Previous posts in this discussion:
PostHistorical Objectivity vs Historical Impartiality (Robert Whealey, USA, 05/14/17 2:12 pm)
Objectivity is the great ideal of honest historians. But in real life, the Truth is hard to find. Remember the ancient Hindu parable of the three blind men trying to describe the elephant.
Since the 1st century, millions of people have read the Bible, and no two people have remembered the text the same way.
JE comments: A curiosity: did millions of people, or more like tens of thousands, read the Bible prior to the Reformation? The overwhelming majority of medieval Christians could not read, and in any case, Biblical exegesis was left in the hands of the clergy.
on Writing History
(Timothy Brown, USA
05/15/17 4:33 AM)
History is lived by all, but written by few. No matter how impartial or objective an historian tries to be, they rarely can write about things they saw, heard or lived. And even when they did, they need to remember that what they only saw, heard or experienced was just a sliver of all that happened around them.
All historians can do is their best and all their readers can do is disbelieve or believe what they write. Readers should always respect what they've written. But they should always read it with at least some skepticism--and then read on, just in case they're right.
JE comments: "History is written by few," but far more than a few WAISers write it. What is it that drives them to do so? Maybe Tim Brown can get the ball rolling on this question.
Why Do Historians Write? Toynbee's "Ethereality"; From Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
05/15/17 3:07 PM)
Gary Moore writes:
JE asked a a great question (Tim Brown, 15 May), with maybe a key to the future:
What drives WAISers to contribute our small bits to discussion--and hence to history (the outside world does read it: I was recently
found by a documentary project that saw me on WAIS, and
I originally found WAIS in a similar way).
The profundity in John's question is not in any answer, but in the mere
presence of the phenomenon. In the 1940s, historian Arnold Toynbee
noted something that the science fiction writers and futurists massively
missed--the implication that technological progress does not tend toward
more and better of the same (like bigger Jetson flying Super-Cars with fins,
or Flash Gordon ray guns that are only better versions of the Colt 45).
Instead, Toynbee pointed out "ethereality." The more the technology
boom snowballs, the smaller and more invisible become the advances.
And he was writing this before the computer, or even the transistor--the biggest proofs of all.
There is indeed a mystical-seeming element
in the human journey that would seem to both confirm and refute religion,
a forward-moving synergy between the devices we create and that
inexplicable x-factor called self-expression. As the Information Age caught fire,
who would ever have predicted advances like... karaoke, where the machine
sophistication is wedded to that old x-factor, the human desire to express,
to embody some idea of the beautiful or to feel the swelling importance of
communication--however one phrases it. And who would have predicted,
as the Information Superhighway went into overdrive, the incredible potency
of....YouTube, where the sheer force of millions of individual wills enshrines
a historical archive of video images--not for material profit, often not even
for personal fame, but because the essence drives the contributors to contribute, an essence that pulses at the interface where our individual selves spark with the
great collective. This synergy is outside our knowledge constructs, something
we can only marvel at as it unfolds, like watching the blooming of a rose. Toynbee's "ethereality" implies (and the cyber-age has proved his prescience)
that the eventual direction might lead to the final, "smallest" leap--beyond any
kind of gadgets and into real understanding of the workings of the mind.
But then, euphoric futurists have been wrong a thousand times before.
There is the suggestion in this explosion we are undergoing, as outwardly
invisible and unruffled as an individual face lost in thought--that human evolution
is something beyond the simplistic mechanisms of the most doctrinaire Darwinism.
How is it that, as if by pre-arranged signal (or by the meeting of maturational
milestones), we are creating all these things for the benefit of powers in ourselves
that we don't even comprehend?
Within this great flood of questions lies the thrill
of participating in WAIS.
JE comments: Yes! I'm going to crib some of Gary Moore's thoughts for a Why WAIS? section on our homepage.
Personal fame does come to some YouTubers (Justin Bieber), but Wikipedia illustrates Gary Moore's point even more clearly. How many famous Wikipedians can you name? Exactly. I've made the point before that Wikipedia is as close to a Utopian project as humanity has ever seen: that people will catalog all human knowledge not for personal gain, but for the enrichment of all.
- Why Do Historians Write? Toynbee's "Ethereality"; From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/15/17 3:07 PM)