Everyone is living in a bubble…REALLY?

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By Kenneth Justice

~ I was sitting at coffee the other day and two people were arguing over global warming,

It’s a fact that the earth is warming and that the average temperature is increasing in heat every year” the first person said

You’re wrong! It’s a fact that weather and climate sometimes trend cooler and sometimes trend hotter, but the earth and its atmosphere are not getting hotter because humans are burning too much fossil fuels, and that is a fact!” said the second person

Instead of having positive dialogue, the two people sitting at coffee spent the better part of an hour talking over each other and throwing ‘facts’ back and forth in a series of verbal sparring. Their dialogue led to NO resolution, and the more they argued the more it was obvious that each person became more incredulous that ‘their facts’ were the right ones and their opponent had false information.

“Fact’s” are fickle things. If you were raised somewhere in Western Culture, chances are you’ve adopted the Western tendency to see everything through the lens of facts; i.e. black and white. Yet the reality of the situation is that what we often to believe are ‘facts’ are nothing more than ‘opinions’.

The ancient Greeks (think Plato, Aristotle, and their contemporaries) put very little emphasis on facts, and instead held in high regard opinions.

It’s a fact that you’re reading my article…..or is it? Perhaps you’re sitting comfortably in bed with your eyes closed and some dude you met last night after one too many drinks is obsessed with The Culture Monk and is reading aloud this article to you, or perhaps you’ve fallen in love with the voice from your Iphone and it is reading this article to you in that darling electronic voice? Thus, it is possible that “you’re” not technically the one reading this article, and by that admission alone we have established that it is not a “fact” that you’re reading my article.

The Greeks knew that it is pretty near impossible to prove empirically most things. For instance, do you believe the universe came into existence through the process that Darwin discussed as evolution or do you believe an invisible Deity created all things ex-nihlo (out of nothing) ? The truth of the matter is that whether you believe in evolution or creationism, you can’t “prove beyond the shadow of a doubt” empirically that your claim is true.

Sure, you can have strong evidence that supports your claim……but you COULD be wrong? There is always a possibility that,

—–) perhaps you’re interpreting the evidence incorrectly

—–) perhaps you’re biased in your position because of external influences to your life

—–) perhaps you’ve been conditioned to think a certain way by your parents, friends, co-workers, or the schools you’ve attended your whole life

When I was younger I was TERRIBLE at conversations because I always spoke AT people. I hurled what I believed to be facts at other people’s faces and expected them to accept them as gospel truth. But as I matured and I as studied the ancient rhetoric of the Greeks, I learned that many of the things I believed to be empirically true were nothing more than opinions. Opening myself up to the possibility that these issues were nothing more than my opinions helped to soften me in conversations. All of a sudden, more people wanted to talk to me, and instead of talking to ONLY people who agreed with me; a much more diverse body of people were interested in sitting at my coffee table to dialogue with me.

The best way to live in a bubble is to maintain your position that you are ‘right’ about everything you believe, and the best way to truly begin connecting with others is to open yourself up to the possibility that perhaps what you’ve believed to be a FACT is nothing more than your opinion.

Have I convinced you yet to loosen your death grip on facts in exchange for opinions? No? Well come back tomorrow and we’ll dialogue some more. For now, I’m going to finish this cup of coffee,

Kenneth



Categories: Culture & Society

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35 replies

  1. well- I know for a fact that this article is has a good bit of wisdom hidden behind its words. I used to always spend time “arguing” with my friends, whether behind a beer or just to pass the lunch hour. We would pick a topic and pick sides- normally we chose the opposing sides to our current beliefs and started arguing against what we actually believed to be true… It was really eye-opening and interesting and definitely taught us to be more open-minded about everything. From these debates it occurred to us that, No, there isn’t two sides to the coin. There are many sides! 🙂

  2. Facts may be the truths you found, but it means you was present at the time.
    A writer here on wordpress said something in the trend of: when standing next to a tree the fact may occur it makes a sound when breaking. that said it is not said a tree breaking 10 miles away makes a sound as well.

    Any way, that fact will become an opinion when told to someone else as they were not there to acknowledge the fact of that ONE tree breaking.

