The pioneers examined have insisted upon the priority of the fact, the event, the tangible happening. What do they mean by this? “Fact” is of course an abstract term of a very high order. When an impression hits the sensory nerves from the outside world, it is probable that factual material has caused it and demands interpretation. In this context a fact is a sign from “beyond me” to “me.” The impression can be subjected to the operational approach; often it can be measured. When two or more competent observers have agreed upon it, the factual material takes definite form. If Adam! reports a pain in his leg, his doctor may examine the leg for injury or disease. If he finds none, neither he nor Adanii has any other way to check this fact, if fact it be. But if Adam x and Carpenter^ both sober and of good eyesight, see an eclipse of the moon at the same hour, there is reason to suppose that the eclipse is a fact. Below is a rough classification of factual matter:
1. Material objects at given places and dates: This cat here; this apple; this woman named Susan Jones; this cut on my finger.
2. Collections of objects at given places and dates: The people in Madison Square Garden on the night of January 6, 1937. All American locomotives in operation on April 1, 1938. (Count them.)
3. Happenings at given places and dates: Airship Hindenburg burns May 6, 1937, at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Armistice terminates the World War, November 11, 1918. Lincoln assassinated in a Washington theater, 1865. Napoleon evacuates Moscow, 1812. Such happenings, to be classified as facts, must be verified by competent observers at the time. Historical facts, such as Napoleon in Moscow, can be verified by records written by observers then living.
4. Processes verified scientifically: Ethyl ether boils at 34.5 0 C. All bodies fall with equal velocity in a vacuum. The speed of light is approximately 186,000 miles per second. A scientific fact can be rechecked at any time, and its validity can be established. A historical fact cannot be rechecked, although additional documents may be found to establish or refute it.
A fact, then, to generalize, is an event subject to operational verification, or judged reasonably likely because of documentary evidence. The inventory of factual material does not include any high-order abstractions such as “time,” “space,” “the eternal,” “the truth,” because Such things have never been observed. Most of our facts
we must accept at second hand. Are the observers competent?
Facts are the central exhibit of the scientific method. They are obscured by mystics, spellbinders, theologians, spiritualists, Herr Goebbels, the pain and beauty advertisers, the formal logicians, the backers of the tortoise against Achilles. Around the fact the fakers throw their verbal smoke. But ultimately the fog lifts. It must lift. We are creatures of a world of stubborn and unyielding facts. On their recognition and correct interpretation depends our existence as a species. We cannot live on lies, fantasies, and propaganda.