Facts and Values
From: L. Michael Hall
2021 Neurons #81
December 20, 2021
A day came in Maslow’s life when he made a big semantic leap. It happened the day that he said that facts can be both description and normative. Now that is a big leap! In this he suggested that facts do not just point out what is, but also what ought to be. You may recall (Neurons #78) that Maslow said that facts can tell you what to do.
Now to facilitate this leap, he also said he would call such the words which facilitate this semantic leap—“fusion-words.” For him, these words describe “a fusion of facts and values.” If facticity tells us about the data (the empirical information at the sensory level), then fusion-words like...
“... mature, evolved, developed, stunted, crippled, fully functioning, graceful, awkward, clumsy, self-actualization, diminution” and the like are “fusions of the normative and the descriptive” (Farther Reaches of
Human Nature, 1971, p. 28)
Words in that list are fusion-words. In NLP we recognize them mostly as nominalizations. In Meta-States many of them are evaluations and classifications that exist at a level up from the primary level. And, for what reason did Maslow bring them up and invent this idea of fusion-words? Maslow wrote this in the context of critiquing science for falling into the trap of attempting to be value-free. But the very idea of a value-free science or world, he noted, was non-normative and non-human.
“Fusion concepts and words permit us to participate in the normal advance of science and knowledge from its phenomenological and experiential beginnings on toward greater reliability, great validity, greater confidence, greater exactness, greater sharing with others and agreement with them.” (Ibid., p. 28)
Facts facilitate values and that which is valuable to us when they are relevant. That’s a good place to begin, “What are the relevant facts in this case?” We often get distracted and off-target by facts which are essentially irrelevant. All data is not equally important. So from data we select the facts that we consider relevant to the subject. That’s why facts themselves are also partly subjective. When you select certain events, you have already imposed an interpretation as you have imposed what you consider important to the subject.
Further, you have a purpose for whatever you are trying to understand. “Why are you gathering these ‘facts?’” “To what end?” We can also ask, “What is your relationship to the other persons who are involved in this situation?” Eric Fromm said that it is crucial to be aware of the subject at hand and what facts are being considered relevant. “Am I the man’s friend, or a detective, or simply a man who wants to see the total man in his humanity?” (The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology, 1968, p. 55)
Here again is a way to distort facts and the conclusions that we draw from them. The one fact from which we start with will mean nothing, or some distorted meaning, without an evaluation of the system it lies within. And that requires an analysis of a process in which we as observers are also included. “Eventually it must be stated that the very fact of having decided to select certain events as facts has an effect on ourselves.” (Eric Fromm, Ibid., 1968, p. 56).
What is my point in all of this? Namely, facts are inevitably colored by values. Your values along with your cognitive biases inevitably and inescapably influence your facts, your conclusions, and the concepts, beliefs, decisions, etc. that you come to. If we are to be honest, then we need to acknowledge the influence of our values on the facts that we quote.
We see the lack of honesty (or should I say dishonesty) about this in the news media, social media, television, radio, movies, etc. All too often those who would “report the news” or “report the facts” fail to recognize or acknowledge their own bias and values. They pretend that they are “objective” in a way that no human can be objective. Korzybski often urged scientists and regular people to “put your premises on the table” when you talk. Don’t pretend that you have no agenda, no values, no orientation! You do and when you are transparent and authentic about it, you will be a clearer communicator.
- Tags: Facts