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What is a fact?

Could we all come to an agreement about what the word ‘fact’ means, as it is used in this forum?

If we keep speaking about facts, but are talking about different things, well … Kinfonet of Babel!

I won’t even share my personal understanding of fact, since it’s way too outré for this group. :wink:

But I promise to do my best to understand and ‘abide by’ the accepted group meaning.

That said,

What (in tarnation!) is a fact?

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Maybe we can start (just so it’s out there) with what Krishnamurti seems to have meant by ‘fact’?

He said many times that a fact is anything that has happened, and anything that is happening.

So, for instance:

what are facts? What is fact? Fact is that which has happened. Right? That which has happened. An incident or an accident is a fact, which took place yesterday. And fact is also what is happening now. Right? What is happening now, you and I are sitting here having a conversation, a dialogue, or a question and answer and so on, that’s a fact. What is not a fact is what may happen tomorrow. Right? Are we coming together in this? What may happen when you leave this place and go off, go off to your car. So fact is that which happened, that which is happening; and fact is not what will happen. (Ojai, Question and Answer Meeting 2, 1984)

Okay, that’s simple enough, thanks.

But I would question (hard!) what it means for something “to happen.” How is it established beyond the shadow of doubt (which is what ‘fact’ would imply, yes?) that something happened, how is it determined what happened, if you say X happens does X happen for me, within the scope of me?

I could go on and on with this kind of investigation into “happening.” But I’m wondering if that would be fruitless in the context of this forum, do more harm (confusion) than good? Maybe KISS would be the better way, we all know what it means (conventionally) for something to happen, common sense is an adequate guide, delving further into it is beside the point (here in a Krishnamurti-influenced circle)?

I think when you introduce the notion of absolute certainty (which is implied by the words “beyond the shadow of doubt”) we get into more tricky territory.

For example, to use the word ‘fact’ in Krishnamurti’s sense would be to say that there is a war taking place right now in Ukraine. Right? You probably wouldn’t object to that. But if I demand of this fact some kind of absolute certitude - then I run into some clear difficulties. For instance, I have never actually been to Ukraine, so I have to rely on what other people are telling me about what is going on: journalists, civilians, television news, images and reports I see on social media, etc. And it is very likely that not all that I read about or see is completely accurate. Similarly, I do not actually know what is happening in that country right this absolute second, because it is not happening right now directly in front of me.

But the fact remains, as far as I am aware, that there is violence, murder - perhaps even genocide (although this depends on how genocide is definitionally understood) - taking place in Ukraine at the moment. Only a philosopher (such as Descartes, etc) - as a philosopher - would dispute this.

There are, of course, some religious people in India who believe that the world is maya who might dispute this - they would say that the war in Ukraine is just an illusion. (And they probably go and vote for Modi!). ‘There is only Atman’. But that is up to them. Who can tell if that is in fact a fact for them, right?

Now it is interesting that Krishnamurti - following some discussions he had with David Bohm in the 1970s - began to distinguish between fact, reality, actuality, and truth.

Fact is just what we have said it to be - the obvious, conventional facts of the world: what has happened, and what is happening. We don’t know with absolute certitude that the Americans landed on the moon in 1969, but the evidence for those of us who didn’t go there personally is pretty clear (except for conspiracy nuts). So we call it a fact.

Reality - on the other hand - is anything put together by human thought: such as religious dogmas, nationalities, etc. But nature has not been put together by thought, so nature is an actuality.

And truth can only have any meaning when the mind is no longer occupied with reality (i.e. with thought). As Krishnamurti discussed with the Buddhists, only when there is a state of absolute attention does the word ‘truth’ have any meaning. And so truth - if it exists - would be the only possible place to find the absolute certitude you were talking about (because that is what ‘truth’ is by definition).

Clear? Or not clear?

The confusion comes when we take something created by thought - such as a belief - and call it a fact. It is a fact that someone has this belief (say, in Jesus Christ or Krishna), and that this belief gives them a feeling of security (serotonin in the brain, etc). But the belief is a reality not an actuality. - Do you see what I mean?

Similarly with anything created by thought - including the sense we all have (or most of us have) of being a self, a ‘me’, an ‘I’. This sense of being a self is a fact for most of us - but is it merely a reality created by thought (and so not in fact actual)?

This is how I understand it. What is your take on this?

This is an acceptable definition of “fact”, even if we can’t agree as to that “that which is happening”, because of our conditioning.

Weird use of the word Reality. This would be “my interpretation of reality” in my book.
But then again : Fact (being what is happening) would be “our consensus interpretation of whats happening”

Clear but funky. It’s not easy for me to accept these definitions, since they seem quite flawed to me. But I’m happy to do it if it’s “the price of entry” for the forum, that which we agree to adopt to avoid Kinfonet of Babel. And it makes sense to use Krishnamurti’s jargon in a Krishnamurti forum. If this were a Whitehead forum, we wouldn’t be complaining about the terms prehension or eternal. (Well I might.)

I’ll keep my personal ‘definitions’ of fact, reality, truth, usw to myself and go with Krishnamurti’s:

fact – obvious, conventional facts, what has happened and what is happening
reality – anything put together by human thought, religious dogmas, nationalities, etc.
actuality – anything not put together by thought, nature
truth – what is when the mind is no longer occupied with thought/reality

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Yes! - it caused some considerable confusion for a while for those unaware of why Krishnamurti was using the word in this way. Bohm had told Krishnamurti (in 1975) that the word ‘reality’ comes from a Latin root - res - meaning “thing”. So between them they adopted the word ‘real’ to stand in for any “thing” created by thought. Whereas truth - according to their dialogue - was not a “thing”. Truth is nothing, ‘no-thing’ - meaning, not some thing put together by thought.

