In a previous essay, we spoke about the need to conceptualise human history as a story, woven together through generations of shared experiences of human beings, real people, who found themselves in the most difficult of circumstances, the harshest of conditions, and, yet, survived, to beget, us.
Now, the problem is, how should we write such a history, to pass it on to our future generations. Before I speak of a method, let me discuss a problem. We are the products of our circumstances. The world is old, and we are new. If we go by the strictest definitions of human history, that is, history which had been recorded as readable text, as opposed to history based on artefacts, that are pre-lingual, in the realm of archaeology, our history is about 6,000 years old. A mere blip in terms of existence.
If all the history of life on this planet was to be reduced to the scale of a Christian year, human beings would not appear till the last minute of the last day. Literally the last minute. Dinosaurs would evolve and go extinct in December.
However, the problem at hand is that we are old, despite the fact that in other scales we are young, we are not concerned with evolutionary biology, geology, astrophysics – at the moment. In the essay that frames our conversation, I also referred to language as the basic building block of our reality. Language, in a sense, is also information. But, it is very complex information. We should understand that one unit of language expresses multiple units of any basic form of information.
For example, take the simple word – “sorry”. What if one was asked to express the idea behind this word in simple computer language, that is, the language of 1 and 0, or, yes and no. It would take forever to express the nuance of sorry in such a simple language. The basic language of all communications systems is not much different from the binary language of computers, though it might be expressed, for example, in our case, in more complex human conceits of pleasure and pain. The so called “selfish gene” evolves through a simple logic of what favours or opposes survival. This extended, and multidimensionally developed, creates human beings as complex as mammals.
Then, it is the upwards trajectory of sharing, from information into experience, that we are concerned with, at the moment. Let us compress evolution into an instance, and be, in a way, little gods. Now, the question is, how can we then study human history which is almost an infinite amalgamation of more and more complex information loops and networks. The only possible way is through a development of a method for understanding shared experiences through the ages, or human generations.
This must take certain facts for granted. The first of this is regarding the perennial non-problem of human nature. Why do I call this so? Well, because of many reasons, but the most important being that, biologically speaking, human nature has been more or less consistent for a very long time. Nature has a strict, though very undefinable, connotation, but human nature, as it is, has been consistent since Homo sapiens evolved as a distinct species. The first Homo sapiens would have been as adept in our modern life styles as we are, if they were born into it.
But, of course, we have evolved the lifestyles of today only after 60 to 100 thousand years of generational change. This is, in essence, the scope of a meta human history. But in such a time scale, facts are very hard to place along the scales of time and place. As we said before, this is the realm of an artefacts based history. Real history, that is, history as a story, begins with the first texts of humanity, and they, as also we mentioned, are about 6,000 years old, beginning with the Mesopotamian civilisation.
At this point, the question is why we make this crucial distinction. As any student of history will know, archaeological finds, artefacts, etc, can change our understanding of even the recent past. In truth, even the boundary between pre-history, ie. the realm of archaeology, and history, ie. textual history, overlaps as much as that between archaeology and anthropology – pre-human remains just like those of early humans have to be excavated from the soil, after all. The main reason for this distinction, even then, is that in texts, we have direct and understand expressions of human thought, in human language, that is. I have gone into the details of this importance before.
So, human history has to be a history of human texts. In most cases, such texts are expressing thoughts through languages, dead or alive. The definition of what constitutes a text can be very broad, however, and even very contextual. Anything that ties together multiple strands of thought, in a warm is a text – text, the word, coming from textile, which is produced by the weaving together of fabrics.
Human history is a meta-textual enterprises, the weaving together of multiple texts. The more we have, the richer our fabric is.