The Myth of Fact Based Opinions

Some friends were having a discussion about something that both have strong, but different, opinions. They became clearly frustrated and the tone of the discussion turned south. That is what set me to thinking about all this, though this post is not about them at all. The same thing happens to me. It’s just that it was on my mind while I was doing yard work that could have been a fine opportunity for some mindfulness practice. But I couldn’t not think about this. It happens so often to all of us.

Two presumably intelligent people who strongly hold different opinions about a subject. Both believing in the correctness of their view because their view is based upon facts. Their view is so obviously, to them, correct and factual.

What are facts? Often people appeal to the authority of a text, or raw data that are their trusted source of facts. They may disagree with the authority of each others text, or challenge the accuracy of each others data and disagree. That is easy to understand, but what about cases where both have access to the same raw data or where they both consider the same text to be factual and authoritative, yet they still disagree?

This shines a bright light upon the idea that our opinions are fact based. Our opinions are based upon the conclusions that we draw from our facts. How do we draw those conclusions? We may think that we are honestly assessing factual data, but we are assessing it through the filter of the opinions we already have. If those opinions are essential to our world view, then it is an earth shaking event if we draw a conclusion that would change that.

Our minds don’t like cognitive dissonance. It is typical that we rationalize and make apology to preserve our point of view when faced with either facts that challenge our view or someone who has a different viewpoint based upon a different conclusion about our common facts or data.

My takeaway from this flow of thoughts is that I must beware of frustration with people who hold “obviously incorrect views” AKA “my views.”

I am fond of saying, mix a teaspoon of sewage with a bottle of fine wine and you get a bottle of sewage. In this case, mix a conclusion filtered by a cherished opinion with a fact and you get an opinion that is in agreement with what I already think and some link with the fact. The idea that the opinion is fact based is less likely than the idea that I found a way to claim support for one of my ideas with a fact.

Why am I so dubious about the concept of fact based opinion? My two thoughtful friends who are so frustrated by the inability of their friend to see the wisdom of their fact based opinions. My frustration, your frustration, about disagreement about fact based opinions. If there was such a thing, there would be no disagreement.

Retired and living my golden years in a world full of angry people.

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