1. A fact refers to a single occurrence that transpired at a specific location and time. A law is a universal statement describing a regularity that always occurs (or that occurs in a certain percentage of cases), without regard to time or location. Empirical laws are generalizations that are formed through the observation of many individual facts’ similarities. For example, I could do an experiment in which I put five radish plants in a drawer with no access to light and five radish plants under grow lights. The five plants with no access to light would die.1 This would be a fact. A general law, based off the factual observations of generations of people watching plants grow, would be that all plants need light in order to survive.
Not all laws have such a close relationship with facts. The laws of logic and pure math, for example, are not empirical laws.2 Instead, they exist as separate principles that can be used to organize and connect facts and empirical laws, but they cannot themselves create new information.
2. All explanations must contain reference to at least one law, although in everyday life this reference may often be implied rather than stated outright. Most explanations also contain some specific factual information that links the law to the thing being explained. For example, someone might ask me, “Why are you doing an independent study in philosophy?” I would explain, “Because I find it interesting.” Although this statement is somewhat general—I found it interesting yesterday and I will still find it interesting next year and would still be interested if I lived on the moon—it is a fact in that it pertains to me individually rather than to people in general. The law assumed in this explanation is, “The vast majority of people, when given the opportunity, do what they find interesting.”
3. If a human age fifteen or older is selected at random from the world’s population, in 861 cases out of 1000, that person will be able to read and write.
4. “4 + 5 =9” is relatively uninformative because it is a definitional truth rather than a synthetic, knowledge-creating one. No new idea is contained in “9” that does not already exist in “4 + 5,” and it is impossible to imagine that any conclusion except “9” could follow from the beginning “4 + 5 = .” Because the statement’s truth is due to the definition of its components rather than to any kind of observation, it does not contain any information about the world.
5. A prediction’s essential components are very similar to those of an explanation, except that they are arranged slightly differently. An explanation uses a known law and a known fact to account for the occurrence of another known fact. A prediction also begins with a known fact, and then it applies a law to that fact to predict another fact that is not yet known, either because it has not yet occurred or because it has not yet been observed or measured. For example, starting with the fact that I smell smoke, I could apply the law that smoke is produced by fire to predict that there is a fire somewhere nearby.
1. I’m not enough of a botanist to know exactly when a plant is “dead”. When it is incapable of respiration?
2. The interesting intermediary here is the question of whether or not we live in a Euclidean space. What, at first, seemed like a mathematical law, turns out to be a physical property. Also, it’s a matter of definitions whether one prefers to call a+b = b+a a “law” or not.
3. But is it possible to live in a universe that whenever four sticks are unified with five sticks, eight sticks result from the unification?