I spent the evening with old friends last night – one of those great rambling wine-filled dinners outside under the stars. Poetry was read, jokes were told, great food was eaten. And as I mentioned wine was drunk. So eventually it became one of those crazy drunken conversations that are so fascinating at the time but leave you shaking your head the next day. Just don’t shake it too hard.
I have the blessing (or the curse) of pretty much remembering everything from these evenings. Alcohol does not seem to impair my short term memory so I do remember some of the odd things we talked about. Tumbrels and pitchforks and the silliness of right wing billionaires did come up.
But then I was stopped cold in my assorted diatribes when one of the other guests blandly stated: there are no facts. Maybe it was the matter-of-fact way he stated it. This of course is the central tenet of post-modernism (didn’t he know that is so last week?) All information is interpretation; history is a narrative determined by point of view. Science is this sense is all made up and not rooted in the physical world as anything other than a mediated method of knowledge no more significant than any other way of knowing the world.
Some of you probably think that’s true and will happily text it to me on your (science-created) cell phones or tablets. Perhaps right after you’ve taken your (science-created) blood pressure medicine.
I tried some basic arguments (in base 10, 2+2=4 is a fact, the half-life of plutonium is such and such years, Light travels at 300000 meters per second in a vacuum) but they washed over him like water off a duck’s back (I’ve seen that happen, too – it’s a fact). Facts are nothing but mediated observations.
What can you do? Not much really, people (even sober people) are remarkably unwilling to change their views even in the face of great evidence. And when they discount facts, they don’t even recognize evidence as real. To some extent it is true; post-modernism contains much that is true about the interpretation of reality filtered through lens of power, gender, class, race and so on. But the universe is indifferent to relativism even while it is ruled by relativity.
But that’s ten minutes.