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Category Archives: History


History and science balanced

As I’ve noted before (here etc.) history and science have different aims and methods. Mixing them just confuses both of them. There is no genuine “historical science” or “scientific history”. History narrates particulars among unique events. Science theorizes universals among repeatable events. In physics time is homogeneous: an experiment is the same whether conducted today or 100 years in the past or future. That is not true in history. Time is not homogeneous there.

History and science can and should balance one another. The more science expands its universals, the more history can point out particulars that are overlooked or are important in a particular context. The more history focuses on unique particulars, the more science can point out the significance of universals.

The homogeneous and inhomogeneous aspects of time can both be known only by balancing history and science. One could say something similar about all universals and particulars. The universal and particular aspects of reality can both be known only by balancing history and science.

Science and history, part N

Science is inherently dualistic because it is based on distinctions, and cannot keep denying one side of a distinction without denying the distinction altogether.

Duality is as far as science can go. Unification is a temporary state, to be superseded by a more abstract duality.

Low-entropy science seeks fixed relations. High-entropy science seeks stochastic relations.

Science cannot properly speak of the universe because that ventures into metaphysics. Science can only speak of cosmos and chaos. Cosmos has low entropy. Chaos has high entropy. Also called law and chance.

Scientific history is potential history. Historical science is potential science.

Science boosters add metaphysics to science.

Life to a Darwinian is noise that happened to produce some harmonious sounds.

To a materialist chaos predominates. To an idealist cosmos predominates.

Science is a method, not a metaphysics. Science is the duality of induction and deduction.

Science is empirical mathematics. History is multi-experiential narrative.

Science is synchronic, so physics can replace time with a kind of length. History is diachronic, so history can replace space with a kind of duration.

The first scientist was Euclid. Classical geometry is the theory of length.

Republican representation

This post builds on previous ones, such as here.

In the year 507 B.C., the Athenian leader Cleisthenes introduced a system of political reforms that he called demokratia, or “rule by the people.” This system was comprised of three separate institutions: the ekklesia, a sovereign governing body that wrote laws and dictated foreign policy; the boule, a council of representatives from the ten Athenian tribes; and the dikasteria, the popular courts in which citizens argued cases before a group of lottery-selected jurors. (reference)

The ancient Roman Senate was composed of patricians, members of the ruling families, who wielded varying amounts of influence and power in the Roman monarchy, republic, and empire. This aristocratic body is the forerunner of upper chambers of legislatures in the modern age.

Modern parliaments are descendants of the ancient ekklesia in single-chamber democracies. A legislative body of democratically-elected representatives is sufficient for this kind of democracy. A broader democracy includes two legislative chambers, with the lower chamber representing the people and an upper chamber representing tribes, ruling families, or key subdivisions of the country, that is, the land.

Representation of the traditional tribal, familial, or territorial alliances is important since they are the gluten than holds society together. While political principles and traditions are important, they alone cannot keep a society from separating, since they have no inherent attachment to a people or a place. There must be something so that a group of people are invested in the good of the country.

Hence a legislative body is needed that is tied to something tribal, familial, or territorial. In order to go beyond mere tribal or familial alliances, the territories of the people must be represented. A legislative body whose representation is not based on population will also mute the influence of gerrymandering.  The democratic approach to representation is through election so legislative divisions by territory are represented by the people who live in each territory.

One could go further and require that the electorate consist of those who live on land they own in the territory — or those who own their residence in the territory. These people are invested in the place. A republic includes both territorial-based representation and population-based representation. Hence a republic needs two legislative bodies with two different kinds of representation.

Dual calendar systems

The unit for all calendars is the day, the diurnal cycle of daylight and night. A lunar calendar is based on the monthly (synodic) cycle of the Moon’s phases. A solar calendar is based on the annual cycle of the Sun’s height above the horizon. A lunar-solar (lunisolar) calendar is based on the lunar month modified in order to match the solar (or sidereal) year. The solar-lunar calendar is based on the year but includes months similar to the lunar cycle.

“The lunisolar calendar, in which months are lunar but years are solar—that is, are brought into line with the course of the Sun—was used in the early civilizations of the whole Middle East, except Egypt, and in Greece. The formula was probably invented in Mesopotamia in the 3rd millennium bce.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

The lunar and lunar-solar (lunisolar) calendars are the oldest calendar systems, and are still used in some traditional societies and religions. The Hebrew (Jewish) and Islamic calendars are examples of the lunar-solar calendar systems. Solar and solar-lunar calendar systems came from Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The solar-lunar month departs from the lunar month but combines to equal a year.

