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January 09 2011

alloy

Terminology: theory, fact, or truth.

Far too often I hear/read people’s stories on topics formulated in a way that they are stated as ‘truth’, when they are actually ‘theories’. Often this is simply a human error, but it can also be intentional and used to ‘brainwash’ people.

DISCLAIMER: I know I have used the terms loosely myself, far too often, out of human error. Hence this article is as much a reminder to myself as it is to others.

I’ll try to keep it short, as this fun article explains it way better than I could ever formulate and I urge you to read it. (Especially don’t miss out on the “What to do” section.)

So why is it so important that you should use these terms the right way? Because using them in the wrong way will undermine your own statements. I’ll try to illustrate this with a real-life example that I have encountered a couple of times.

Consider a discussion on whether or not alien life forms exist. It is my personal belief that they do exist, but I have no irrefutable proof for such a statement. So if I were to say “alien life forms exist, because I read such and such”, I will undermine my own statements, because I can NOT (for a fact) proof them to others. Instead I should say “It is my belief that alien life forms exist, because I read such and such”.

The bonus of proper use of the terms is that opposing parties often use the terms incorrect as well. For example, one might tell me (which they do) “alien life forms do not exist”. At this point I can, rightfully so, dispute them by asking for the evidence that they do not exist. As they probably don’t have such proof to back these claims (at least I haven’t seen it yet), they are ‘theories’ and I can call them out on it.

To summarize, not having proof for some theory is NOT proof that the theory might not actually be the truth. There is also nothing wrong in believing something for yourself so strongly that you might consider it to be the truth, but that does NOT mean you can state it to be true.

In the end, using the right terminology can make a discussion much more fun as there will not be any miscommunication and the discussion can be kept on-topic.

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