Monday, May 18, 2009

Truth and Fact?

a recent discussion as well as some coincidental readings (some of which come from Barry Taylor's Entertainment Theology) have caused me to think about the nature and relationship of "truth" and "fact." many would argue that these and synonyms meaning the same thing. i don't think they are.

in his work Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim A. Sorokin (founder of Dept. of Sociology at Harvard) developed a complex theory of cultural change that have important implications for this discussion. Sorokin is Russian and his life was largely marked by upheaval brought about by the communist revolution. the traditional "folk" truth was uprooted by the "objective, cold-reasoning of the state."

He states that there is a marked difference between how truth is dealt with between west and east. Russia has both verisons in conflict. there is the cultural conflict of the Sensate and the Ideational.

The Sensate mode is one in which material values dominate. Its focus is on mattters of efficiency and bureacracy. The Ideational is the opposite. Rather than being predominantly sensorially focused, it is more artistically inclined, understanding reality as super sensory. The Greek civilization, for instance, would fall into the ideational mode, given its focus on beauty, transcendent truth, and philosophy. the Roman Empire would by contrast be squarely Sensate, given it's commitment to dominance and its gift of organization and construction.

so in Roman language, descriptions would be based in the "hard facts" because engineers need exact figures to build aqueducts and forts and such. Greek language, there is more metaphor, allegory, and a tendency to exagreate to drive points home.

take a Western, Sensate mode of describe'n a BBQ: "i had a big party, 15 people showed up, there were 5 cars in my 3 car-capacity driveway, we cooked 3 full chickens and emptied 4 quarts of mashed potatoes, and it took 45 minutes to do the dishes which normally takes 15.” this is a western “Just the Facts Please” way of telling the story.

now consider an Eastern, Ideational way of conveying the same event: “i had HUGE party.. there had to have been 100 people there, cars were lined up and down the block, we ate a whole flock of chickens and ate enough mash potatoes that Idaho is now having to replant, and i used every dish in the house which took like 3 days to clean!” this way is loose with the “facts” but i’d argue you’d remember this story longer.

so we have the western "factual" model which would best be summed up by Thomas Aquinas' quote "Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus ("Truth is the equation [or adequation] of thing and intellect").

then we have the eastern "metaphoric" model, best articulated by Michael Lynch in a series of articles and in his 2009 book Truth as One and Many argues that we should see truth as a functional property capable of being multiply manifested in distinct properties like correspondence or coherence. truth then is culturally understood to convey "another meaning than the facts or story presented."

another way to put it is through my advertising background. as a marketer, i studied demographics and found that it's a fact that the American Family is white, has 3.6 members, 2.4 pets, lives in the suburbs, has 2.4 vehicles, and has an median income of 50 to $75,000." (information from Hey Whipple Squeeze This) these are the facts but it doesn't hold the truth of the American family and one wouldn't be able to find this factual family no matter how long you searched for it.

so what i'm saying is that the modernist notions of reality are coming to an end. the east is meeting west and "Poetry will reach a superior dignity, it will become in the end what it was in the beginning-- the teacher of humanity." -Friedrich Schelling, Philosophy of Mythology.


Anonymous said...

I really like this post. This is right where I am. I've backed away from a fundamentalist reading of scripture because it doesn't work. It is the lens of reason to put together the puzzle of scripture. I sense that this is not always to best way to view it. Sometimes it is choosing to believe what's in your gut. But then that seems like I'm believing in the tooth fairy. However, the examples you give of telling the story two different ways and ending up with the same "facts" is very helpful. "The Matrix" is full of this idea. Your comments on my last "Matrix" post and my response to that comment and this post are all dealing with the same stuff. It's great to be on the same page with you, Dude. RAWK.

Anglican Gurl said...

WOW! I think my brain exploded. This is great stuff!

Lorna said...

That's interesting, the two ways of telling the same story. I think you are right the embellished story would leave a lasting impression. It conveys much more feeling than just getting the facts straight, more memorable. Poetic license can go a long way, people just have to be aware that a metaphor is not a fact it's away of putting the "truth" across when ordinary words just won't do. I hope what I got out of your post is a little in line with what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

Luke, this is Quester. I'm visiting because you invited me to, but I'm feeling like an ungrateful guest. Even in this article, you present one truth, and two different ways of looking at it or presenting it- not two truths.

I understand the concept of "story truth". I had a friend of mine laugh at me, because he'd heard me share the same story three times. Once, I'd described the main character as an old friend, once, as a team mate, and once as a friend of a friend. The fact was that the person in question was an acquaintence of mine I'd been on an acting team with but really got to know when I was dating his sister a few years previously. This fact added nothing to the story, indeed, it distracted from the story, so I left it out. I argued, and still do, that this omission did not make the story less true.