The question is why the Moon forms the primary cycle in some calendars, whereas the Sun forms the primary cycle in other calendars. The reason may well be that some societies think in terms of 3D time, whereas other societies think in terms of 3D space. The difference is that in 3D space the Earth revolves around the Sun and the Moon revolves around the Earth, whereas in 3D time the Earth revolves around the Moon and the Sun revolves around the Earth. In the former case the solar cycle is primary, whereas in the latter case the lunar cycle is primary.

When European societies considered the Earth to be the center of all celestial motion, their calendars were already established. So the correspondence between calendar systems and the dominant perspectives (spatial or temporal) applies to the original development of calendars.

Historians and scientists

Historians establish the facts of history, of what happened in the past. They do this with a variety of sources, some documentary, some physical, and whatever else they find is relevant. Key particulars are more significant than universals in establishing the facts of history. Historians may consider scientific theory in doing this, but they may also conclude that some things happened that don’t fit well with current scientific theory. Whether or not there was an earthquake in 1755 that destroyed Lisbon is a matter of history, not science.

Scientists are dependent on historians for the facts of history. Scientists do not get to establish the facts of history, nor the limits of what could have happened in the past. The latter restriction is difficult for scientists to observe. If historians establish facts that don’t fit well with current scientific theory, then scientists are likely to react defensively rather than revise their theories.

Biblical (or creation) scientists consider the Bible as the key to history, and limit science to that which is consistent with biblical chronicles. As with all scientists, they depend on historians for facts about the past but not all historians have a high view of the biblical record. Disagreements among historians lead to variations in science, since they are working with different facts about the past.

The different rôles of historians and scientists are often confused. Astronomy is a case in point. Astronomical historians may work with documents produced by those who could be considered scientists from the distant past. But the interpretation of ancient or medieval scientific documents is not part of science. Astronomical historians deal with the particulars of history, in which universals play only an indirect rôle.

Astronomical scientists deal with universals, as all scientists do, and make use of the facts of history along with recent observations. Scientists may advise historians but science is dependent on history for facts about the past, not the other way around.

History and theology

What follows are excerpts from Ramsay MacMullen’s book Christianizing the Roman Empire, A.D. 100-400 (Yale, 1984). He begins with historiography pointers relevant to religious history.

My subject here is the growth of the church as seen from the outside, and the period is the one that saw the church become dominant, and Europe Christian. p.vii

My object is history. It might be, but it isn’t, theology. Accordingly, my view focuses naturally upon significance, the quality of weight that distinguishes historical phenomena from the (sometimes much more engrossing or at least more diverting) items of merely human interest that we see in the headlines of certain newspapers: ‘‘Mom Axes Babe” or the like. Significance, in its turn, indicates the degree to which many people, not just a few, are made to live their lives differently in respects that much engage their thoughts, not in respects they do not think about very carefully. … Significance must be compounded of both “many” and “much,” in a sort of multiplicand of the two elements. p.1

This is all elementary. Still, it needs to be said in order to explain the inclusion in my account of scenes not usually given much attention in books about church growth, scenes in which large numbers of persons are brought to a change in their religious allegiance, but namelessly—they are just ordinary folk of no account—and without great dramatic, further consequences in their manner of life. I think these scenes need to be included, along with Saint Augustine and a handful like him, because otherwise we would see only a church all head and no body, a phenomenon that affected only a few lives, a change without mass and therefore without historical significance. And that is the exact opposite of the truth. p.1

The process we are tracing, of the slow but gigantic growth of a community of believers, seems thus to have had at its heart a psycho-logical moment that might have been, though it was not always, quite uncomplicated; and that fact belongs by right, and not by later development, to the whole long process of ecclesiastical maturing. From the very beginning, Jesus’ disciples followed him instantly, without instruction; new adherents, by supernatural actions, were won to instantaneous belief, or trust (πιστις, “commonly mistranslated, ‘Your faith’ …,” with implications of doctrine, as has been pointed out). p.3-4

There is an obvious connection between simplicity of belief and rapidity of conversion: the simpler the set of ideas with their attendant feelings, the shorter must be the period of transition to the new. Which is not to say that much longer, complicated transitions may not also have had their abrupt moments, like Saint Augustine’ in the garden near Milan. The point is worth stressing because the more richly intellectual and dramatically interesting conversions naturally hold our attention best, and are most written about. p.4

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Physical history

At the highest level of classification, history may be divided into human history (better known simply as ‘history’) and physical history. The former is a large subject with many subdivisions, while the latter is usually turned over to the physical sciences. This is a pity since science and history are different disciplines (see posts here). What follows is a description of physical history as distinct from physical science.