    As my thought said today. learn from opinions and be prepared to be wrong

  3. Best thing I’ve learned (so far) in middle age: the simple sentence, “You may be right.” It’s a complete sentence, too.

  4. My three sisters and I often had different views of family history. Deciding truth is not a matter of democracy, I once told them, when there had been a disagreement between the three. There are only three possibilities here. You two could be right and she could be wrong, or she could be right and you two could be wrong. And, obviously, if you have three different opinions you can´t all be right, so that doesn’t count. But, you could all be wrong.

    Some people just used to think I was arrogant. Now they know I am.

  5. I tend to keep my opinions to myself to a certain degree–and very few of my opinions are written in stone. I think being a teacher for so many years forced me to keep my own thoughts to myself, in order to not influence my students’ opinions. Also, working in a rather conservative area caused me to keep quiet, as well, as I had no desire to lose my job based on my personal belief system, or lack there of, in an über religious area. Most of the time it’s just easier to not argue with others.

  6. It’s a fact that I’m reading your article and my opinion is that your doing a awesome job digging facts of people lifes by questioning our life style to believe and except the other side of the world. Break the walls of loneliness and see the light happiness filled with colourful opinions.:D

  7. I love this train of thought you’re following. I didn’t study rhetoric with the ancient Greeks, but I had my father who was a physicist and loved to mess with my head. He’d say, “perception is not reality” and “you do not know what you think you know.” There are real words of wisdom hidden in those phrases.

    The Western world really does seem to have this strange obsession with objective truth, absolute truth, as if it is a possession that can be owned or a prize to be claimed. Many of us growing up immersed in the Western world probably can’t see it, or believe it to be the only proper way to think. It’s kind of fascinating when you realize that this is characteristic somewhat unique to us, not shared by much of the world, not even practiced though out much of human history. It’s partially a symptom of our comfort, the ease of our daily living in this part of the world. If you’re living in instability, you’re much more familiar with the fact that our entire world can change in an instant, while you watch objective reality go right out the window.

  8. Even scientists would not say climate change is a fact, but rather the evidence supports that man’s influence in climate change. And also that there is a lack of evidence contrary to the theory. While I think opinions might be a better word to use, the idea that all opinions are equal is also dangerous. When evidence supports one opinion over another that is important. Of course the fact that most people don’t understand what evidence is, is also a problem.

    • Yes! This is very true and articulates well the problem I was having with the post. Everything he said was good and valuable but, imo, whenever such cases are made, it’s important to keep in mind the very things you articulated here.

    • Swarn,

      I know you’re a professor, have you studied the trivium or at least studied ancient greek rhetoric in comparison to modern rhetoric? I’m curious as to what your opinion is on the discipline.

      I’m trained in classical (greek) rhetoric and therefore have been taught to believe that ancient and modern scientists alike are all influenced by the various external biases in their life. Too much of what we call “empirical science” in the western world is being sold to people as “facts” rather than what it really is; “opinions”. I could give you a myriad of examples, but if you have studied classical rhetoric than I’m sure you should be familiar with the concept.

      I believe that modern (contemporary) rhetoric is a bunch of garbage (literally 🙂 ) ….and that we have been conditioned (brainwashed) to believe that things are “facts” which are really nothing more than “opinions”.

      As to climate change and global warming; I actually don’t have an opinion…. other than that both sides in the argument believe they KNOW beyond the shadow of a doubt what is TRUE…. but they really don’t, its just their opinion 🙂

    • I guess to me rhetoric has always been the art of convincing someone with words rather than necessarily based in any sort of logical thought. What I know of rhetoric is that any method of argumentation is acceptable as long as you convince the other person to their point of view. That is probably a more modern view.

      The state of empirical knowledge in the hard sciences isn’t so bad. Given how accurately we can measure things now, I don’t think empirical data is that bad. Now for social science, sure since so much depends on your sampling and the fact that people change sort of ruins everything. In the case of climate change there is A LOT of evidence such that while we can never be 100% sure. But we can be 100% sure that the global temperature is rising, and we can be 100% sure that the sun is not responsible alone for this rise, and we know of no other source for the rise either. We are less sure at how much the sea level will rise, but we are 100% sure that it will continue to rise. So there are some facts based on some pretty precise measurements. As I am not only a scientist but also an atmospheric scientist I have not read one denialist claim that wasn’t in error. Logically (as in making fallacious logical arguments) or simply didn’t understand enough physics and thus was simply wrong. The problem to me is that nobody is really good and making logical arguments. Scientists would rather have the data speak for themselves and have enough knowledge to understand it. The denialist don’t understand the data or really the problem and are usually much better at the rhetoric! Scientists by nature tend to be introverts and not very effective communicators.

