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Tag Archives: History

Knowledge and repetition

Consider the distinction between repeatable events from unrepeatable events. Repeatable events includes events that have repeated or may be repeated at will (as in a laboratory) or may possibly repeat in the future. Unrepeatable events are events that are very unlikely to repeat or are impossible to repeat. It is said that science only studies repeatable events, and it can be argued that history is the study (science) of unrepeatable events – not that it excludes repeatable events but that it focuses on unrepeatable events.

“Nature” could be defined as the realm of repeatable events. Then natural science would be the study of nature or repeatable events. Those events that are unrepeatable would be left to historians but ignored by natural scientists. But could such scientists rightly study the past while ignoring unrepeatable events? Ignorance of unrepeatable events would be a limitation and a defect. We would not expect historians to ignore repeatable events, so why expect scientists to ignore unrepeatable events?

We may well expect events that only involve inanimate nature are repeatable in some way. But are all events with living beings repeatable? The position of naturalism says, Yes. But at some point we need to say, No, at least some living beings have free will (or whatever you want to call it) so that their actions may be unrepeatable, and thus beyond the purview of a science of repeatable events.

Knowledge of repeatable and unrepeatable events may need different methodologies to address both kinds of events but it could not ignore either kind without bias. We need both the study of history, with its unrepeatable events, and the study of science, and its repeatable events, as independent disciplines. The synthesis of science and history would require a different discipline, perhaps called “scihistory” or “histence”, that would balance the input of each discipline with the other.

Clock race

This post continues previous ones contrasting ancient and modern space and time, such as here.
Nordic Sun Chariot in Bronze
The above bronze-age depiction of the Sun on a chariot shows a common image from antiquity: the Sun crossing the heavens daily. The path of the Sun was also described as traversing a celestial circle (or sphere) and going around a racecourse. These images show that the clock of the Sun was considered as covering more than one dimension, in contrast to the modern concept of scalar duration.

Psalm 19
1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

These are more examples of the interchange of travel distance with travel time that occurred in the transition from ancient to modern thinking. We can undo this interchange and find an alternative way of conceiving motion.

Schools of thought

A school of thought is an approach to a discipline by a group of people, especially one that develops its own vocabulary and intellectual tradition. There are many schools of thought in the humanities and soft sciences, including historical sciences. There are fewer schools of thought in the hard sciences, but they exist there, too (e.g., Bayesianism and Frequentism in statistics).

Examples of major schools of thought:

Biology: Creationism, Evolutionism

Economics: Classical, Keynesian, Marxism, Monetarism, Rational Expectations

Geology: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism

History (historiography): Cyclical, Christian, Marxism, Historicism, Progressivism, Postmodernism

Literary Criticism: Pragmatism, Formalism, Marxism, Psychoanalysis, New Criticism, Structuralism, Deconstruction, Post-modernism, Post-Structuralism, Post-colonialism, Feminist Theory, Queer Theory, New Historicism, Cultural Studies, Reader Response

Philosophy: Idealism, Materialism/Pragmatism, Postmodernism, Realism

Psychology: Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Functionalism, Humanistic/Gestalt, Psychoanalytic, Systems psychology

Sociology: Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, Symbolic Interactionism, Feminist Theory

Statistics: Bayesianism, Frequentism

Theology (Christian): Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism.

Schools of thought can and do co-exist. As their traditions develop over decades and centuries, it can be more difficult for inter-school dialogue because their terminology and concepts are different.

It’s often not appreciated that creationism and evolutionism are schools of thought. They have their own terms, concepts, and intellectual traditions. They deal with historical events, which makes them soft sciences. And all science is still a branch of philosophy, in which schools of thought abound.

Creationism and evolutionism have been mainstream modern science at different times: creationism up to the late 19th century, evolutionism since the late 19th century. Evolutionism began development while it was a minority view in the 18th and 19th centuries. Creationism has continued development while it is a minority view. Among the best-known evolutionists are Charles Darwin, Thomas H Huxley, and Alfred R Wallace. Among the best-known creationists are Carolus Linnaeus, Gregor Mendel, and Louis Pasteur.

Creationism and evolutionism can and should be taught as two schools of thought. Teaching them in universities should be no more controversial than teaching Marxist, feminist, or post-modernist schools of thought, which have been taught in universities for years.

Combining history and science

In 18th century the sciences started to become more prestigious and influential than the humanities. In the 19th century this led to a realignment of modern thought and society as scientists (a new term then) took the dominant position within the universities and high culture – in the place of clerics, philosophers, jurists, historians, poets, and the rest of the humanities. One result was the realignment of the humanities toward the sciences.

