MesoFacts & Other Deteriorating Knowledges

[Samuel] Arbesman’s book expands on a piece he wrote in 2010 for the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. That short essay, called “Warning: Your reality is out of date,” laid out a theory of what Arbesman named the mesofact. “When people think of knowledge,” he wrote, “they generally think of two sorts of facts.” One includes the data that should never change, like the atomic weight of hydrogen, while the other comprises all the tidbits that shift from day to day, like the closing price of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Even in the stable camp, facts can mutate: An atom’s weight, for example, varies depending on the isotope. But Arbesman is more interested in a third category of knowledge, one that’s nestled between the other two in terms of how amenable it is to change. These are the facts that shift too slowly for us to notice, but not so slowly that they’ll only matter to our children. “Mesofacts,” he says, evolve within our lifetimes but often out of view.


Mesofacts are the hardest to keep track of, as we have a natural inclination to assume that much of what we learned in school would hold forever true. That means they’re just the things we ignore and overlook, leaving us misinformed about the world. Add in the changing fact(!) that there are now more new facts than there were before, and that many of these facts are different, and the problem of the mesofact seems bigger still. But Arbesman hopes to teach us to navigate this blind spot by acknowledging that it’s there. 

Samuel Arbesman’s The Half-Life of Facts, reviewed. – Slate Magazine.

This entry was posted in New Books and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>