    • “…rhetoric has always been the art of convincing someone with words rather than necessarily based in any sort of logical thought”

      Rhetoric is actually a discipline that was developed and taught by the Greeks, some colleges and Universities in the United States still teach classical rhetoric… but most of them have dropped it entirely.

      “rhetoric” the term is often used in public vernacular in the way you did in you’re response, and while that is one way to use the word, the classical way is to use the term ‘rhetoric’ in the sense of the academic discipline.

      If you study any classical college textbooks or peer reviewed essay on the subject you’ll find out that the modern rhetoric that is used in the United States is an entirely DIFFERENT philosophical system than what the ancient Greeks taught….. professor’s who are classically trained will tell you that modern ‘thinking’ and ‘arguing’ is actually very faulty and that the ancient system of rhetoric is much more logical and conducive to clear thinking.

      The Greeks had little use for what we today believe are “empirical truths” because they were much more reticent of belief systems being influenced by bias’s. I don’t know about you Swarn, but I read two or three peer reviewed research studies every morning as a part of my morning habit of waking up with my coffee, and every week there are new research studies that refute research studies from last month or last year…… what we believe are ‘facts’ are nothing more than opinions subject to new information, new perspectives, and acknowledgement of past biases.

    • Well of course hypotheses should be getting rejected all the time. Especially for things on the forefront of any field. In fact this is the point that people forget about scientists is that they are actually trying to prove the other guy wrong. If there is any ego to the scientist it rests with coming up with results that are against scientific consensus, not for it. The fact that there is such overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue of climate change should make us more alarmed not less alarmed and assume that there must be some massive conspiracy. For so many scientists to have the same bias is unrealistic and that is why consensus actually means something.

      If all is opinion than science simply shouldn’t work. Your smart phone, your car, your computer, whatever rests on things that are not opinion, but fact. Sure someone might come along and say I can make the processor faster or smaller, but the physical principles remain the same. Everybody is pretty sure we have a handle on how current, resistance and voltage works and how particular metals conduct electricity. These aren’t going to be refuted any time soon.

      Now of course there is a way for a whole group of scientists to be wrong. The beginning of modern astronomy started with Copernicus and Kepler they developed laws of orbital motion that didn’t include gravity or didn’t know how to quantify it. It turns out the Kepler model of the solar system was pretty good. But Newton’s was better. But then someone came along and said Newton’s laws were incomplete, and they got better. Grant it we could still rely pretty heavily on Newton’s laws and we still do today unless we are in the quantum world or the large massive celestial body environment. So many things simply improve but don’t prove the previous findings wrong, just not right for all situations.

      The greenhouse effect has been an established scientific principle for 150 years, and refined and quantified for more precisely by the end of the 19th century. It’s unlikely to be refuted anytime soon. Are we likely to find an unknown greenhouse gas anytime soon? Composition of the atmosphere has also been well established for some time. Now maybe we’ll find some aspect of the carbon cycle that we didn’t know about. Perhaps. But does that mean we shouldn’t do anything about a potential global disaster? I think that would be foolish. Because here is thing. Science works. And it works pretty often. It marches forward despite biases and we learn some pretty cool things along the way and we are able to apply those things to technology that also works. So we can call them all opinions, but there are some opinions that are founded in false premises, have no experimental evidence to support them, or are simply out of somebody’s ass.

      In order to refute a scientific principle you have to actual have empirical data that suggests that what you thought was true initially doesn’t work. Thus far no valid study survives that shows anthropogenic climate change isn’t happening.