History requires an agent of some kind. The environment is the proxy for an agent in evolutionary science. In physical history the agent is either humanity or one or more non-physical beings that connect to the physical world at its boundaries. The metaphysics of the latter are of no interest here, only their possibility. In other words, the physical universe has boundary conditions that are given; they are not a result of physical laws or processes.

But this sets up a potential conflict between a boundary condition which could have been the result of physical laws or process but was not. It would be simple to assume that all boundary conditions are such that they could not have been the result of physical laws or processes. But that assumes the limits of physical laws or processes are known, when they are to be determined rather than assumed.

Accordingly, the limits of physical laws and processes are themselves a matter of investigation. In other words, such limits are an open question. A good example of this is the argument for the existence of design in the physical world apart from human design. From human design we know something of what design is; if the physical world exhibits the features of human-like design but were not designed by humans, then a boundary condition has been found.

Otherwise, physical history is like human history. Physical particulars of the past are at the forefront, and universals of physical science are in the background. Whatever might be determined by physical science is acknowledged but the significant changes, the physical catastrophes and surprises, are granted a much greater rôle. There will no doubt be controversies between those who place much weight on key events versus those who look to the slow accumulation of little changes but such is usual for history.

Isaiah Berlin on history and science

The following (long) excerpts are from Isaiah Berlin’s article “History and Theory: The Concept of Scientific History”, published in History and Theory 1 (1):1 (1960). Republished in Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays. NY: Viking Press, 1979. (online here).

HISTORY, according to Aristotle, is an account of what individual human beings have done and suffered. In a still wider sense, history is what historians do. Is history then a natural science, as, let us say, physics or biology or psychology are sciences? And if not, should it seek to be one? And if it fails to be one, what prevents it? Is this due to human error or impotence, or to the nature of the subject, or does the very problem rest on a confusion between the concept of history and that of natural science? These have been questions that have occupied the minds of both philosophers and philosophically minded historians at least since the beginning of the nineteenth century, when men became self-conscious about the purpose and logic of their intellectual activities. But two centuries before that, Descartes had already denied to history any claim to be a serious study. Those who accepted the validity of the Cartesian criterion of what constitutes rational method could (and did) ask how they could find the clear and simple elements of which historical judgements were composed, and into which they could be analysed: where were the definitions, the logical transformation rules, the rules of inference, the rigorously deduced conclusions? While the accumulation of this confused amalgam of memories and travellers’ tales, fables and chroniclers’ stories, moral reflections and gossip, might be a harmless pastime, it was beneath the dignity of serious men seeking what alone is worth seeking – the discovery of the truth in accordance with principles and rules which alone guarantee scientific validity.

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History and science combined

For previous posts on history and science, see here.

History and science are different kinds of knowledge. History is based on the particulars that go into narratives. Science is based on the universals that go into theories.

History is focused on the matter and science is focused on the form, in the Aristotelian sense. The nature of something is its essence, its participation in universals, which is why there are natural sciences. Social sciences look at the form of human interaction. The term natural history is an older term for a scientific investigation into the natural world, especially biology, not a history in the modern sense.

The matter of something is its key particulars. Physical history is the investigation of the key particulars of physical objects in the past resulting in a narrative. This might be called natural history, but that term has meant science so it would be confusing. The investigation of the key particulars of documents in the past resulting in a narrative is simply called history.

History and science can be combined to explain something in the past. Yes. This is often called science but it is mainly history, with science assisting. For example, the investigation leading to the conclusion that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a large asteroid or volcano is physical history that is commonly called science. Key particulars explain what happened. Science provides support. The result is a narrative, not a theory. (See here.)

The explanation of an event or series of events is history, since the particulars of events are history, even if science takes a supporting rôle. The explanation of a phenomenon or multiple phenomena is science, since their explanation depends on their nature, even if history takes a supporting rôle.

Repeating events entail universals that require science for explanation. Non-repeating events entail particulars that require history for explanation. Ancient mythology tried to explain repeating events through particulars, e.g., Zeus’ anger explains lightening, as if their nature was irrelevant. Modern mythology tried to explain unique events through universals, as if their substance was irrelevant.

“Creation science” concerns created universals. “Creation history” concerns created particulars.

Thoughts on science and history

History is diachronic. Science is synchronic.

History is a narrative of time. Science is a theory of space.

A scientist sees two things and notices their similarities. An historian sees two things and notices their differences.

A scientist seeks what is universal that explains. An historian seeks what is unique that explains.

For science the default inference is to a universal nature. For history the default inference is to a unique particular.

A history of science is not a science. A science of history is not a history.

Historical science universalizes recent history. Historicism particularizes universal science.

Scientific history, or a science of history, is pseudo-history because it devalues particulars and overvalues universals.

Evolution is a theory of history presented as a science. Whig history is a philosophy of science presented as a history.