Another common misconception that I find rather alarming is the treatment and use of the words belief, truth, and fact. As we all know, language is a flexible construct that can be used, understood, and interpreted in an infinite number of ways. All too often people use the terms truth and fact interchangeably when in reality these words have specific meaning and connotations that are ignored usually out of laziness and ignorance. People also tend to claim that they either do or do not believe in something, something which in reality is not a matter of belief but rather a fact or a truth. Let’s begin by defining the terms fact, truth, and belief and giving a brief etymological history.
- Fact (n) – Something known to exist or to have happened
Origin: 1530–40; Latin factum something done, deed, noun use of neuter of factus done, past participle of facere to do
- Truth (n) – The true or actual state of a matter
Origin: before 900; Middle English treuthe, Old English trēowth (adj.) loyal, trusty, honest
- Belief (n) – confidence; faith; trust
Origin: Rooted in the term believe (v) which is descended from Middle Enlgish bileven < bi, be- + -leven, contr. < ileven < OE geliefan < IE base *leubh-, to like, desire > love, lief, L libido
What we can take away from these definitions and histories is that a fact is something that is known to exist or to have been done and is rooted in the Latin word facere (-to do.) A truth is similar to a fact in that it is the actual state of something, it is rooted in the modern word truth which is however descended from the Old English trēowth (adj) meaning loyalty, trusty, and honest. And a belief is a faith or trust in something and is rooted in the Middle English word leubh – to like, desire.
From this we can discern that a fact is something that has happened, that is rooted in reality and exists outside of mind of the individual/observer, something which is scientific. This is very different from a truth, which although we often understand to be an expression of reality, is actually philosophical and is rooted in confidence, faith, and trust. The modern misconception occurs when people claim that something is true or that they speak the truth when what they are implying is that something is fact or that they speak of facts. There is a very tangible and real difference between speaking facts and speaking truths. We often speak of half-truths, things which are not quiet up to-par so as to be truthful and at that nowhere near factual. Facts, although often proved to be false, are understood to be existing, real, and in some human form tangible.
The implications of this misunderstanding are immense and account for a very large part of human endeavor. Manipulation is the effect of changing someone’s understandings so as the result in actions more favorable or wanted by the manipulator. Without a strong self-awareness, a keen and inquisitive mind, and/or a strong literary understanding, people are susceptible to the simplest forms of manipulation. In our societies this takes the form of advertising.
A TV Commercial: A pizza flashes across the screen and large text comes up Our Pizza Is The Best while a voice from off-screen speaks the words
A Religious Sermon: The speakers talks of the truth of his holy text, of the falsehood of other texts and others beliefs that contradict his own
A Paper Advertisement On A Bus: Rated Top After-Hours Spot in The City
All of these previous examples are truths in that none of them are false. By never communicating the ownership of the statement, advertisers can say anything they want because when questioned, they can and do produce an individual who agrees with the statement and holds the beliefs contained in them. There is that word again, belief. The viewer takes these statements and because they lack any ownership assigns them ownership, usually the viewers own. Just by denying someone a face or group to judge, an advertiser is able to manipulate the viewer into owning the idea. I heard they have the best pizza, this book contains the truth (truth which is assumed to mean fact,) that club is the best in the city. None of these ideas are factual, they are truths that are purposely forced upon consumers and anyone who encounters them.
Often times I am conversing with someone and they say to me “I don’t believe that” or “I don’t believe in it” in reference to something I have said when what I have said is not something that is a matter of belief, it is measurable, quantifiable fact. Take for example a conversation I had recently with someone about ADHD during which they said they don’t believe in it. Going back to the earlier definitions and etymological histories, ADHD does not fit the construct of belief, it is not about desire or faith, it exists outside of belief, whether anyone believes in it or not. It is factual, quantifiable, measurable, and observable. I am the first to admit that ADD and ADHD are overdiagnosed and that the medications for them are overprescribed in the wrong people. However I do think that these diseases are underdiagnosed and undermedicated in the wrong people. If you look at the efficacy and accuracy of the current diagnostic approaches to ADD/ADHD, you will see that they are largely diagnosed using self-reporting and parental as well as teacher observation and reporting. And none of these methods has a high accuracy rate, in fact they are so often inaccurate that I believe they should be considered a small piece of the diagnostic process for ADD/ADHD.
Picture this: A 3rd grade student who clearly has attention problems rooted in sensory overload does not understand why he cannot focus. For starters he is in 3rd grade so he does not have the self-awareness, vocabulary, or medical/behavioral knowledge to understand let alone describe what happens to him, most things in his life merely are. (His brain is also the size of an orange.) After a year teaching 30 students in a busy and full classroom, his 3rd grade teacher does an evaluation and report for ADD/ADHD testing of the student and determines from his observations that the student does not have the disease. This report goes out to the parents who take the negative diagnosis as a blessing, thank god their child is not sick, he’s just distractable. The parents believe the teachers report to be fact when it is not fact, it is merely conjecture based on observation. The child goes unmedicated and continues to have problems at school for the next decade+.
There are alternatives to belief, to truth, to wanting something so bad that we consider beliefs and truths to be facts. The alternative is proof. Quantifiable, measurable, tangible, statistical proof. In the case of diagnosing ADD/ADHD, the qEEG brain scan has been proven to be over 94% accurate. That is a huge, massive, reality shifting difference from the 60+-% accuracy of the observation/reporting technique. I could not find any studies on the combination of the two techniques but I imagine that they would complement each other beautifully. The brain of someone with ADD and/or ADHD has considerably different electrical activity than someone without it, there is a distinct neurological difference that is at least partially responsible for the behavior of the diseased individual and as is so, so often the case people believe (there’s that word again!) that the diseased person/child is just different. That they aren’t trying hard enough, that their just distractible, that it’s a matter of will or chance. That is just not the case. Like someone with a torn-ACL or clinical depression, the ADD/ADHD afflicted have a disability, a disease and because this particular disease manifests itself behaviorally, people want to believe that it’s a choice. But it’s not, it is a fact.