      In regards to rhetoric I guess I would have to read up on it. I took a class in practical logic during my undergraduate that talked about argumentation. Premises, conclusions, if A then B, A is true, then B must also be true. We learned the logical argument forms and the fallacious argument forms. I can spot the fallacious arguments a mile away. So perhaps that is what you mean by classical rhetoric I don’t know. But that course was in the philosophy department then and is in the philosophy department at the university I teach at too. Perhaps in the modern era classic rhetoric has become part of philosophy.

  9. We all live in our bubbles…

  10. This past March I wrote a post all about facts versus opinions. I wrote, “A fact is something that has actually happened or that is empirically true and can be supported by evidence. An opinion is a belief; it is normally subjective, meaning that it can vary based on a person’s perspective, emotions, or individual understanding of something.

    “Note that both facts and opinions can change over time. What is a fact today may, through more study and new evidence, be updated or revised. Knowledge is growing at an impressively rapid pace, and because knowledge is not finite, scientific facts can be refined as more knowledge is acquired.”

    There are too many people who express opinions that have no basis in fact nor evidence to support them. But hey, it’s a free country, right?

  11. “Just the facts, ma’am.”
    Sgt. Joe Friday – Dragnet

  12. I think that there is a third leg – fact, opinion, truth. Truth is not easy. It is not necessarily made of facts, and opinion may lead to truth. When I exhort you to stop looking at people as only sinners or saved I am trying to get to the truth, not a fact, not an opinion but truth. Truth is a lifelong pursuit and much more difficult than parsing facts or even being able to accept other opinions. I may never come to truth, but the pursuit of it is essential in a world full of facts that may or may not be facts, ever changing opinions, and a world that can be toppled with one misstep, one little virus,one missile,one angry driver, one downsized job, or a simple fall. Things taken for facts can change – as scientists know. Scientists are digging for truth constantly. Opinions can change. Search for truth. Do not let yourself become cynical – there is truth just as there is a sun, just as there is a ground under your feet, just as there is a person across from you drinking coffee. If we succumb to cynicism we will float in a pool of opinions and perceived facts, splashing placidly back and forth at each other going nowhere. We must pursue truth now more than ever.

  13. Reblogged this on s i l v e r g l o o m and commented:
    Truth is multifaceted.

  14. Well stated….we have drifted from conversations of opinion into todays environment of one sided fact regurgitation whether it be religion or politics. I can remember so many family dinners when I was young where it was open dialogue with a variety of thoughts and opinions discussed around both of those topics. Today my contemporaries in that same family will not listen to an opinion that is different from their “facts”. Sad!

    • Kirt, well said, religion, politics, environment; everyone thinks they have a special corner on the ‘truth’ but all they are really doing is what you’ve said, “regurgitating” clichés.

  15. hmmmm —– hard one for me. I have strong opinions at the end of the day. For me, life is a filtering process. I can’t really be bothered trying with people – even in my polite conversation mode. You’re either nice or not nice. I don’t analyse much further than that — It beats the hell out of me.

    • “you’re either nice or not nice”

      But then that depends on how you define ‘nice’. Who gets to decide the definition of the word? And interpretation plays a big part in who is nice and who isn’t as well; one person might interpret a behavior as nice and another may interpret it as not nice. Cultural differences affect our view on what is nice and what is not nice as well. People who grow up on different sides of the railroad track have different expectations regarding what is nice and what is not nice….. its a complex issue.

  16. Amen. Reminds me of what Will Rogers said, there are three levels of lies–lies, damn lies, and statistics!” But love and relationship trump our “truth” every time.

  17. Kenneth, all I can say is I absolutely LOVE this. And you know I’m not buttering you up right?
    This is so true. OMG! Good on you for doing this series.
    I also used to speak AT people and had very strong OPINIONS, which of course were always right.
    You had me laughing out loud with what you said about the guys in love with Culture Monk reading your post while the person in bed was listening. Classic.
    Ok, I’ll wait to see what more you have to say tomorrow.
    🙂

    • Oh, and one other thing, sorry that there’s no real depth and philosophical comment on this one. You know, because I’m such a deep person and all (you do know I’m being sarcastic right?)
      🙂

  18. sounds like a case of needing to read “how to win friends and influence people”

  19. It is a hard blow to discover those things you believed as fact were never so… Being open to all ideas is much easier to do.