History in particular was thought to need a foundation of science. From Descartes on historical knowledge had been deprecated as mere opinion. A scientific history would fix that. Yet the difference between natural (and later social) science and history could not be denied. Science takes a nomothetic (lawlike) approach and history takes an ideographic (contingent and accident) approach.

Isaiah Berlin:

scientific procedure is directed in the first place to the construction of an ideal model, with which the portion of the real world to be analysed must, as it were, be matched, so that it can be described and analysed in terms of its deviation from the model. But to construct a useful model will only be feasible when it is possible to abstract a sufficient number of sufficiently stable similarities from the things, facts, events, of which the real world – the flow of experience – is composed. Only where such recurrences in the real world are frequent enough, and similar enough to be classifiable as so many deviations from the selfsame model, will the idealised model that is compounded of them – the electron, the gene, the economic man – do its job of making it possible for us to extrapolate from the known to the unknown. It follows from this that the greater the number of similarities that we are able to collect (and the more dissimilarities we are able to ignore) – that is to say the more successfully we abstract – the simpler our model will be, the narrower will be the range of characteristics to which it will apply, and the more precisely it will apply to it; and, conversely, the greater the variety of objects to which we want our model to apply, the less we shall be able to exclude, and consequently the more complex the model will become, and the less precisely it will fit the rich diversity of objects which it is meant to summarise, and so the less of a model, of a master key, it will necessarily be.

When a historian, in attempting to decide what occurred and why, rejects all the infinity of logically open possibilities, the vast majority of which are obviously absurd, and, like a detective, investigates only those possibilities which have at least some initial plausibility, it is this sense of what is plausible – what men, being men, could have done or been – that constitutes the sense of coherence with the patterns of life that I have tried to indicate. Such words as plausibility, likelihood, sense of reality, historical sense, denote typical qualitative categories which distinguish historical studies as opposed to the natural sciences that seek to operate on a quantitative basis. Isaiah Berlin, The Concept of Scientific History

Then what about scientific history or historical science?

J. N. Nielsen:

Now, in actual fact, scientific historians do not limit themselves to a scientific study of documents as physical artifacts; they also read the documents and derive information from the content, as we would expect they would. But if, as an exercise, we take the idea of scientific historiography according to the method of isolation, and consider it ideally as only scientific historiography, shorn from its association with traditional historiographical methods, we would be reduced to an archaeology of the historical period, which would be most unsatisfying.

Suppose, as a thought experiment, scientific historiography were to employ its methods to study what archaeologists call the “material culture” of the historical period, but was on principle denied any information recorded in actual documents and inscriptions. That is to say, suppose our picture of the historical past were exclusively the result of the study of the material culture of the historical past (here employing “history” in the narrow and traditional sense of history recorded in written documents). I think that our the historical past reconstructed on the basis of what scientific historiography could derive from material culture would be quite different from the story that we know of the historical past in virtue of written records. No one that I know of pursues this method of isolation in studying the historical past when documents are also available, though this method of isolation is pursued of necessity in the absence of any documents (or in the absence of a language that can be deciphered). Though this method is not pursued in history, it is important to point to that scientific historiography has its limitations no less than the limitations of critical historiography and its tradition. Big History and Scientific Historiography

As scientific history takes science into account, the historical sciences should take history into account. In the end they both combine history and science. There is genuine dialogue and balance of the two.

On the unique and the uniform

This continues posts on history and science (see here).

Uniformity is the background for history: what everyday life is like, what is constant in a culture. But history focuses on what is unusual or unique because that is the key to differences between people and places and periods. It is the unusual or unique that enable us to discern and explain why different things happen.

The unique aspects of things forms the background for science: the appearance of things, their unique details. But science focuses on what is usual or uniform because that is the key to commonalities between people and places and periods. It is the usual or uniform that allow us to discern and explain why similar things happen.

What is called “historical science” appears to be the science of historical events. But it is basically history, not science, because what is unique is more significant for historical events than what is uniform. Science can inform the background but history is the real focus in order to determine why things went one direction instead of another. This applies to history of nature as to history of humanity.

If there are gaps in historical records, knowledge from science about regularities can provide information about what might have occurred in the past. Such knowledge is valuable for studying cultures lacking written records.

This works the other way, too. If there are gaps in scientific data, knowledge from history about unusual events can provide information about what might have occurred uniquely in the past. Such knowledge is valuable for studying changes that shaped the physical world.

The more we know about uniformities, the more we can find uniform aspects of unique things. This works the other way, too: the more we know about uniqueness in the world, the more we can find unique aspects to things that seemed completely uniform.

A science is a system of the uniformity that is in the extensional universe. A history is a narrative of the uniqueness that is in the intensional universe.

