[Ansteorra] Historical Interpretation (and an out of period aside for an example)
marccarlson20 at hotmail.com
Wed Sep 21 09:46:49 PDT 2005
After one of my responses to this list last week, it was suggested to me
that I might want to explain where Im coming from conceptually on things,
since honestly, in my stridence I *was* seeming a smidgen dogmatic (not to
mention far more condescending than was called for, for which I apologize).
In history we have facts, assumptions, evidence, interpretation,
speculation, and made up stuff.
Facts are items of inviolable reality. There are *very few* of these, and
really there is a great philosophical debate about whether there are any, or
if we can ever really know them. For the sake of argument, though, Im
inclined to say that that they do exist, and that trying to find out what
they are is really the point of history.
Assumptions are things we hold to be true. Because of this, the line
between facts and assumptions is really obscure, and may not actually exist.
Many people confuse assumptions for facts. For example, I maintain that
the scientific method of gathering data, constructing and testing
hypotheses, etc is a valid historical research tool. So it Occamss Razor,
which in brief suggests that the least complex is most likely to be the
correct one. To me these are as certain as any fact. But they are just
Sometimes its fun to step back, change your assumptions and hit a problem
from a different angle (note if you try this, you may find it a good idea
to keep track of where you parked your original assumptions for later).
Evidence is that pile of data bits, the puzzle pieces of history many of
which are missing.
Interpretation is what we do when we filter the evidence through our
Speculation is an attempt to fill in the gaps in the evidence with our
assumptions. Note that sometimes what appears to be a gap in the evidence
is actually an artifact of your assumptions.
Then theres made up stuff.
Let me give you an example (an out of period example, since a) most I think
people will already have had some exposure to the evidence, and b) it
removes it from the earlier conversation so I cant be accused of being even
meaner) : Evidence suggests that on 22 November 1963, then President
Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Certainly its generally accepted that it
happened, even among the conspiracy theorists, although its possible that
it might have been an imposter, an alien hologram, mass hallucination, or
whatnot. Probably- this is a fact, its definitely an assumption.
Around this event, we have numerous assumptions: he was killed; he wasnt
killed; the film evidence is accurate; the film evidence cant be accurate;
Oswald acted alone; Oswald couldnt have done it; the government is the
enemy; the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of thems dead,
The evidence includes the number of shots people heard, the angle that they
appeared to be coming from, various people in the crowd, the timing of the
events in the various films as historical events go, this is one of the
most completely documented events ever. There is possibly *too much*
evidence, and too many assumptions to ever actually know what was going on
around the events in Zapruder frames 312-313.
So we take the evidence and filter it through our assumptions to come up
with the lone gunman theory, the government cover-up theory, the multiple
shooter theories, the oops theory, and so on.
Speculation is when we step outside the actual evidence and try to piece it
together, and have to fill in some gaps. All of the JFK theories have some
speculation in them some more than others. For instance, the gunman on
the grassy knoll is speculation to explain what people heard. Something
being speculation doesnt automatically mean that it didnt happen that way,
it just means that this puzzle piece is an illusion.
Closely related to speculation is made up stuff (one could argue that they
are just the light and dark sides of the same thing). Speculation, however,
to be valid, has to stay within the restrictions imposed by the evidence.
Made up stuff ignores those restrictions, and often tried to force the
evidence to do kinky and inappropriate things.
For instance, the gunman on the grassy knoll is speculation, based on the
sound of a rifle shot coming from that area, and the assumption that the
ear witnesses who heard that shot werent mistaken or confused. Whether I
agree with it or not, its valid speculation.
Postulating that there were other gunmen on the overpass, or in storm drains
is made up stuff since theres *no* evidence to support their existence.
Other suggestions, like aliens, time travelers, a spontaneously generated
quantum black hole at just the wrong time and place
All of these postulate
things that have no evidence, and moreover can not leave recognizable
evidence but in order to accept them you frequently have to discount some
of the actual evidence. (n.b.: An assumption you can make is that any time
someone says oh, the government destroyed that or I have secret documents
that no one has ever heard or otherwise cant be verified they may be
pushing a made up stuff agenda).
>From that, you might assume that Im inclined to accept the Lone gunman
theory, and youd be right. I dont *believe* it, but I accept it as a
working hypothesis (among other things, I dont love the needed angle for
the head shot, but without jumping way out into speculation, it is the least
complex possibility). For aesthetic reasons, I actually prefer the oops
theory, since it actually answers most of the extraneous evidence, but Im
not going to tell you that I believe thats how it happened either
(Oops.theory, short form: taking only the evidence we actually have
available, and minimizing speculation, there was a weapon in Dealy plaza
that could have fired the shot, and thats the AR-15 carried by the secret
service agent in the second car. A tumbling AR-15 round in a head shot
could have easily done what we see in the film. Events. The first shot is
fired and hits JFK, and the car speeds up like its supposed to. The car
behind him also speeds up, and the secret service agent with the AR-15
stands up to look for a shooter to fire back at. Second shot misses, and
the first car brakes slightly causing the second car to slow also. The
secret service agent stumbles slightly. At this point, JFK is hit in the
head. All of this is in the photographic evidence. The oops theory
suggests that when the agent stumbled, the AR-15 discharged. According to
the photo, it was aligned more or less through JFKs head to the grassy
knoll. The tumbling round hits him and the sound echoes back from the
knoll. I should note that there may be contrasting evidence to this in the
Bronson film, which I have not seen. Understandably, the agent in question
is deeply offended by this theory and sued the author and publisher of
_Mortal Error_, the work that first published this theory for slander in
1995, although the case was tossed out. I suggest that if this were to be
the way it happened, the agent might not have even known his weapon
discharged in the heat of the moment, with stumbling, and the noise around
him, since an AR-15 is a really easy weapon to fire).
So, in conclusion, it is appropriate to re-examine historical events and
theories with a new eye, new assumptions, and when new evidence comes up
In fact, I encourage it. But ultimately you *are* still stuck with the old
evidence as well. And if a new hypothesis can not adequately cover all
the old evidence as well, its flawed.
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