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I am told that there will be a solar eclipse where I live next year. It is pretty well certain that it is going to happen, because eclipses can be reckoned precisely and the likelihood of anything affecting the movements of the Sun, Earth and Moon is extremely low.

But is it a "fact" that there will be an eclipse then? Leaving aside questions of precision, I am simply saying: can there be facts concerning things which have not yet occurred? I thought that facts are things we know for certain, and if there was some unknown which intervened or made the prediction wrong, it would be a false belief instead of a "fact". Is this why my Philosophy professor said that we can't know things in advance?

One definition of fact includes the phrase: "something that has actual existence". But if an event is not the case yet, it does not have actual existence, therefore there can be no facts about the future.

Addition: here is a definition of the word Exist: "Anything that can be acknowledged in the present, exists."

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    Facts are not things we know for certain. Facts are things which are true. So there can be facts about the future. We just won't know whether they are/were facts until we reach the referenced time and see if the (past) statement was in fact true. In other words, it may well be a fact (now) that there will be a solar eclipse next year. It can be a fact without our knowing for certain (now) that it is. – Jeff Y Feb 26 '16 at 23:29
  • @JeffY This reminds me of the quote from Excalibur: "Looking at the cake is like looking at the future. Until you've tasted it what do you really know? Then of course its too late." So, a fact is a useless attribution, because it has no power to affect anything. It is like playing the lottery. – user16869 Feb 28 '16 at 1:12
  • The notion that only things that humans know are the only things that have power to affect anything is of course, patently false. It's the anthropomorphic fallacy. – Jeff Y Feb 28 '16 at 13:05
  • @JeffY your argument that it could be true now (what I am calling "a fact") but we won't know until the time arrives, sounds like saying: "there is a picture on this film, but we don't know what it is until we develop it." A picture is something you can look at. There is no picture until it is developed. So what you call a "fact about the future (that we can't know the truth or falsity of yet)" is what I would call a True Belief, not a fact. – user16869 Mar 1 '16 at 1:06
  • It's worth checking the IEP on future contingents which are the usual name of 'propositions about the future', or 'future matters of fact'. – Mozibur Ullah Mar 6 '16 at 2:19
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First of all, let's note that a statement cannot be a fact but rather state a fact. A statement is a linguistic entity while a fact is supposed to be something in the world (and we would say that a statement is true if it corresponds to a fact). So a crucial metaphysical question here would be: what kind of facts are there?

Fatalism is a view that says that all statements about the future are already either true or false now, and that hence the future facts are unavoidable.

Even not embracing Fatalism I think it would be right to say that there are (at least some) future facts. Taking your example, we would want to say that either "there will be an eclipse" or "there will not be an eclipse" is true, and by this, there is a future fact about there being or not being an eclipse.

Note that "how do we know something to be a fact" is a totally different question.

  • Can there be a statement of fact about the future, meaning: it is true now when the conditions it references do not exist yet? No, by definition. – user16869 Mar 1 '16 at 1:02
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This is a tough question, but consider the following scenario:

In my lab, I mix 2 moles of pure Sodium with 2 moles of H20, which produces the following reaction:

2Na(s) + 2H2O → 2NaOH(aq) + H2(g) + some heat

The fact that I just mixed my Sodium and water means that in a couple seconds I will have a couple spare moles of aqueous NaOH and Hydrogen gas, with some heat to boot. We understand basic chemistry to such a deep level that it's nearly impossible to argue that this will not take place.

However, there are some unspoken assumptions here: we're assuming that a meteorite is not going to come flying through the air and into a vat of HCl, causing a new reaction to take place with the Water. We're assuming that no one will throw a rock through the window, causing them same. We're assuming a massive earthquake won't take place and cause the sodium to fall out of my beaker and into a miles-deep crevasse. I could go on.

Generally, when we make scientific predictions, especially predictions that fit a well-tested theory, we're saying "Given what we know about our universe (which is entirely physical and deterministic), the results of past experiments, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, X will happen if certain prior conditions are met". However, in daily parlance, we're often saying things like "The sun will rise tomorrow," or "The Boston Red Sox will win" which forgo some of the formality of strictly scientific statements of theories.

