exchanged insurance information we found out we had the same insurance company. My insurance agent told me that since we were both with State Farm they’d pay us both and not worry about fault.
    When the woman called me later in the day to ask me when I was planning on paying for her minor damage on the bumper of her new car – my old car was totaled — I told her to call State Farm and then I warned her to realize how lucky we were that we were both with State Farm because my neck was throbbing…

  7. It’s always good to have a major insurance carrier that has arbitration agreements with other carriers so that things get taken care of without the hassle of going to court.
    The people we always saw in court were the people who didn’t pay their insurance premiums and were dropped by their carrier. They shouldn’t have been driving, but that never stopped them.

  8. I have answered this before reading the other responses ………. which I will go and do after posting my answer.
    No – Truth I think is a belief – facts are substantiated by hard evidence.
    No – especially if there is no evidence to support it.
    Yes – A fact can be proven untrue by time.

  9. Hi Chris —
    Having insurance is paramount. You have a relationship with your carrier. You protect them by only asking for reimbursement for major damage and they will have your back — for a time at least — by backing you up after a catastrophic event.
    Too many people use their insurance to pay for puddly things that, while covered, aren’t critical and that kind of noodling ultimately makes you a bad risk.

  10. Hi Nicola!
    Your answers beg more questions!
    1. So a court of law is only asking people to swear what they believe and not what they know to be the truth? Are you arguing truth and belief are synonymic?
    2. Facts demand evidence. Does the truth as well or is blind faith adequate?
    3. So facts are true until time proves them wrong? What do those facts become when proven wrong? Misunderstood truths?
    I think beliefs can be proven wrong, but facts are something that never changes no matter the situation or the perspective applied to test its veracity.

  11. As I understand it , you are asked to swear that you are telling the whole truth.
    You can only state what you believe to be true ………… ( facts might proove otherwise) .
    Quite often you are party to one part of a sequence of actions and your truth will differ in that instance from the truth of others who have viewed the whole sequence of events.
    Simple example – colour blindness ………. one person sees one colour the rest another.
    Another example – unknown to you I place a packet of cigarettes in front of a lighter ……. your truth is that you see a packet of cigarettes and no lighter ……… those at 90 degrees will see both, those above will see both.
    Truth can often depened on external factors like individual perception . or only being party to one of a sequence of events. Truth has some substabtiating factors …. blind faith is just that – blind faith.
    Not sure I agree with “but facts are something that never changes no matter the situation or the perspective applied to test its veracity.”
    I know what you are saying – but I am also open to thinking that facts can be limited by the extent of knowledge/data available at the time. What are facts today maybe proved to be invalid in time or when a new method fo examining them is found.

  12. Nicola!
    It’s especially difficult when matters of “truth” come up in the court system because, as the judge may instruct the jury when considering witnesses: “false in one thing, false in everything.”
    The fact I didn’t see the lighter does not make me a liar but it gives the jury a reason to disbelieve the rest of my testimony that lighted cigarettes are bad for your health.
    I would say proof of an irrefutable fact “that never changes no matter the situation or the perspective applied to test its veracity” is: The original human body has a limited lifetime.
    Has there ever been a point in history where that was not true?
    Will there be a point in the future when that is not a fact even if science can extend out bodies to live 500 years?

  13. I would say grounds for appeal !
    Substitute large viengar bottle and small salt pot …….. for box of cigarettes and lighter.
    I would agree that is a fact until we achieve immortality. ( Shelves discussion about Death being a fact of life until my brain is awake – I am having a fuzzy two days here).

  14. Truths and facts are not the same thing – both can be altered. It actually depends on one’s integrity.
    Whether truth is always a fact depends how you present it. If you can sell some ‘goofy facts’ wrapped in an attractive package and prove their validity, those become the truth!
    “Facts” can be twisted.

  15. David,
    Sorry for disappearing yesterday…I am almost buried! But, enjoying the pressure!
    Back to your question – yes, I agree “the original human body has a limited lifetime” – it is a fact and can’t be twisted at least till the date it is not proven otherwise.
    This is eternal. At least till now.
    I was talking from more of a day to day perspective where people tweak/alter/change the facts and truths as per their convenience.

  16. There are no facts/truths/untruths/life/death/spirit/matter/time/space. These like all words are metaphsical concepts. No one can point to them. They are hints that are useful at “lower levels” as in “please pass the salt,” while at the dinner table, or even “lets create a better world.” One can not point to “nothing” or “two” of anything. Complex math can be used to put a man on the moon, but this does not mean that there is 3,4,5, etc. This stereotyping by fundamentalist belief in the “words really mean something absolutely,” syndrome has led to other metaphysical fundamentalisms and has gotten us where we are. Isn’t it time to stop arguing, and create a world where we can live beyond the metaphysic which has virtually stayed the same since the last great metaphysician Plato entrapped us all in his web? “The way is not the worded way…” (Lao Tzu). i can hear the Platonic answers echoing now. Everything but “yes.” Or even “yes.” Plato has made an inescapable metaphysic unless we change our language to reflect “reality” (objects we “perceivee”), starting with the negative concepts, then the positive. Socrates the first great arguer literally argued him self to death. Plato and Aristotle added fuel to the fire. Descarte and Hegel “locked it in.” Aren’t we just following suit (in suits).There are no opposits, especially “good and evil.” In non-Indo-European derived language (like aramaic and ancient hebrew) these concepts didn’t exist. Perhaps that is why these languages were extinguished. Thanks for you time and space which of course doesn’t exist. LOL?

  17. Hi Fred!
    Wow, what a great comment!
    One of my favorite writing assignments for my students is to have them answer the following question in essay form in 50 minutes:
    “Explain why 2+2=5.”
    It makes them insane. Some cry. A few shriek with delight at the opportunity to spin the world in the opposite direction for a moment. Some never write anything.

  18. Oh, wow, Katha! Wonderful! Send it to me and maybe we’ll make it an article for you here! You do have one advantage, though: Thinking about it all day.
    😀
    My students had to think about the question and write their answer all in that 50 minute window!

  19. I know…
    But I won’t cheat…I am not thinking about it right now…I am busy with some other assignment…
    I will exactly take 50 minutes for thinking and writing! 😀

  20. David and Kathakali- Since nothing is the same as anything else, not only in physical placement, but also in internal quantum structure; there are no two of anything. Therefore it is as equally absurd to accept that 2+2=4, as it is to accept that 2+2=5. Being equal in absurdity, they must be equal in validity, since absurd-valid is a continuum. Therefore 2+2=5 is as valid a statement as any other statement. Proving also, that once again “The way is not the worded (or mathematical) way”.
    Sort of reminds me of a quote we were asked to comment on in the 8th grade. “Heard melodies are sweet, but those un-heard are sweeter.” (Keats).

  21. “Don’t pay attention to it as long as you don’t want to…take it out of the closet when you think the time is right…”
    Probably it will still be busy working back in your mind but if you don’t pay attention you won’t kknow what is it doing/saying…etc. –
    That’s how I do it – I don’t know if that makes any sense!