Facts are true descriptions. Examples are: in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or serotonin is a chemical in the brain that controls happiness. We can think about and question facts. So one investigation could be: when exactly did Christopher Columbus sail the ocean to discover America? We can focus our investigation to what part of the year, what month, but when we get down to day, hour, second, and nanosecond, we find that we don’t know exactly what we mean by this fact.
The next question is What do I mean by “What do we mean?”? The fact is still true without asking this question. Or is it? 1492 was a whole year. Columbus didn’t sail the ocean in part of that year, so the fact is partially not true. We get into the problem of meaning. The two main theories of meaning are the same as the two main theories of truth: either we mean something precise, such as the nanosecond when the boat embarked (which falls into the problem of vagueness), or we mean something interconnected, such as the web of causes and effects, thoughts, feelings, motivations of the event of Columbus sailing. All these things over time, over cultures.
Now look at our fact again. After only a little thought, the fact has become a source of a lot of thoughtfulness and questions. One effect of a fact, as Henry Adams observed in his “Virgin and the Dynamo” is that they create ignorance. People believe them to be true and their certainty makes them stop thinking and investigating. They hang on to the fact rather than allowing it nuance. Even though thoughtfulness can lead to the poison of doubt, and the danger of this poison is very real, being a thoughtful culture is worth the risk
Here is why I care about this: We have two sides of America with two very different party lines that are hammered into our brains. One side becomes so sure about one fact, while another group becomes so sure about another fact. Thoughtfulness about facts allows people to listen to each other better, because the exactitude of truth in what is said isn’t the point. The weighing of a thought in your hand is not precise, but it is the way to think for yourself. Instead of published precision knowledge that communicates to a few specialists with the conceit of an eternal, inhuman contribution. The imprecision of weighing a fact is the basis of direct human communication.