Specifically, the only kinds of "facts" we can assume about the future are tautologies: it's always going to be true that water = H20, it's never going to be true that triangles have 4 sides, it's never going to be true that T = F, etc. But these aren't predictions in the sense that you're asking for, they're just trivially true by definition.

TL;DR - there are facts about the future, but they are sort of trivial. There are good predictions about the future, but they rely on assumptions of normality and induction, to some degree. It appears what your professor is saying is that there are no non-trivial facts about the future which we can know with absolute certainty.

  • Thank you. I was trying to pick a case where the uncertainty was not the issue, but more to do with the idea that it is not the case now. Since everything in the future is not the case now, can it be said to be a fact at all? This is not a question to do with uncertainty, but of what things are called and how they are thought of. To me, the only thing that is certain is my present experience. So for me, there are no facts. As Sam Harris would put it, the one thing that I cannot doubt is that I am conscious. I say that it is apparently the only thing I can actually know for sure. – user16869 Feb 26 '16 at 18:39
  • And if anyone says 'Solipsism', I will slap them. Not the point, at all. – user16869 Feb 26 '16 at 18:41
  • I wouldn't go so far as so say everything is deterministic. But the undetermined forces are negligible compared to those determined. – kns98 Feb 26 '16 at 18:44
  • I have good reasons for you to doubt your own "consciousness": google "epiphenomenal dualism" and read [this article] (wired.com/2008/04/mind-decision). I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "for me, there are no facts" - is that not a "fact" itself? (insert troll face here) @kns98 - (classical) physical science assumes a deterministic universe: that's all I was getting at. I'm by no means saying that determinism is true all the time, but rather that it is more-or-less assumed in chemistry experiments. – Derek Janni Feb 26 '16 at 18:59
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    @kns98 Determinism is not to the point. My question is about how things are called and how they are thought of. In the movie LUCY she said, "There are no numbers". This is the kind of understanding I am getting at. Everything we think exists is a reflection of our way of thinking about it: we cannot see beyond how our minds work. (Or can we?) – user16869 Feb 26 '16 at 19:04
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The answer is yes, there are some statements about the future that are facts. Here are some examples.

  • In the future, an arrangement of matter will exist.

  • At least one arrangement of matter will exist at at least one moment in the future that is different from at least one arrangement of matter that has existed in the past.

I assert those statements to be facts. I suppose someone could adopt as a premise the possible truth of the simulation hypothesis and add to it the further premise that the Simulator might, for all we know, turn the universe off or freeze it without warning, but frankly that's silly.

To argue against the factual character of @Derek's example, it is not necessary to argue that the chemical reaction will not take place, only that it might not - for example, because a meteorite might crash through the ceiling and destroy the laboratory. Although extremely unlikely, it is possible.

  • Nice, I hadn't thought about more general arguments like these. – Derek Janni Feb 26 '16 at 21:49
  • If you really mean your two bulleted statements in the "general" sense that they are written (without some particulars being asserted) then I cannot see what purpose is served by such a concept. It is like saying that there is Time (a statement I disagree with, but anyway...) Can you give me some useful facts about the future? Something that has existence now, which is about the future... Seems like a contradiction in terms to me. – user16869 Feb 28 '16 at 1:20
  • I don't think your two "facts" are necessarily facts. – IsThatTrue Feb 28 '16 at 19:52
  • @IsThatTrue - I'd be interested to hear your line of thought. The first boils down to "the future will exist"; the second "the future will be different from the past". – user19558 Feb 28 '16 at 21:15
  • @nocomprende - "Has existence now"? The truth of the statement "the future will be different from the past" has existence now. That the future will be different from the past is a fact about the future that has existence now. Are you saying more than "the future doesn't exist yet, so treating it as if it does involves a contradiction"? Does factuality have tense? – user19558 Feb 28 '16 at 21:18
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If you really want it, then yes, there can be facts about future, in a sense you imply. For that however, B-Theory of time must come in play. In B-theory of time or a reasonable interpretation of Minkowski 4D space-time fold, past and future do not exist and objects are defined completely by referring all of their coordinates, of both space and time. All the time-block or whatever you may call it, exists just like space.

If that interpretation is true, then solar eclipse happenning next week is as real as anything happening just two blocks away.

Together with Fatalism and even without it, it stands in defense of "future facts" against your definition.

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