Facts and theories are terms often used alongside one another, which imply the existence of a nexus between them, especially in the pursuit and ascertainment of truth. However, the correlation between facts and theories varies according to the area of knowledge in question. It is unclear whether facts help in establishing theories or theories help make facts sensible in the pertinent area of knowledge. Theories may be an antecedent to facts in one field, but the nature of another area of knowledge may dispense with the need to formulate a theory first. The purpose of this essay is to examine the nexus between the two aspects with reference to natural sciences and history. The analysis uses practical examples derived from the two areas of knowledge to demonstrate how the nexus between facts and theories takes shape differently in each field.
Facts are essentially what establish the veracity of a synthetic proposition. They are mind-independent states that render an assertion true or false. On the other hand, a theory simply refers to a wider framework that gives meaning to the facts derived from a pursuit of truth. A theory has to be backed by facts to be credible. That means that one’s convictions about a phenomenon would not be deemed a theory unless there were facts that back the position. Particularly in natural science, any theory, no matter how it is elaborate, is incomplete and suffers from confirmation bias in the absence of germane factors that prove its truth. The integration of evidence and facts derived from credible experiments as well as reality help in weighing and ascertaining the veracity of a theory. It also helps in the alteration and modification of the theory on trial. Theories play a critical part in explaining the facts whose existence would otherwise be confounding. For instance, as regards human immunodeficiency virus infection (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), it does not suffice to say that it is simply an incurable disease. Leaving the statement at that would be disconcerting and unsatisfactory. For this reason, scientists continue to build upon previous research to explain how the HIV supersedes the existing medications.
Facts help establish true theories about phenomena witnessed across the world, but there needs to be a distinction between pure facts and ‘said facts’. Said facts refer to declarations even in spite of all evidence to the contrary that something is an indisputable fact. The essence of facts is that there is no requirement to make a declaration to assert its truth. There is no theory that can be said to establish the veracity of a fact as it is not a synthetic proposition. Thus, the assertion that theories can help make facts understandable does not mean that theories can disprove facts. Unlike theories, facts are independent of extrinsic manipulation, but theorists need to apply their mind to explain them. There are myriads of facts out there in the world all of which are not a linguistic expression of an idea and are mind-independent and therefore not meaningful. The facts just exist, such as the absence of a cure for HIV/AIDS. Interpreting such a fact entails borrowing from a theoretical model in relation to something else through a comparative analysis that provides meaning to the fact.
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Aristotle once suggested that theories are inherently digests of facts. The implication of this statement was that people simply go out and collect massive data, without formulating any theory. The theory is then derived from the facts obtained from the search as a way of explaining the discovered phenomenon. It is quite interesting that Aristotle suggested this as an explanation of what happens in science. Indeed, this would make the discovery of knowledge in natural science quite problematic, as scientists would have to go through the exigencies of gathering numerous data prior to sifting through it to discover where the theories lie. One good example of how Aristotle’s suggestion would work would be examining populations across the United States, gathering vast data in order to notice that the incremental use of depleted uranium (DU) has an adverse impact on the environment and humans. DU is principally a radioactive heavy metal that has high toxicity levels that can invoke multiple health conditions. Afterward, from a series of deductions that lead back to this hypothesis, one would have formulated the theory that people exposed to DU in one way or another will suffer from a suite of health conditions. This, however, is not the way the scientific discovery of knowledge works. In natural science, facts are not an antecedent to theories.
Unlike Aristotle, facts are by their essence digests of theories in science. For instance, a scientific study into the impact of DU on humans stems from a hypothesis that DU, as a radioactive material, is injurious to human health. Afterward, the scientific researcher will initiate an empirical study to prove or disprove this tentative position. The outcome of the study, whether it proves the hypothesis correct or incorrect, is a truth that is unaffected by the theory being tested. That means that the hypothesis is not a determinant of the research result. In this example, the impact of DU usage on the human body persists in spite of the existence or absence of any theory that links the two variables. In essence, this shows that the fact, which is the outcome of this study, is entirely autonomous from the hypothesis. If the study demonstrates that there is a positive nexus between the utilization of DU in the United States and negative health outcomes, then this vindicates the hypothesis. However, where the study demonstrates that there is no relationship between the incremental application of DU and health issues, then this will result in the abandonment of the hypothesis. It may be very well that the outcome of the study prompts the researcher to modify the hypothesis. Rather than repeating the original hypothesis, the researcher may assert that if DU is deployed at existing levels, then it cannot lead to negative health outcomes.
Areas of Knowledge
The discovery of knowledge in history sometimes takes a different pathway than in natural science. In fact, the model applied in this area of knowledge is reminiscent of Aristotle’s proposal. It is possible for archaeologists to go out into a historical site in search of unspecified artifacts and uncover information about a historical era. Afterward, this discovery will enable them to arrive at deductions that lead back to a specific theory. However, this does not necessarily mean that predictive hypotheses are impossible in history. Indeed, an archaeologist seeking to uncover a pyramid pretty much has a preconceived idea and hypothesis of what one would find. The existence of the pyramid or the nature of the artifacts discovered in the search will help to either prove or disprove their initial hypothesis. If the historian finds the site in one way or the other, then it would be necessary to draw from existing theories or formulate new ones to explain the discovery. For instance, the existence of additional bodies alongside the Pharaoh is an indication of the Egyptian custom where nobles were buried with all their servants to cater to them in the afterlife. In this way, theories will help an archaeologist to make sense of the artifacts and bodies in the newly uncovered tomb.
From the preceding discussion, it is decipherable that facts are critical in establishing theories in both history and natural science areas of knowledge. Alternatively, theorists are necessary to make sense of facts. Facts are innately mind-independent phenomena that are not meaningful in the absence of a theoretical framework that would help explain them. Without theories, facts would simply lie out there in the world as immutable truths, but they would neither be meaningful or useful to people. For instance, the lack of an HIV/AIDS cure is an indisputable fact, but the absence of theories that explain how existing and emergent treatments cannot eliminate HIV would render this fact entirely confounding. Likewise, uncovering a tomb in Egypt with additional bodies without alluding to knowledge about ancient Egyptian customs would make the discovery confusing to archaeologists. Fortunately, there are existing and emergent theories that help explain different phenomena, even as facts help to prove and disprove theories.