What A Big Fact Hunt – How I Have Definitively Proved There Are No Such Things As Facts
I love QI. Whenever I’m feeling down – which is quite a bit – I tune into one of the many repeats available via Dave. (If you’re American and you’re reading this, Dave is the name of a satellite TV channel. I don’t have a mate called Dave who puts episodes of QI on a memory stick for me. He doesn’t come around to my house and re-enact episodes in my living room, fun as that would be. He doesn’t exist anyway, so any speculation on what he might or might not do is somewhat moot.)
I find great comfort in Stephen Fry’s mellifluous tones, in Allan Davies’ pretend stupidity and in the light hearted interaction between the guest panellists. When I want to bathe my brain in something unchallenging – and yes, Quite Interesting – the program is perfect. What I really like about it most though is the facts.
Men love facts. We love the concrete nature of being definitively right about something. QI has become, in the British psyche at least, a kind of universal yardstick for factual correctness.
“Who told you that load of old bollocks.”
“Stephen Fry. It was on QI last night.”
“Really? Oh, it must be true then.”
This is only natural. QI is made by the BBC and has the very authoritative and frighteningly clever Mr Fry at the helm. He does occasionally slip and reveal a gaping lack of knowledge in matters gynaecological, but that is also only natural given that he is as gay as a Christmas tree. “That’s not really my area of expertise” he’ll say with a wry and self-deprecating grin. Honour is restored and everyone’s happy.
Fact wise though, you have to be a bit wary with old re runs on QI. Everything on it was thoroughly researched at the time of broadcast, but it’s been going since 2003. The older the episode, the more facts that are an it which have turned out to be wrong. The show even uses this as a feature. Stephen Fry asks a question which has already been asked on a previous show. Allan Davies obliges by giving the answer that was right a couple of years ago. Off go the klaxons and Stephen reveals the new correct answer.
There have been many examples of this. “How many moons does the Earth have”. Two is the answer. The Moon, obviously. And another one called Cruithne, a tiny moonlet that has a bizarre, horseshoe shaped orbit. Except that we now know that the Earth has many moons and more are being discovered all the time.
“Was Richard the Third a Hunchback?”. Absolutley no evidence of this whatsoever. He was the victim of an Elizabethan black propaganda campaign, courtesy of William Shakespeare amongst others. Well, actually we’ve found his skeleton now and we know that he had a very severe scoliosis of the spine.
Facts change all the time. That is the nature of human knowledge. There’s no way of knowing any fact is true. There are no little green men on Mars. You know that right? No you don’t. You know that you’ve been told it, but you’ve never been to Mars or seen it close up, so you don’t know for sure. The only solid fact you know is the one espoused by Rene Descartes. “Cogito Ergo Sum”. I think therefore I am. The only fact you can be sure of is the fact of your own existence. Everything else is up for debate. There are no facts.
Mind you, that won’t stop me arguing facts with you on an internet forum until five in the morning. That is also the nature of humans and human knowledge.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014