Time and experience

This discussion started with a note here that said "Just an exploration of ideas at this point." The discussion below ensued. I think it's worth a read to see how ideas can evolve through vigorous discussion.

  • Lost in Scotland 7y

    My Phd is for Research from a Scottish University. My major focus was tourism, technology and relationship management.

    I always have envisioned research as Potter, stipulates, a rich garden. When I read that it was like, yes..thats it, I wasn't crazy. From the first moments you walk in, it can be daunting and look slightly overgrown, weedy, without organization. But like any gardner...you learn, with time and action what to do. You encounter others along the way that will help you, even if it might not be right. I always must look at research or any act as an achievement, even a dose of measured failure.

    Data though has various states of being. At first, it is raw and unencumbered by application of anaylsis. It could have a wealth of uses. But the manipulation and structure it takes depends on the researchers design and what the are trying to obtain. Hence, I don't think we can ever truly erase the bias of the researcher. Therefore we cannot apply a overt generalization to the whole population, only the random select individuals used in the study.

    Yet, this could predicate out even in the terms of research that looks for medical "cures" because even in the end we still have an outlier where the cure doesn't work.

    everything could be reduced to numbers but what limitations does that bind the power of that data into?

    (excuse any mistakes in typing, I'm using one hand at the moment)
  • Bryan Hord 7y

    Ok, I'll give it a shot. Facts that no one wants to believe: on a personal scale, "your dog is dead." No wants to believe that your dog is dead. Unless they really don't like you or don't like your dog but the fact persists. ...apologies if your dog really is unwell, it was only an example.

    Another example: "The heliocentric solar system." I am not sure if anyone really wanted to believe this. It wrests the center of the universe away from humans and people really don't like that. It took a long time for the idea to be accepted and then only because there was so much data that supported the theory. Galileo took a lot of heat for that one (no, he didn't come with up it himself). Is the heliocentric model a fact or a theory?

    I haven't read any of Paul Feyerabend's books but now I want to.

    One of the definitions for truth (MW unabridged) is an "Ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience." That's why truth has to be believed. Does that make truth a higher order than facts or beliefs?

    Yes, facts known in the past can be lost. Without periodic verification they are no longer relevant and can be forgotten.

    Thanks for the drawing. The visual mapping really sparks discussion and clarifies ideas. I like the spectrum in (almost) two dimensions.

  • pstoyko1 7y

    Here are my two pennies worth about classifying "mental material" ...

    Observations produce "data". Observations can be quantitative or qualitative in nature. Both simply produce data. Perceptual data can be highly fallible. For example, a person can experience an hallucination. A person's experience also sensitizes a person to notice certain things within the environment (and ignore other things). And a particular piece of perceptual data may mean very different things to different people. For example, a picture of something may be interpreted very differently from one person to the next.

    "Information" is a claim, broadly defined. That claim can be "the moon is made of cheese" or "the bathrooms are that way" or it can be "cookies" written on a cookie jar. These are all claims of some sort. And unlike data, the meaning is self-contained insofar as it can be interpreted (in at least the most superficial way) so long as you understand the language. It may not make complete sense without additional information, and a person can misinterpret something, but the claim is interpretable nonetheless.

    A "Fact" is simply a claim (information) that meet some sort of empirical standard of truth. A fact is not truth per se. A fact is the closest approximation of truth as far as a particular empirical standard can determine. It is therefore a "tentative claim to truth". The scientific standard for facts (which includes tests such as falsifiability) would be the highest standard we have, although other standards exist. A newspaper fact-checker, for example, does not insist that a fact meet the scientific standard. Usually, such a person is looking for some sort of corroboration, such as that provided by an "eye witness".

    "Facts" are therefore distinguishable from claims called "opinions", which may or may not be held to some standard of logical argumentation. But an opinion is not held to an empirical standard of truth. Nothing is stopping anyone from having wacky, nonsensical opinions.

    And there is a form of "fact" that that is called "evidence". Evidence is a fact that is applied to some sort of argument. A piece of evidence must meet the standard within a particular sphere of argumentation. For example, if a fact is to be evidence in a scientific argument, it must meet the standards of empirical truth as set out by the scientific method. In contrast, if a fact is to be evidence in a legal argument, it must meet the standards of empirical truth set out by a judicial institution.

    "Misinformation" is a claim that is a deliberate attempt to mislead.