Renaissance for today

What does it take for a renaissance? A willingness to go back and take another path. That is, a willingness to go back in history and take the words, thoughts, and actions of others as applying to the present. Ad fontes was the cry of the Renaissance, and later the Reformation, which looked to the sources of civilization and religion.

The “now generation” will never have a renaissance. Those who think the present is superior or who merely ignore the past will never have a renaissance. They are too self-satisfied, self-uncritical, and self-focused.

Progressive disciplines have a problem here because they have an inherent bias toward more recent knowledge and practice, which are taken to be superior to anything prior. How can they reconsider the past which in some ways has been rejected?

A renaissance is spurred by a reconsideration of the past, which could arise because of new discoveries about the past such as recovery of lost or forgotten manuscripts, or from a crisis in the present, which leads people to reconsider another way forward. The latter is the situation of today. Many, even a majority depending on what is asked, agree that contemporary civilization is in crisis, that things are going in the wrong direction.

What can be done? We can reconsider what has been rejected. Some are doing this in regard to Christianity, and are rejecting Christianity for other religions or the religion of “none”. The question then is whether what is rejected is a certain variety of Christianity or Christianity in toto. I think it is the former because critics of Christianity are often using Christian criteria to reject Christianity.

It should not be a matter of mere rejection but of openness to other ways of thinking, with an implied critique that current ways of thinking are not adequate. But it must be aimed at something that is a major component of current thought and action. Otherwise, it will lead only to an alternate way of doing things, rather than a challenge to current ways.

For example, a major component of current thought and action is naturalism, which arose in the 19th century, especially from the influence of Thomas Huxley, and took hold in the 20th century. Those challenging the limitation of the natural sciences to naturalistic causes today are the intelligent design theorists and those working in the Goethean approach to science.

The foundation of the modern world is anchored in the rejection of geocentrism and the acceptance of a mechanistic view of the world, as modified by quantum and relativistic theories. This includes the establishment of absolute time — now modified by relativity but otherwise intact — within a 3D spatial universe. I have challenged some of this but more work needs to be done to open the door to a renaissance of civilization.

Ad fontes!

Fourfold history and cosmology

As a generalist I tend to think of the big picture and push global conceptions, which can get speculative, but should provide insight in some way. There are many ways of slicing up history that show a pattern, but we crave meaning and so expect patterns. For example, it is helpful to adopt a rather conventional division of history into periods of primeval, ancient, medieval, modern, and post-modern (for lack of a better term). At least this gives us something to start with and modify or clarify later on.

I have written before briefly about the fourfold Church. Here is a division of Christian history and cosmology that corresponds to the fourfold Gospel and the fourfold Church:

Patristic period – ca. first through fifth century, which is championed by the (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the seven ecumenical councils. This corresponds to a cosmology of the seven celestial bodies visible to the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn).

Medieval period – ca. fifth through fifteenth centuries, which is championed by the (Roman) Catholic Church. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and that of the Magisterium centered in Rome. This corresponds to a geocentric cosmology in which space and time are absolute.

Modern period – ca. fifteenth through twentieth centuries, which is championed by the churches of the Reformation. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the various confessions or statements of faith. This corresponds to a heliocentric cosmology in which time is absolute.

Post-modern period – ca. from the twentieth century, which is championed by the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Their authoritative writings are the Bible and the writings of the various spirit-led teachers. This corresponds to a relativistic cosmology in which space and time are relative.

When we learn about history, we should learn the importance of the change from a geocentric to a heliocentric cosmology. Changes in cosmology go beyond theories of physics or astronomy. They correspond to spiritual changes as well.

3D time in ancient culture

I’m returning to a topic I wrote about here: time in ancient culture and thought.

Look at Genesis 1, verse 3:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.

Now a modern person is thinking spatially and expecting God to separate the place of light from the place of darkness. So the next verse would be expected to say something like, “God called the light Sunnyland, and the darkness he called Shadyland.” But instead Genesis is written in a temporal way, and it says “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Later, space arises within time, contrary to the modern way of imagining that space came first and time was added.

Modern people describe how far away a place is by referring a length but it seems this way of speaking wasn’t common until the Roman road system. Before that (and even during the Roman era) distances were given in terms of how many day’s journey it was, that is, the travel time of a typical traveler. Also, maps were rare and crude so spatial representations were lacking. People’s mental maps must have been in units of time (duration), not space (distance).

Moderns look at the (night) sky as outer space, a vast spatial expanse. But for ancient people the sky was first of all a calendar and a clock: the positions of the heavenly bodies told them the time of the year, the time of the month, and the time of day. The sky was also an aid to navigation so maps were not necessary. The sky, the calendar, and navigation were united in the zodiac.

