K. KRIPPENDORFF defines a fact as "Anything described and held to be true". He also contrasts facts with statements that may be "untrue, surmised" or hypothetical, or reflect fantasies or beliefs (1986, p.30).
Coincidently G. BATESON states: "There are, in a sense, no facts in nature; or, if you like, there are an infinite number of potential facts in nature, out of which the judgment selects a few which become truly facts by that act of selection" (1973, p.456).
St. BEER puts in the following words: "Science is supposed to amass "the facts"and then to form hypotheses based on those facts. But the hypothesis is already covertly implicit in the selection of the facts, and further selection of a less than overt nature occurs during the process of elaborating the hypothesis further. The continuing operation is circular. That is why cybernetics takes ouroboros, the snake that bites its own tail, as a suitable logo, and talks about circular causality"(1999, p. 441)
It could be said that a fact is something that can be observed, perceived and understood within a conceptual frame of reference, which serves mainly to define facts in function of contexts (which can be shifting in time, as shown for example by astronomical "facts" from Ptolemaic to Einsteinian viewpoint, through Keplerian and Newtonian ones). T. SANDOZ writes: "A fact becomes observable at the moment that it becomes interpretable"… and interpretations can be variable: an earthquake is a disaster for the affected people, but for the geologist, it is a manifestation of plate tectonics. Moreover, "A fact is nothing without a theory" (1993, p.1544)… i.e. any "fact" contains an implicit theory. That would be true also for archaic myths, considered as explanations based on a class of proto-theories.
Now, how do we select our facts?
What we call "facts" are merely constructs of our brains elaborated from our perceptions of "things" or events "there outside" and their processing by our neural networks. Moreover, anyone selects his/her facts according to the personal organization of his/her cerebral networks, as it resulted from training and learning.
As argued by P. DENNING: "Science is a process of constructing facts" (1990, p.102). It is not the only one, but it is the most reliable, because it is solidly based on non-contradictory coherence and possible refutation (POPPER).
Facts are thus merely "facts": They are basically a possibly provisional consensus on some representation of "something out there" and should not be given an absolute and definitive value. In the words of the French physicist B. d'ESPAGNAT "reality is veiled"(1979). This caveat is a much needed self-protection against many delusions.
- 1) General information
- 2) Methodology or model
- 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
- 4) Human sciences
- 5) Discipline oriented
To cite this page, please use the following information:
Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]
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