    Pseudo-science has very low standards for what constitutes evidence. Indeed, some things that are counted as evidence by pseudo-scientists is nothing more than opinion and unreproduceable observations.

    My view here is strong influenced by Giandomenico Majone's book "Evidence, Argument & Persuasion in the Policy Process" (1992), which is a classic.

    Cheers, Peter.
  • David Elfanbaum PRO 7y

    I have three small thoughts:

    TRUTH heh by daveelf

    You Are Here by daveelf

    Fact of a Flower Over Time by daveelf
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y


    Yes I suppose that we first realize that we are not the center of the universe, as children, when we bump up against something that conflicts with our desires. "Your dog is dead" and "The earth revolves around the sun" are both examples of this unpleasant experience.

    So it might be said that truth or facts are those things that you can't change at will because they disagree with experience. Need to think more about this.

    I do recommend Paul Feyerabend's Against Method, highly.

    I differentiate truth from fact as follows:

    The truth presumes an absolute reality, something that lies behind our experiences and which can never be fully known, but only approximated.

    A fact is something which approximates the truth. It's our best guess about what it true at the current time. It is always possible that future theories will throw new light on the current facts, or that the facts themselves will be found to be false due to things like human error, hoaxes (e.g., Piltdown man), and improved forms of measurement.

    As I said above, facts are always interpretations of phenomena, which are collected within a framework which seeks to prove something, which is why such things as control groups, double-blind studies are so important.

    But we can't always be aware of our blind spots. For example we do tons of experiments with animals as subjects, but it's been recently discovered that there are unknown factors. One of the accidental discoveries of the neurogenesis field is that laboratory conditions are debilitating to animals. The unspoken, and unthought, assumption was that tests performed on animals in laboratories would be a fair test of the biology. But it turns out that studying animals in their natural habitat, or studying primates in "enriched enclosures" varies the results significantly. This is an example of "facts" that were overturned because of assumptions that were embedded in the research. Those kinds of assumptions can never be fully eradicated.

    Quoting Karl Popper: "Copernicus' idea of placing the sun rather than the earth in the centre of the universe was not the result of new observations but of a new interpretation of old and well-known facts."

    Thus, not new facts but a new theory which changes their meaning entirely.


    Do you think it's fair to say that a fact is an opinion that has met some kind of test or other standard for verification? Which standard can very significantly based on the intended use?

    All scientific theories begin as guesses, myths, hypotheses or even wild flights of imagination. That hypothesis must then meet some standard.

    So is the difference between fact and opinion binary or is it a range?
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    Peter: I like the distinction between facts and evidence. It highlights that facts have a certain relativity -- that is, the standard of proof varies depending on the realm of argumentation.
  • pstoyko1 7y

    If an opinion (like any other claim) meets a standard for verification, then it can be considered a fact or as factual. So yes, there is some overlap. But whereas a fact is a claim that must meet a standard, opinion is a claim that does not.

    That said, within certain institutional contexts, there is a notion of "expert opinion". That is opinion that is deemed to be more credible and more reliable because of the credentials of the person issuing the opinion. Expert opinion does not equal truth, however. It is simply more likely to be true compared to "lay" or uninformed opinion. Whenever someone treats expert opinion as truth, we say that they are committing the logical fallacy of "appeal to authority". With expert opinion, the person's credentials and track-record must usually meet some standard, as dictated by the institution (e.g., courts usually require academic and occupational credentials before someone is granted "standing" as an expert).

    I agree that scientific theories can begin with any source of inspiration. In the scientific method, for that inspiration to be considered a hypothesis, the standard it must meet is that it must be testable in a replicable way. That's were Popper and falsification come in. There may not be a single standard. For example, medical science ideally advocates double-blind trials to test hypotheses, but less than 5 percent of trials actually meet this high standard. They are tested with lower standards (single blind trials).

    As for facts and evidence, I think it is partly about the standard of proof and partly about the way the facts are articulated. A fact that is articulated to support an argument is evidence. Thus, there is some standard of argumentation involved too. For example, the fact can't be irrelevant to the argument being made if it is to serve as evidence. So there is a relevancy standard. Evidence is interesting because it must meet two types of criteria (ideally empirical standards of truth and, also ideally, logical standards of argumentation). And yes, the realm of argumentation has a bearing. Sometimes pure standards of logic are not applied (e.g., the arguments of people appearing on FoxNews).

