Productive KnowledgeRuminations

The “fact” of rain

Social Agreement v. objective facts/information

Professor Reed writes on his blog.

“Facts are independently testable and verifiable, with truth independent of one’s own opinions or beliefs. It is raining at this place and this time is a testable statement, provably true or false. An opinion is not a fact. “I think it is raining” is an opinion; it may or may not be accurate. Fact-based persuasion is convincing someone else it is raining using clear, verifiable evidence that it is, in fact, raining; demagoguery is not. Social consensus is a widely held perspective, best supported by history and evidence.”

Yet, and I’m not making this up: As I’m planning to head out I often ask a Google home device that sits on my dining table abutting a window, “OK Google: Is it raining?”  She tells me it is. But when I look out, through the window I don’t see raindrops.  I ask again.  Google again tells me it’s raining but again I see no raindrops. I stand up. The road is wet. But an earlier shower could have made it wet.

If I go outside, I will feel raindrops on my face – or not. But do they establish the “fact” of rain? What privileges tactile sensation over visual observation? And what is the “fact” of rain anyhow?  There is always some moisture in the air. It’s a linguistic and thereby social convention to call moisture that takes the form of distinct droplets subject to the laws of gravity that we can both feel and see “rain.” Fog which we can see but not feel isn’t rain. But what if we can just feel the drops but can’t see them?

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