Ancients used a geostationary (geocentric) frame of reference, which is characterized by a zero speed, that is, all speeds were relative to the frame, as though it were absolute. This is the complement to Galilean relativity: space is a scalar but time is multidimensional. Space is a river, and time is the sky.

In that case the characteristic (modal) speed c is zero, or equivalently, the characteristic pace is infinite, and the gamma factor is one. To make this fully relativistic requires recognizing the finite pace (1/c) of light in 1D space and 3D time (see here). Tachyons galore!

What difference does this make? Moderns think of the universe primarily in spatial terms, and wonder how the vast expanse could be created in a short time. But ancients thought of the universe primarily in temporal terms, and were amazed by the order of the heavens and the God of that order.

History and science once again

I’ve written about history and science before (here, here, here, and here)  because I think it’s important to understand their differences and relationship.

History and science are complementary, which means they are in some way opposite but they fit together to make a whole. It also means they cannot be merged into one another, but have a separate identity even as they work together.

History is about particulars. Science is about universals. They are similar in that they contain both particulars and universals, but their focus is different. The goal of history is to establish particulars. The goal of science is to establish universals.

Science is about what can or must happen. History is about what actually happened. The particulars of an experiment are the history of what actually happened. The universals of an experiment are the science of what could or must have happened. The particulars of a series of events are the history of what actually happened. The universals of a series of events are the science of what could or must have happened.

History has the final say on what actually happened because its goal is to establish the particulars of what actually happened. Science has the final say on what could or must have happened because its goal is to establish what could or must have happened. Science cannot annul history. Scientists cannot say, for example, that the French Revolution never happened because their theories don’t allow it. Historians cannot say, for example, that the Second Law of Thermodynamics is false because their histories don’t include it.

What if there’s a conflict between history and science? What if history determines that something actually happened that science says is not possible? As far as the particulars of what actually happened, history has the lead and so the position of history is final. As far as the universals of what actually happened, science has the lead and so the position of science is final.

This would be a paradox but not a contradiction. Science and history would not be talking about the same things in the same the way. A particular that actually happened but does not fit the universals of science would be an example of the incompleteness of science. A universal that was more narrow than the particulars of history would be an example of the inconsistency of history.

Science is incomplete, not only in the sense that the limits of a theory are not known until the theory is superseded, but also in the sense that science must be consistent and so reject anything that doesn’t fit its universals. History is inconsistent, not only in the sense that the sources of history conflict with one another, but also in the sense that history must incorporate particular changes that actually happened.

Convergence point of Christian unity

Christendom was a Christian culture and civilization that, historically speaking, began with Constantine. It started to divide with the Great Schism between East and West in the 11th century. It divided again with the Protestant Reformation beginning in the 16th century. It further divided during the Enlightenment movement beginning in the 18th century. Christendom has so divided that the word is almost archaic now.

Where does Christian unity come together? Where does it converge? Although Christ is the head of the church, where is the unity on earth after his ascension?

Since the early centuries of the church, the elders, called bishops, united in regional hierarchies that maintained mutual respect. When heretics threatened to divide the church, it was the bishops that met together to define the line between orthodoxy and heresy. The bishops united formed the unity of the church on earth.

In time the bishop of Rome asserted authority over all the other bishops. As Rome was the seat of the empire, so it should be the seat of the church. As the apostles Peter and Paul had been martyred in Rome, so there must be a divine seal on that location. The papacy was the convergence point of Christian unity, at least in the West.

The papacy has a simplicity that makes it a strong point of unity. However, it means that a pope may compromise the whole church. If he decides to sell indulgences, then the church sells indulgences and is compromised. That was the last straw for Luther.

Luther wanted to reform the church, which many agreed needed reform. But it was not to be and the Reformation turned into a schism. What did the Reformers propose as the convergence point of Christian unity? The Holy Bible. With the advent of the printing press and the translation of the Bible into the common languages of Europe, the Bible was newly available to the whole church.

Although the Bible has the advantage that it doesn’t change, it doesn’t do anything by itself either. What is called sola scriptura presumes some agreement on what the scriptures mean. That turns out to be harder than the Reformers thought. So the Reformation led to the formation of hundreds of groups, each of which revered the Bible but disagreed on some point of doctrine.

Where does that leave Christians today? Largely disunited, and unable to work together for common purposes. That is a point of weakness. The ecumenical movement attempted institutional unity but missed the unity of heart and mind. Progress has been made to at least recognize one another but common action is rare.

What can be done to achieve Christian unity now? The best that can be done is to foster specific projects that Christians can agree on. Aid to the persecuted. Assistance to the poor and marginalized. Reaffirmation of Christian morals. And prayer for unity.