Unreliable Sources Yet Fascinating Information

Time and tide wait for none!!!

And…So….. We started tracking & recording what happened when time passes?

Humans, always shared or conserved information since early days. May be about water holes or last year’s bush fire, or that fight that took place with the people who lived beyond the river or even some geologic events. It is just not Humans, but every species on earth notices the passing of time. Animals efficiently track seasons so they can hibernate, know when to hunt and when to reproduce. They skillfully preplan and store food in special hiding places to be used after many months. Trees record time too, growth rings provides rich valuable information about ancient climatic conditions.

Where are we heading with these recording & exchanging information, or memories of the past events??

Well, this leads to a complex term: COLLECTIVE LEARNING, a dynamic and cumulative process resulting in the production of knowledge.

What is Collective learning?

Collective learning is the ability to share information efficiently that the ideas of individuals can be stored within the collective memory of communities and can accumulate through generations.

Learning emerges when individual’s knowledge is shared, disseminated, diffused, and further developed through relational and right synergies.

Such collective knowledge is passed on to the future in the form of structures, rules, routines, norms, discourse and strategies that guide upcoming actions. As a result, each human gained access to knowledge that had been generated by previous generations, and each individual could add to that body of knowledge.

Adam Ferguson, a writer from 18th century put it,

“In the human kind, the species has a progress as well as the individual; they build in every subsequent age on foundations formerly laid.”

Our species has a colossal amount of information about the world and, therefore, a lot of power.

Information is power!! Now, I can confidently claim only humans are capable of sharing the memories of the past events and their experiential learning by turning them into stories or History.

The next question that comes in our mind is “When did this information exchange started or collective learning started? Or the other way of asking is – “When did Human History begin?”

It is not easy to find when it all started. But to tackle this difficult and the most important question we need to get into archeologist lens and go a long way back.

Scholars define prehistory as events that occurred before any written records. Also, History reveals humans are in this planet for almost 200,000 years, now we can imagine the scope of History – stories of what must have happened during that time: A complete exploration of vast expanse of human experience including adventures, sorrows, environmental change, and the rise and fall of civilizations and more.

Now without any further doubts we can conclude that History started from the day where there were evidences of written records.

Well, my whole hunt for understanding of History started with this one spark in my mind-

How much reliable are these historical treasures – the written records?? I came across a 6th grader social history book, and read a chapter about a politician from the 90’s, portrayed as though he was god sent savior. But I know that is not true, I remember the multiple convictions and extravagant life style he lead.

If this is possible now, how sure are we about the information of past to be reliable?

Don’t we have to be extremely careful and thoughtful while understanding the content especially from dead languages, we know very little about? Also if one tribe conquers the other, all we can get is a biased, one sided story of those who won.

Some of the historical events had been transmitted orally before it was written down after many generations. This is like Popular ‘Chinese Whispers ‘game, with every transmitter the story consciously or unconsciously gets enhanced and modified. And perceptions changes, even two direct observers of the same incident will have completely different stories to say.

History – Is it collection of facts? Or set of stories?

Our view of history is affected by what evidence we have, how we interpret that evidence, the personal perspectives of our historians, their motivations for writing and the country and culture in which historical records are created. Did anyone consider the lost pages of the past?

Ultimately, history is a complex mix of opinions.

Of course, Historians and archeologists do have many tools to support their theories like ancient excavations, fossils and artifacts etc. and bring these pieces together and construct (or “Reconstruct”) surprising rich narratives of the distant past.

Past events are reconstructed based on evidences like photos, historical records, books and poems of specific age, diary entries, newspaper clippings, etc. Which makes historians a bit like detectives – they search for clues to help us paint a picture of the past. But, just like in any good detective story, there can often be misleading evidence.

Can you imagine some fake news, viral videos which are spreading now could be an historical evidence after few thousand years.  Similarly many accounts could have been incorrect. Someone could have purposely tried to cover up a particular event or action.

But whose version of those stories should we believe? It is difficult to answer again, but history changes over time because it’s based on opinions and not settled set of facts.

Forget about the history & past written stories – It definitely is ambiguous and may not be all true. My prime concern off late, is the photographic techniques used while showcasing nature. Mother Nature is beautiful in her own form and color, if we miss to appreciate that, I would blame the exaggerated enhancements applied during photo post processing. These high technology induced false colors, and unnecessary filtration techniques which unfortunately our eyes cannot apply on their own, is another form of fake and unreliable source information. Do you agree?

Photo shopping for the sake of vanity isn’t just a modern invention – Many historical photographs have controversies too…. Obviously images have a powerful effect on an event, a person or a situation even without a single description. So when there is no such photograph to communicate the message, a doctored photograph helped to create a strong message in the past too.

Some very controversial pictures of the past……

Certainly, many evidences and stories that historians believe today will be questioned by future historians armed with new tools and new evidence.

When Uncertainty of history remains, is it still important to consider past narratives?

Absolutely no doubt there.

But, in a world of “fake news,” we should be mindful about the information we consume. Historical records are no different. Some sources may be considered more reliable than others, but every source is biased in some way. Everyday news focuses obsessively around some of the things that have happened in the last five minutes and yet, most important things that we need to sustain and inspire us are a lot older.

History matters because it can provide us with solutions to many of the problems of the present. Being a critical thinker who analyzes primary sources creates quality scholarship and a more accurate historical record. Collective learning, the term we learnt today is the reason for all the advancement in the society. What we need nowadays are good ideas and history is full of them.

10 Comments Add yours

  1. palniarch says:

    Very well written. Good one 👌🏻👍🏻

    1. Thanks a lot 🙂

  2. Rajeev Vashishta says:

    Perfectly written, Lavanya!! Keep it up!!!

    1. Thanks Rajeev

  3. srinivasa rao pvv says:

    Superbly written and a very good perspective . So long as we have the ability to assimilate any historical information or stories just as one perspective we should be fine , i guess

    1. Thanks Srini

  4. Anonymous says:

    A good write up, once again !

    1. Thank you very much !

  5. Shobana says:

    Interesting topic and perspective Lav. Enjoyed reading it as always 👏

    1. Thanks Shobs ! Your feedback is always encouraging ! 👍

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