“The facts of the present won’t sit still for a portrait. They are constantly vibrating, full of clutter and confusion.” – William MacNeile Dixon


I’ve recently come across several organizations and websites that aggregate and track facts.  The Long Now is a foundation that claims as its goal the fostering of long-term thinking (blog), and companies like Ambient Devices offer cool consumer electronic products that are designed to “datacast,” constantly streaming real-time facts that by their nature are always changing, like the weather, the stock market, oil prices, traffic congestion, etc. (They go well beyond kitchen-window digital thermometers, the “Orb” on the right is one of their products.)

But Samuel Arbesman, a research fellow at the Harvard Medical School and associated with the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, started a fascinating website and blog earlier this year that focus on “mesofacts,” facts that change slowly over time, but which are challenging to track. I’ve been checking the blog periodically to see the various charts and subjects they post.

“These slow-changing facts are what I term “mesofacts.” Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale. Often, we learn these in school when young and hold onto them, even after they change. For example, if, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school! While this might not affect your daily life, it is astonishing and a bit humbling.”Excerpt from article by Arbesman

I’ve always felt a little challenged by retention of facts. So much of my personal approach to learning has been focused on comprehension and understanding, and pattern recognition, that the details sometimes seem to go, pardon the cliches, “in one ear and out the other,” or are “stuffed into the back of my mind somewhere.”  I can’t remember jokes to save a party, and I’m not even as good at music trivia as my friends expect me to be. I studied International Relations in undergrad, but learned about the UN of the 90s, and the political climate of the post-Cold War world; it’s been challenging keeping up with foreign affairs and the state of international communications over the past ten years.

You don’t have to be a trivia buff, a librarian, or a passionate scholar to appreciate tracking of mesofacts of some kind. We all have our interests and challenges in keeping up with the evolution of knowledge on those topics.  Your focus may be more academic, historic, entertainment, or even outright silly, but do remember to keep thinking and push yourself to keep up!

Note: We’re always seeking comments for our blog posts, but few people actually submit them!  Feel free to tell us about your fact-watching, and especially your sources for keeping up-to-date, in the thread below!

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