During this series of dialogues they further refined their terms to include ‘facts’ and ‘actualities’ (i.e. nature is a reality independent of thought, it is actual).

Anyway, after one has heard them discuss the issue a hundred times, their definitions begin to stick! And they do kind of address some of the distinctions and ambiguities that we see thrown up by these discussions (i.e. of facts, truth, etc), which is why I mention them.

Obviously one has to bear in mind - as I was saying to macdougdoug - that this usage of the word reality (from Latin res, meaning “thing”) has to be understood in the context of Krishnamurti’s conversations with Bohm from the mid-70s.

Even Krishnamurti more or less dropped this specific usage during the 80s - but I think it is still worth being aware of this usage in this conversation, as it makes a useful distinction (as you have outlined) that may help us in our attempt to make sense of what we consider are ‘facts’.

This shouldn’t - I hope - stop you (or anyone else) trying to put into other words (Whiteheadian or otherwise) what you yourself consider to be facts. Although we should try not to get too philosophical and jargonistic (if you get what I mean).

Maybe you could give an example of something that we feel to be a fact - something that we feel is actually happening - but which we cannot agree on because of our conditioning?

Just to help bring this point out a little bit more.

K:. One is violent; thought has created non-violence, its opposite, which is non-fact, but the ending of violence is quite a different state from non-violence.

Mind has created the opposite in order either to escape from action or to suppress violence. All this activity is part of violence. But if one is only concerned with facts, then facts have no opposites. One hates; one’s mind, one’s thought and society say one should not hate, which is the opposite. The opposites are born out of each other. So, there is only hate, not its opposite. If one observes the fact of hate and all the responses to that fact, why should one have an opposite? The opposite is created by thought which leads to a constant struggle between hate and non-hate, between fact and thought. How is one to get over one’s hate? If the fact alone remains and not its opposite, then one has the energy to look at it. One has the energy not to do anything about it and the very fact is dissolved.

13th Question - Ojai, California, 2nd Question & Answer Meeting - 8th May 1980 - ‘Facts’

Yes. So in the conversation so far we have mostly been discussing facts in general, external facts - such as the moon landing of 1969, or the present war in Ukraine - inasmuch as we can agree on these facts.

Now you are introducing what we might call psychological facts. These are facts that another person may not be aware of or have direct access to - but they are what is actually going on inwardly, in one’s mind.

If hate is going on inwardly, to deny it and pretend otherwise would be non-factual. To try to escape it by projecting an ideal of love or non-hate in the future would be non-factual. So there is only hate (in that moment, for the mind that hates). And the opposite of that (of hate) does not exist.

So you are saying that psychological facts have no opposite.

And yet psychological facts can also change - from what Krishnamurti is saying here - if we can remain with them without introducing any non-factual element.

Are we able to do this (remain with psychological facts without introducing any non-factual elements)?

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We can try . For example I hate Putin for what he is doing to the people and the Earth. First I need to know if it is hate or I merely condemn Putin for what he is doing . So the first thing in my opinion is to make sure if my hate is a fact or it is the product of thought …

Isn’t hate violence ? Here is a quote about this from K.

K. : Violence has so many different forms - I am violent when I am greedy, envious, competitive, ambitious, when I hate, when I am jealous. Can I watch all its expressions as they happen? And when I watch them, why should I have any criticism about them? They are so. And as I watch, I begin to go into something much deeper, which is: who is the watcher? I watch in myself violence as jealously, or hate, whatever you will. I watch it. And as I watch, who is the observer that’s watching? Is the observer different from that which he watches? Is not the observer himself violent? So the observer is the observed. No?

J. Krishnamurti Talks in Europe 1967 2nd Public Talk London 17th September 1967

So can one say that violence is a fact ? Considering:

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So if I say “X is a fact” here, it might mean any of the following:

  1. X is true, obviously. It is a fact that all human beings suffer.
  2. X is true, though not so obviously. It is a fact that craving causes suffering.
  3. X is true for some, but not all people. It is a fact that when the self ends, suffering ends.

Fact 1 is no problem, everyone can see X is true.
Fact 2 is trickier, not everyone can see it right away, some might not be able to see it at all.
Fact 3 is a problem child, only some, very few perhaps, can see directly, experientially that it is true.

For people who can’t see fact 2 or 3, are they still facts? Or hearsay, inference, usw?

Or take these mahavakyas from Krishnamurti:

You are the world.
The observer is the observed.
Truth is a pathless land.
I am nothing.
It is only the silent mind that shall see the truth.

Facts? For whom?

Facts are facts ,they are not here for anyone.

Those who think they’ve “got it” tell us what they think we need to hear because they’re conditioned to deceive themselves,

I think many of us would sympathise with this sentiment right now. So much death and destruction to feed one man’s perverted sense of entitlement… An ego without any self-criticism is the most dreadful thing.

But hate is hate after all. I’m not sure that the highest response of intelligence is that of hate - so it is probably worth staying with to see if it changes?

It probably matters where we each of us are in our investigation, right?

One might say that these mahavakyas (great sayings) were probably facts for Krishnamurti, but that they are pointers for us (until they can be seen as facts - if that is what they are).

Many of us have a certain intellectual grasp of some of these pointers, but an intellectual grasp is not the same thing as an actual perception (or insight).

And some of us have had some partial insight into these pointers - for example, that ‘I am the world’, or the importance of having a ‘silent mind’ - without having perceived them to their depths.

But if these pointers are in fact facts, then it stands to reason that this is what we will ourselves discover if we are able to investigate deeply enough - no?