    Cheers, Peter.

    Cheers, Peter.
  • Bryan Hord 7y

    I came across this: data -> information -> knowledge -> wisdom. I found this progression from IA folks. You've may have seen it; I don't have a reference though. It shows a spectrum as external data moves to internal wisdom. Maybe there is another progression that includes data, facts, evidence, opinion, theory and truth; belief and faith are part of the mix too. I am not sure where they all fall though. More food for thought.

    Peter your explanation of the terms and ideas is concise and excellent. It helped tie up some loose ends in my mind. Much better than anything on FoxNews.

  • pstoyko1 7y

    Yes, the data-to-wisdom model is called the hierarchy of knowledge model. There are several versions of it.

    The version I use describes knowledge as understanding of two types: (a.) semantic understanding, or an understanding of how things work, events unfold, and ideas fit together; and (b.) how-to understanding, or an understanding of how to do things. The latter includes skills, abilities, tacit feel, and intuition.

    Wisdom, in contrast, are axiomatic statements; statements of enduring insight. This can include folk wisdom (insights passed down over time within a community), Platonic wisdom (insights about intellectual limits and humility), and holistic wisdom (insights that weave together very different domains of human endeavour).

    Cheers, Peter.
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    I had an interesting phone conversation with my brother tonight. He's a scientist and so far hasn't weighed in on this thread.

    However he did give me some insights which I'd like to share here.

    First, the conversation that scientists have about their facts, experiments, evidence, etc., happens in a somewhat cloistered environment and is subject to very specific rules and also (surprise surprise) some politics.

    I asked what the possibility was to do empirical studies, experiments or research outside the realm of the institutional scientific communities.

    He mentioned a couple of scientists that were doing research "outside" the mainstream scientific community that he found interesting and engaging, but who could not get their work recognized because their findings were not supported by the mainstream wisdom. I don't remember the names but will try to get them from him.

    It doesn't surprise me that, the more radical the theory, the more difficult it would be to get it accepted, because the number of other things that it would overturn would make it more highly unlikely.

    I asked him if the scientific method could be applied to question the scientific method itself. We didn't explore that question much but it would be an interesting topic to explore. I think this was what Paul Feyerabend was trying to do.
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    This thread inspired another little investigation which you all may enjoy. It's called Free the Facts and it can be found here.
  • Michelle Milla 7y

    Also related here is the issue of majority of opinion and its influences by way of the conformity effect. Our beliefs and opinions can be shaped by external influences. That was the focus of Asch's experiments in the early 1950's ("Opinions and Social Pressure" published in 1955 Scientific American) Asch discovered that people tend to change their opinions when faced with counter-arguments of authority or persuasive statistics. If everyone believes a fact, does that make it true?
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    Hi Michelle,

    Feralbeagle addressed this in a way, above, however I think you make a good point. It may come down to differences in philosophy; for example, whether you are a realist or subjectivist.

    Either way, you might enjoy this emerging thread about the transitory nature and fluidity of some "facts."
  • pstoyko1 7y

    As per Dave's point about scientists ...

    I think that it's useful to make a distinction between the scientific enterprise and the particular institutional context in which science takes place. We forget that the university model predates the Scientific Enlightenment and the formalization of the scientific method, even though a great deal of proto-science evolved within universities. Sometimes people conflate the academic system's administrative norms with a scientific approach.

    For example, I don't consider academic peer review process practiced by academic journals to be part of the scientific method per se. It is the academic equivalent of a "sniff test": just a quick check to streamline the editorial process of journals. But a large majority of "peer reviewed" articles are eventually shown to be wrong, and the testing of ideas by other scientists is the real scientific peer review. Both scientific and non-scientific fields rely on the journal-type of peer review. And many prominent scientists, such as Richard Feynman, have complained about the cliquishness and conservatism that comes from that process. This includes favouring famous scientists and not giving due regard to non-academic scientists. I highly recommend reading Feynman on this topic.

    That's just one example of how academic institutions, or a community of scholars, can introduce politics into scientific inquiry. As you mention earlier in the thread, scientists in industry face their own challenges, such as company's disclosure restrictions running against the scientific need to disclose findings. Government scientists face different challenges. But private, free-standing institutes are now the equivalent of the independent scientist of old who conducted experiments in basement laboratories.