What if, though, I'd described the protagonist as a unicorn? The events in the story would still have happened, though an aspect of it had changed in the relating of the tale. Truth would still be in the story, and could be derived from the story; that truth would be factual and could be derived from the story through logical methods we have devised over time to learn about what is true.

PoMo James said...

You know I love the Pragmatists. I think that John Dewey would be helpful here, just FYI. He laid out three differing theories of Truth:

1. A monadic truth predicate is one that applies to its main subject — typically a concrete representation or its abstract content — independently of reference to anything else. In this case one can say that a truthbearer is true in and of itself.

2. A dyadic truth predicate is one that applies to its main subject only in reference to something else, a second subject. Most commonly, the auxiliary subject is either an object, an interpreter, or a language to which the representation bears some relation.

3. A triadic truth predicate is one that applies to its main subject only in reference to a second and a third subject. For example, in a pragmatic theory of truth, one has to specify both the object of the sign, and either its interpreter or another sign called the interpretant before one can say that the sign is true of its object to its interpreting agent or sign.

The truth predicate of interest in a typical correspondence theory of truth tells of a relation between representations and objective states of affairs, and is therefore expressed, for the most part, by a dyadic predicate. In general terms, one says that a representation is true of an objective situation, more briefly, that a sign is true of an object. The nature of the correspondence may vary from theory to theory in this family. The correspondence can be fairly arbitrary or it can take on the character of an analogy, an icon, or a morphism, whereby a representation is rendered true of its object by the existence of corresponding elements and a similar structure.
Therefore symbolic truth i.e. story truth and factual, imperical truth are separate things just as you laid out. It is another way of getting there, but one gets there anyway.

@ ajourneyman: I'm sure you'll find that all are welcome on this blog, Luke's a good host like that and especially if you disagree. He loves a challenge. Anyway, you are right in stating that Luke presents one truth in the story about the party, but what is illustrated are two differing ways of presenting that truth. Also shown are two differing emphasies on what elements of "truth" are important. For the West it's math but for the East it's feeling. Theory vs. Emotion, the classic show down. The binary oppositions and hard facts are important to a Modernist Western mind where as creativity and feeling are important to the Pre- and Post-Modern Eastern minds.

I will argue that not all things can be reasoned nor rationally explained. For example, how would one rate the best Green Day album? Would you go with a factual approach such as record sales, units sold, money made, tour revenue generated or would you go with a fan vote, board of music critics view, or simply best reviewed? Just as each time VH1 or RollingStone put out the Top Blappy-Blap albums there is always going to be an uproar. One cannot measure music the same way one can measure a bridge. The problem is that with reality, it is closer to music, fluid and changing, than it is to a bridge, rigid and static.


Anonymous said...

@ PoMo James

I am not as worried about Luke's likely response as a host, as my own behaviour as a guest. I don't want to track mud all over these delicately-woven carpets, but see little choice if I am to accept the invitation to enter this room.

As for the Green Day album, you might say it exists, and be able to show evidence this is true. You might say it is the best, and use record sales or inspired recollections as your standard to show that your statement is true. You might not know why you think it is the best, and it may still be true by many standards that it is the best. You may say that it is the best, simply because you say that it is the best, and this circular reasoning thus becomes true, but not in a way that you can convince an other unless they share your original premise (that what you say is so).

Nonetheless, whether truth is understood or expressed statistically or poetically, these can only be seen as two different ways of "getting there" if there exists a there to get to. As such, I still don't see two different truths.

I will admit, though, that you raise a good point with your comments regarding the representation and the objective. Hey Luke, if we defined "truth" as "what is" and "fact" as "a statement intended to accurately represent what is to the extent of our current understanding", would we have a difference between truth and fact that we could both agree with?

Luke said...

"Hey Luke, if we defined "truth" as "what is" and "fact" as "a statement intended to accurately represent what is to the extent of our current understanding", would we have a difference between truth and fact that we could both agree with?" -Quester

you got it! that's exactly my meaning! facts are a vehicle to the truth, but not the truth entirely. both facts and stories require a leap to get to the truth... like the finger pointing the way. the finger is not the way, it is the symbol of it.

so you've articulated what i was getting at beautifully. and don't think of it as tracking mud on the carpet.. if anything, you've steam cleaned and left me with a cleaner and crisper definition! anyone who does that is welcome any time! RAWK!

Luke said...

@ PoMo James

the best Green Day album is easy.. it's Dookie. that is until American Idiot came along... but Rolling Stone says the newest one makes A.I. look like a warm up. crap!