Monday, December 7, 2009

History and fiction

You know when sometimes you read something that makes you think "Wow, I would have never formulated it this clearly!"?

Well, today I had one of these moments reading this blog. I love both history and science fiction, but I had never compared the two passions side by side like the author here did. The post is below, but please visit the original source, there's other good stuff there.

"Which do you think provides greater value? Is there anything that one provides that the other can’t? Many would argue that studying history has the advantage of allowing you to learn from past events, envision where the future might lead us, and avoid repeating old mistakes. I would argue that the right fiction can provide the same benefits.

When we think about history, most of it comes from the record humans have made of events. In many cases, the only evidence available is the recount done by only one side of what happened. Additionally, it is still the positions of individuals, which doesn’t guarantee that the narration of how things unfolded is accurate enough. If we rely on the devices, artifacts, and other cultural manifestations, we aren’t better off, as it still relies a lot in interpretation. To worsen this short-comings, we have the fact that nothing from history can be truly verifiable. All witnesses might be long gone. All existing documents can be forgeries. History at its best can just be considered a fiction based on reality.

The case of fiction with fiction is similar. It comes from the experiences and point of view of its author. It is shaped by the events surrounding its writing. It might have inaccuracies, and if anything is based on facts, those may remain unverifiable. However, good fiction have consistent characters, plots that follow a logical and causal path, and themes that are universal. Those same elements have the power seen in the most important events in history. Fiction at its best can be considered history based on imagination.

With my arguments so far, I am not trying to understate the importance of any of the above. On the contrary, I believe both of them have insurmountable merit to the progress of mankind. However, they require of reasoning learners. People with the ability to discern if the events and characters portrayed in either source of stories are coherent with the logic, emotions and social context provided. Either form will require a critical appraisal from whomever studies it. Therefore, never disregard them both as viable sources of ideas, inspiration, and vision."

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