    As a social scientist, I'm interested in how social dynamics relate to scientific communities and the administration of the scientific method. There is a large literature about the sociology of science, part of which is hostile to science and part of which is sympathetic. Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is a prominent example.

    I'm in the sympathetic camp who looks for ways to reduce the social problems and improve the functioning of institutional science. I conclude two things.

    First, science was built with an implicit recognition of the fallibility of both humans and authority, and is therefore remarkably resilient in the long run. Scientists may go on crazy tangents or block genuine discovery, but over time the body of knowledge progresses. Today's string theory may be tomorrow's laughing stock. And the problems scientists face today are relatively minor compared to just a couple of hundred years ago (when scientists were routinely killed or harassed for their discoveries). Steven Johnson's new book "The Invention of Air", which is about scientist Joseph Priestley, has a great story about how Priestley was chased out of Britain by an angry mob. Things like peer pressure and the interference of outside authorities was so much worse a short while ago.

    Second, not all fields of inquiry can meet the standard of pure science. They may employ empirical methods but those methods are not quite scientific. For example, political scientists use opinion polls, which can be an extremely powerful form of observation. But a poll is not the equivalent of an experiment. And so the social "sciences" have a lot of problems living up to the ideal. (I've written about this on my blog: www.stoyko.net/smithysmithy/archives/15) That said, there are ways to make these empirical methods more reliable and powerful. And there is potential for the social sciences to be more science like. For example, the recent field of behavioral economics (as shown in books like Freakonomics) is applying experiments to economic and political topics with great success. But there is much to be said for non-scientific empiricism too.

    Cheers, Peter.
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    This is a great and thoughtful note Peter -- as always you make very clear distinctions, and I like the way you separate the science from the politics.

    Yes the challenges in the "softer" sciences are quite challenging. Things that are not numerical and/or easily quantified can tend to be discounted more easily than "hard" numbers.

    But I can't help wondering: How does an angry mob chase someone out of Britain? Isn't it an island? I am imagining all kinds of funny scenes as the angry mob chasing Joseph Priestly reaches the shoreline. Did they chase him into the surf or get him a ticket on a ferry?
  • pstoyko1 7y

    I was actually picturing a Frankenstein scenario with an angry mob of feudal serfs chasing him with pitchforks out of Birmingham.

    Apparently, that's not too far from the truth. Besides having unpopular political and religious views, Priestley aligned himself to a pro-Industrialization Lunar Society. That was the final straw. The actual mob that tried to catch him were made up of ludittes.

    So maybe the picture should have the mob brandishing pitchforks and parts of broken machines. And they chase him all the way to the boat. And Priestley would be wearing a costume with a Lunar Society theme (maybe Mickey Mouse's outfit from Fantasia).

    The U.S. tried to kick him out too, at one point, but they used the legal system in that case. I guess that's a more American way to go about it.

    I think that funniest part is that Priestley was a really friendly guy.

    Cheers, Peter.
  • Dave Gray PRO 7y

    Laughing out loud :)
  • Michelle Milla 6y

    I would also assert that the purple glasses in my example act as a filter, much like our perceptions change when we filter in our belief systems or are influenced by other systems.

    I think we possess the flexibility and ability to change our thought processes when facts are construed one way or the other - regardless if we make the conscious decision to do so - and regardless of the implications of or the intent of those facts. The filtering system of our mind can also be compared to the experiences that shape our belief systems. Even repressed memories play a role. Overlapping forces: biological, physiological, psychological, politics, and so on.

    Here is a link to a site that contains insightful information and research about how we think and interpret the world. changingminds.org/explanations/theories/a_clusters.htm
  • beavers.aly4 6y

    What about religion?
    Regarding a scientist, Ascher, that studied how peer pressure can change people's beliefs. Well, what if a majority of people believed in God, how can we tell its not peer pressure? How can we tell its a fact, based on what we know today?
  • Lost in Scotland 6y

    Religion, as Julian Steward discusses, is a belief structure formulated from a lack of knowledge. It is a higher ordered knowledge formation on the hierarchy of needs and wants. Religion is also compounded by our emotions. I would agree with Ashcer's observations that it is a form of peer pressure, wanted or not. Examine how the organized church has erased or converted cultures through acculturalization because they felt their knowledge of the world supersceded the effected culture.
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