  20. Hey Kenneth, you left something out — it’s possible that a person can base an argument upon what we call fact, but will someday learn is just a convenient, circumstantial fallacy.

  21. Are facts fickle things or is it the people who interpret them fickle? People often alter “facts” based on how they view things; based on their opinions. People can see what they want to see and sometimes “facts” provide them with just enough leverage to do so. Something to consider – the example you provide with the woman (or man or whoever) “reading” you article is a bit misleading, I think. The fact remains that person received the information from your said article. What’s up for debate is “how” it was received. The problem is the word “read” is fluid in that instance or is at least in your opinion. You may not consider that person reading if it’s being read to them but he or she may not see it that way. Or perhaps it’s misuse of the language and really the words “listened to” should be used instead of “read.” Either way, the information is received so that is a fact. Facts are something that actually exist, are a reality or can be proven without a doubt. Truth is, your article is based on opinion not fact either. 🙂 I also find it interesting in your response to me yesterday you said you were trying to get people to see or think about this topic a certain way…isn’t that what you’re always complaining about to me about the media? What happened to your unbiased articles? Hmm 🙂 Look, I agree that people need to have their own opinions about things, but I have a hard time thinking that anyone can FORM opinions without at least some indisputable facts (not “facts” that people believe to be true) and they do exist. I guess what I’m saying is you can’t have one without the other. As much as you’re arguing saying that facts are the problem, the more I read the more I see it’s opinions that are the issue. The climate change bit – well what are the actual facts (as there are some that are indisputable) versus the perception of facts; religion is solely based on opinions (hence it’s called faith) and those opinions are frequently the reason behind bloodbaths and terrorist acts. Don’t get me wrong…opinions are important. We need to be able to think for ourselves or we’d be like the Borg on Star Trek: TNG lol. Talk about taking away your individuality and freedom. For whatever reason your articles are making me feel the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish lol. My apologies. (sorta – I’m entitled to my opinion! lol). I think opinions are important because it’s what makes us individuals; it makes the world go round; it helps provide other perspectives and challenges us to see things differently. Opinions certainly have an important role and I certainly value my own along with others…hence why I blog (well when I do blog lol).

  22. The RC church once held firm to the notion that the earth was the centre of the universe and that the earth revolved around the sun…until Galileo threw a monkey wrench into some preconceived ideas that at the time were considered to be fact.

    IMHO, for the most part, facts are based on knowledge and knowledge is not unchangeable or static.

    Now that I’m older I no longer believe in Santa Claus! Gadzooks…I know this revelation may be a shock to some, but as people age perspectives change as more reliable knowledge comes available. Yet, as a child I would believe nothing more veracious.
    Further, there are many innocent people who have met the hangman based on the “facts” that have been presented to a jury. People can be convinced of so called facts by a compelling argument, even an argument based on flimsy information.

    Personally, I like to have an opinion…an opinion that can remain firm in my understanding but not so entrenched that I cannot change it based on better information.

    ~ Dave

    • Dave, one of the worst examples of ‘facts’ are exactly what you’ve pointed out; people who’ve been put to death by juries who made decisions based on false information.

      In psychology I studied the subject of testimony quite a bit and in my humble opinion; testimony should no longer be admissible in court because in most cases its positively worthless.

  23. Leaving our comfort zone and meeting people who don’t live like us and think like us is the best way to accept that we don’t have to agree on everything to share the same planet. That’s a fact. Another good post, Kenneth.

  24. I very much enjoy the word. “opine” for the very reasons brought up in this post.

    I studied Classics in college, and I always found it amusing that one may dissect and refute anyone’s argument based on the fundamental rules of logic without even a bit knowledge on the subject. I often debate a good friend of mine and at times he brings up a great man “facts” to myself; Which I must confess that at times I am simply ignorant to his pie charts, statistics, and consensuses. So for the sake of the debate,which we both enjoy, I use the opportunity to sharpen my logical debate skills attempting to find the fallacies in his argument. The reason why one can do this is simply because in our world there are really few absolutes; which even those absolutes are defined by definitions of the people present. Regardless of all of that, using linear logic and wading through people’s opines; one finds themselves hitherto in whatever debate to have to leap to their conclusion, which would be a logical extension. A logical extension maybe right, but an extension nonetheless.

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