Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Art of Facts

I think I'll just post a poem here tonight, one that I posted not too long ago over on MySpace.  This one draws on some of my background in general semantics and related areas, especially Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's analytic philosophy.

In everyday usage, when we use the word "fact" we assume that it refers to something that is true.  I remember when the humor magazine National Lampoon used to run a feature called "True Facts" back when I was an undergraduate, and I thought they were being redundant in an attempt to be funny. 

But in graduate school I learned that a fact, or more properly a statement of fact is a descriptive statement, otherwise known as a proposition (as in, I propose this to be true...).  The point is that this sort of statement is not necessarily true, it is just a statement that can be tested to determine whether it is true or false (or for generalizations, following Karl Popper's philosophy of science, a statement that can be falsified, as no statement can be proven to be unequivocally true).  It is a statement about which we can gather evidence in order to make such a determination. 

By way of contrast, a statement that may be true or false, but we do not have access to the information we need to determine which it is, is called an inference (as in assumption, as in, when you assume->ass-u-me).  A statement that can never be tested in this way is either some sort of judgment or statement of opinion or value or statement, or it is a statement of definition, an axiomatic statement.

Getting back to the facts, the key point is that they can be either true or false, and when I learned that, it actually explained a great deal about Ronald Reagan's political discourse, as he was constantly citing facts that were, in fact, false, but still were facts.  Of course, this is not uncommon among politicians in general, but Reagan was especially gifted in this respect.

But this is getting very heavy, where my intent was to treat you to a bit of light verse, so let's let go of logic, and get down to the art of facts:

The Art of Facts

Facts are facts,
and that is that,
when it comes to facts.
Facts are factual,
and that is all you need to know,
that facts are actual,
except when they are not.
Actually, facts are satisfactory,
except when they are not.
Facts are de facto actual,
and it is factual to say
that facts are artifacts,
and artifacts are artificial.
As a matter of fact,
facts are manufactured.
Facts are manufactured in a factory.
Factor that in, if you please:
Facts are reasonable facsimiles,
manufactured rather matter-of-factually,
artifacts manufactured artificially.
Go tell your factotum,
it won't matter,
and that's a fact.
And factor in that new factory odor
because facts are olfactory,
and facts can be putrefactive,
when artifacts are no longer active.
Now, don't strain your faculties,
but there are facts that are true,
and facts that are false,
and facts somewhere in-between.
You see, facts have many facets.
There are facts that benefit benefactors,
and facts that abet malefactors.
Mainly, facts may be multifaceted,
indeed, they may be manufactured to be,
that's the artifice of facsimile.
Facts are fickle.
Facts are feckless.
Facts are fractured.
Yes, it's a fact,
and that is that.
Now, focus on the factors that make up the facts,
de facto factors that fact you all up,
just the facts, ma'am, just the facts,
just the facts, all the facts, and nothing but.
Focus on the facts now, focus all up.
Focus all up. Focus all up.
Facts will unavoidably focus all up.
The faculty for factors will focus all up.
Manufactured artifacts will focus all up.
Factually speaking, facts focus all up,
because the facts will factual up.
Factual up. Factual up.
Fact you. Fact you.
Fact you all up.


Bruce I. Kodish said...

My friend and teacher the late Stuart Mayper, a physical chemist, a student of Popper, with whom he studied, and stalwart korzybskian, taught at Institute of General Semantics seminar-workshops for years and edited the General Semantics Bulletin for a number of years.

Stuart referred to Popper's Chopper: In order to qualify as 'scientific', a theory had to be testable. He had another saying which I came to call Mayper's Rapier:
"No 'fact' is simple!

chad calease said...

your poetry reminds me of firesign theater!

Lance Strate said...

Chad, I'd say Dr. Seuss is more of an influence, but I love Firesign Theatre! I've been listening to them since, well, a long time, and have long said that they have the best media sense in audio of any comedy group (even did a talk about them on a conference session once). It's a mystery to me why they're not better known.