Are truth and fact the same thing?

Most of the time, truth and fact seem like the same thing.  Truthful answers and factual answers are identical to questions like “What time did you go to bed last night?”, “How much are 2 + 2 or 99 + 1?”, “Did you steal that money?” 

And most of the time, truth and fact also seem to be permanent and non-negotiable.  But that is not always 100% absolutely the case. 

When you fly to another country, for instance, “what time did you go to bed last night?” might be answered in terms of the time in the zone one started from, in the zone one landed, or possibly in one of the zones in between.  Even if you stay at home, the answer might be the point at which you turned off the television and started your nightly routine.  It might be the point at which you got into bed with a book, when you actually turned the light out, or when you estimate you went to sleep.

How much are two and two won’t always be four if one is adding two glasses of water into a single pitcher, and 99 + 1 might still equal 1 if one is talking about pennies and dollars.

The answer to whether you stole that money might very much depend on what you mean by “steal.”  If someone owed you five dollars and you took it out of their wallet when they weren’t home to pay for a pizza together that evening, the answer might be rather different than if you lifted the same wallet from the pocket of a shopper in the local mall.

Things really get complicated when what the world accepts as “fact” actually changes.  This happens in science far more often than most people realize.  But why and when facts are not absolute, permanent, and fixed in science is a topic for another post.

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About Terry Sissons

Terry Sissons is the author of The Big Bang to Now: All of Time in Six Chunks, and this blog is a dialogue about the universe and what’s happened in the last 13 billions years.
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