Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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In the UK the referendum is looming – do we want to stay in the EU or not? I can’t say I’ve been following the debate in any detail, but what has struck me as a casual observer is how much dispute there is about the facts. No sooner does one side produce some telling statistics than the other side is challenging them with statistics of their own.
How can this be? Facts are facts, are they not? Surely there’s no disputing the facts?
But what are facts? Things that are true, things that are indisputable, I suppose. So in the world of arithmetic, 2+2=4. Fact. In a game of chess, bishops move diagonally. Indisputable. In these examples, we start by defining the context of what we’re taking about, and then, within that stated context, we can state facts. If I just said “bishops move diagonally”, without the context of a chess game, that would of course be untrue, because ecclesiastical bishops are not restricted to moving diagonally; they can move sideways, or jump up and down, or do the can-can if they choose, though it may not be considered dignified for them to do so.
The context of most of our lives is much broader than the world of mathematics or a game of chess, which means that facts are much harder to come by. If I go to the supermarket to buy washing powder, I can look at two rival brands and see which costs more (in that particular supermarket). But which is better value? Will the more expensive one last longer than the other? Will it get my clothes cleaner? How much cleaner? Is that significant?
Facts are really complicated things, I think, but they are comforting things as well. It’s nice to feel that we know what’s going on in the world, that we are making well-judged choices rather than random decisions and that we understand our environment. It seems to me that we like facts because they help us to feel secure and safe, which is ironic because that means that we seek out facts for emotional reasons.
We tend to befriend people who share our opinions rather than challenge them. We tend to read newspapers that reinforce our views rather than undermine them. We tend to accept the “facts” that back up our opinions and doubt the “facts” that threaten them. I wonder just how many of the opinions we hold, of the decisions we make, are based on the facts, and how many are based on our feelings, our beliefs – our prejudices.
But then again – our feelings and opinions are facts, aren’t they? “I am scared”; “I like apples more than pears” – such statements are true, they are indisputable, are they not? So maybe feelings are facts, and facts are opinions, and opinions are feelings?