Learning from History

Here are some things we can not learn from history:

  • What happens when we die?
  • What is consciousness?
  • Are there other forms of consciousness?
  • Is there more to reality than what we can perceive and understand?
  • To what extent are societies coherent, objective entities?
  • What are emotions (or why do we do stupid things)?
  • What, if anything, makes us different from animals?
  • What will happen next?

Here are some things we can learn from history:

  • How other people have asked and answered these questions.
  • How the these questions and their answers have been formulated and reformulated in particular ways that are grounded in time, place and institutions.
  • How people have behaved when they thought they knew the answers to some of these questions.
  • What people have done and thought when not worrying about these questions.

There is no reason to expect that history can answer the first set of questions. It makes perfect sense to only ask the second set. The challenge is how we can bring the answers to the second set of questions to bear on the first set. But we have lost our way when answering this second set of questions becomes an end in itself, and we start to think that the first set of questions is trivial or misguided. At worst, we mistake answers to the second set of questions to be answers to the first.


Posted on August 22, 2011, in The Big Questions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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