[Ansteorra] Historical Interpretation (and an out of period aside for an example)

Marc Carlson 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 I’m 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, I’m 
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 Occams’s 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 it’s 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 there’s 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 can’t be accused of being even 
meaner) :  Evidence suggests that on 22 November 1963, then President 
Kennedy was shot in Dallas.  Certainly it’s generally accepted that it 
happened, even among the conspiracy theorists, although it’s possible that 
it might have been an imposter, an alien hologram, mass hallucination, or 
whatnot.  –Probably- this is a fact, it’s definitely an assumption.

Around this event, we have numerous assumptions:  he was killed; he wasn’t 
killed; the film evidence is accurate; the film evidence can’t be accurate; 
Oswald acted alone; Oswald couldn’t have done it; the government is the 
enemy; the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them’s 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 doesn’t automatically mean that it didn’t 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 weren’t mistaken or confused.  Whether I 
agree with it or not, it’s valid speculation.

Postulating that there were other gunmen on the overpass, or in storm drains 
is made up stuff since there’s *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 can’t be verified” they may be 
pushing a “made up stuff” agenda).

>From that, you might assume that I’m inclined to accept the Lone gunman 
theory, and you’d be right.  I don’t *believe* it, but I accept it as a 
working hypothesis (among other things, I don’t 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 I’m 
not going to tell you that I believe that’s 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 that’s 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 it’s 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 JFK’s 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, it’s flawed.


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