Friday, August 26, 2011

Constructivism, An Epigram

If Google is to be trusted, I just coined a phrase. (It's got one hit, but context gives it a different meaning.) "Facts do not make themselves known," I suddenly thought to myself. It's a rather well-turned phrase, if you ask me, almost epigrammatic. What does it mean?

Well, it captures the reason we need science, i.e., organized, critical inquiry. The fact (that something is true) does not ensure that we will know it. Facts do not make themselves known. Someone must discover them. Indeed, most facts are discovered hidden under a false belief. The centrality of the sun in the solar system was discovered under a belief in geocentrism (i.e., not under plain ignorance but under the belief in the opposite). Not only do facts not make themselves known, we often believe that something which is not the case (an "unfact") is the case (a fact).

The next thought is a bit more disturbing, but nonetheless unavoidably true. Just because you discover a fact, i.e., know something to be true, does not yet mean that the fact "is known". The fact did not make itself known to you, and will not make itself known to others just because you have exposed its secret. You've got to convince people that it's true, and these people also believe that something else is true (about the same thing). That is, you've got to change people's minds. Just telling them about the fact will not suffice. You've got to make an argument.

It's a long process. There's a lot of work to be done between the facts and our knowledge of them. We sometimes call that work "the social construction of reality". As with any other kind of labour, not everyone is willing to do it.


Andrew Shields said...

Aren't there many people who read "social construction of reality" to mean that there are no "facts" behind the construction?

Thomas said...

Yes. Like I say, some people are unwilling to do the work.