Facts are crucially important to us, we base aspects of our political and social constructs on them, but what are facts? Aldous Huxley’s view of facts was much the same as Spinoza’s, with whose writings he was familiar. Both men say the only facts we can possibly be aware of are psychological facts – events in our heads.
The only facts of which we have direct knowledge are psychological facts. The Nature of Things presents us with them. There is no getting round them, or behind them, or outside them. They are there, given.
One fact cannot be more of a fact than another. Our psychological experiences are all equally facts. There is nothing to choose between them. No psychological experience is ‘truer’ so far as we are concerned, than any other. For even if one should correspond more closely to things in themselves as perceived by some hypothetical non-human being, it would be impossible for us to discover what it was.
Aldous Huxley – Do What You Will – pub 1929
The human mind perceives no external body as actually existing save through ideas of modifications of its body.
Benedict Spinoza – Ethics – Boyle translation
One consequence of this take on facts is as Huxley states it – one fact cannot be more of a fact than another. Science and common sense are merely ways of organising facts to our best advantage, which is usually the way that leads to a minimum of unexpected events.
Unfortunately, and this is the tragedy of the human condition, it is possible to claim that unexpected events were either expected or they never happened. Why? Because even an unexpected event is just another fact, or not as the case may be. Such claims are what we call wisdom, politics or delusion, depending on the claimant’s status within the current power structure.
In my view this is why science is falling apart as an intellectual project. Science is strongly associated with democracy, with freedom to explore possibilities other than the official doctrine, freedom to discover new facts. As democracy fails, so does science, because the domain of facts becomes polluted, boundaries become diffuse. Allow me to repeat a sentence here :-
Science and common sense are merely ways of organising facts to our best advantage.
Once our best advantage refers only to the political elite and their stakeholders, then both science and common sense are fatally compromised. In the end, Huxley and Spinoza were right - the only facts are psychological facts. So facts are as mutable as people and their status as facts crucially depends on the political and social constructs within which they arise and acquire their value.
Climate science organizes its "facts" for the advantage of its stakeholders - the UN, the EU, governments, banks, insurance companies, pressure groups and large corporations heavily invested in climate policies. Ordinary citizens have no power to reorganize climate "facts" towards their own advantage, largely because democracy is falling apart.
Ironically, the partial loss of a culture where facts are organised to minimise the unexpected will have one predictable consequence. The unexpected will occur more frequently and be more damaging. Eventually it will destroy us unless we relearn our science of well-organised facts and even more importantly, our common sense.