Tag Archives: opinions

Assertions, Facts, Opinions, and Fallacies

Communication is a weird beast, an act we rarely consider.  We speak, someone else listens, they respond – it’s a cycle in which we pass on and receive ideas, play with them for a second or so, and then either dismiss them, or let them become part of ourselves.  The way this is done is vast and complex, shaped by everything from intent to cultural mores.

For my own purposes here at the Hedonist, I would love to take this into account in some manner. When I write something, anything, it typically comes from four different perspectives:

  1. Fact: Something that has been proven to be true. For example – Sugar can cause tooth decay, or the first law of thermodynamics.  Facts are tricky beasts and sometimes what we believe to be one may be found out to be overly broad. For example – Sugar, alone,  doesn’t cause tooth decay, but sugar plus saliva does leads to plaque. Plaque and the bacteria Streptococcus mutans creates a lactic acid which eats through calcium phosphate.  The fact mentioned above should read “Sugar, under the right conditions, can cause tooth decay”, but we’re lazy communicators, we often cut out important aspects of the facts. This act of communication can lead to item 4 below.
  2. Assertion: Something we believe/claim to be true based off of experience. That experience can be first hand experience, or reading a trusted sources assertion and believing it based off of their authority. Assertions are as often wrong as they are right, and rare is the person who makes an assertion which can be proven to be a fact 100% of the time.  Before the scientific method was developed and refined, most facts were nothing more than assertions: “The Earth is at the center of the universe”, or “The body is out of balance if it has too much blood.”
  3. Opinion: Something I believe to be true based off of values. For example – “Bushmills makes one of the best whiskeys out there”; or, “Corporations are evil” are both opinions. While others may agree with them, they are not fact, due to the subjective nature of determining what is good or bad. This is the area where morals and ethics comes into play.
  4. Fallacy: Item four is something I’ve hoped to avoid on this site, but recognize that after eight years of writing, something improper may have come through the cracks. Examples include many items mentioned above – “Sugar causes tooth decay”, “the earth is the center of the universe”, or “Bushmill’s makes the best whiskey” are both fallacies caused by either misunderstanding a fact, experience, or values.

My job as a communicator is to avoid Fallacies, and be clear about whether a topic I speak about is either a Fact, Assertion, or Opinion. If I claim something is a fact, I should be able to point to an item that demonstrates its validity. When I make an assertion, I should be able to recount my experience, or point to the authority that documented their own experience.

But most important to me is understanding and communicating items that are opinions. This means understanding and communicating my value system, whether it’s talking about food politics, or the qualities that make for a good whiskey.  As a communicator, if I ever passed off opinion as fact, then I have failed my own set of values.

Harsh? I suppose.  But failures to me are an opportunity for improvement, not a reason to punish myself (although I do a fair bit of that behind the scenes). More important to me is lettinng you know where I am coming from in my writings, and how in communicating with you, either through posts, e-mails, tweets, or any other social media activities, I do try to understand where my claims fit on the spectrum above.

 

Hype and Hope: The Limitations of Food Pleasure

What happens when a meal does not sing to you?

I’m making a presumption here, to be sure. I’m of the belief that each of us (at least those of us reading this here blog) have had that…moment. You know the one; the tastes of whatever you put into your mouth gives you such pleasure that your face flushes, your eyelids flutter, and your brain is overwhelmed with pleasure from whatever part of the brain is in charge of flooding your head with serotonins and other similar “happy chemicals”. If one is prone to excessive demonstrations, you may also lightly bash the table repeatedly with the base of your fist.

My hypothesis is that if you’ve ever experienced the above during the consumption of food, you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to replicate it, to various degrees of success. This is when you’ll start looking for the “best” places to find various foodstuffs. Farmers markets, International Districts, and four star restaurants all become your regular haunts.

So what happens when you go to a highly recommended place, and it sort of sits there on a plate. Yeah, it’s okaaaay, but it certainly doesn’t make your heart race.

I suppose the first response I get is to simply thank whatever Fate out there that has given me the opportunity to live in a land of plenty. Bitching about how mediocre can be seems the pinnacle of first world arrogance, given the fact that many people in the would make extreme sacrifices in order to get any meal, let along a mediocre one.

But lately….lately I’ve been getting mad. Part of it this due to the hype machine that surrounds nearly anything labeled as “high-quality”. I believe myself to be somewhat savvy when it comes to recognizing hype, but every now and then I get sucked into it. When I feel duped, I get peeved.

And then I start to wonder…is it possible that there’s a threshold that the pleasure derived from food simply cannot exceed? Is it possible to place too much expectation upon a food or restaurant?

I’m not sure of the answer to the above, because often I can find foods that exceed my own expectation, often from places that are rarely hyped. Barbecue is a good example of this. Rarely is the barbecue joint held to the same standards as a restaurant found in the pages of “Food & Wine”. Because the standards of what defines “quality” are so low, at least in comparison to other more upscale restaurants, that it’s quite easy to exceed those standards.

I’ve had the same thing happen with the bakeries in my area. I’ve been less than impressed on several occasions from the bakery with the internationally award winning baker, but have been exceedingly happy from the place that sells pies, or even the coffee shop that sells cupcakes. (To be fair to the internationally recognized baker, he makes a bread that is to die for. But his pastries? They’re good. They just don’t rock my world).

I’m not sure there’s an answer to this, aside from the fact that each of us has our own likes and dislikes, and sometimes a person prefers what one might term “Simple foods”. But the word “simple” seems to be key, as it connotes a lower threshold of knowledge required to make make it exceptional. Or in other words, the reason you get a great cupcake more often than you get a great croissant, is that it’s far easier to make a great cupcake.

But back to hype; it’s really a frustrating thing to deal with when searching the retail food world. Not everyone nor everything can be great, and just by giving an entree a price tag of 30 dollars plus, doesn’t magically make it taste better. But yet, I remember reading about a study where the perceived quality of a food was increased simply by the environment in which it was presented. Clearly for some, presentation does improve the dishes overall impression.

Gah.

I suppose the only lesson I’ve learned here is that all it takes is to have a great meal once, and you’re ruined for life. Because once you have that baseline from which you can judge future meals, you’ll spend the rest of your life making comparisons.