History and Science - like long lost brothers (or sisters).

Podcasts are great. While cleaning the car today, I listened to a new one - Stuff you missed in history class (itunes link). In one episode, they were talking about alternative theories about early visits to America. There was some guy that was claiming the Chinese visited the new world 70 years before Columbus (or something to that effect).

This is a great example of how similar science and history are to each other.

  • Both science and history make 'models'. In history this may be 'the Chinese visited americas before the Europeans'. It is just like a model in science. It is an idea that has evidence to support it.
  • Both science and history have evidences (is that the plural of evidence?). In science, this may be the result of some experiment. In history, this could be an artifact, a map, letters, eye witness accounts etc.
  • For both, there really is not a truth. Did the Chinese visit the Americas? The experts say 'not before Columbus'. But is that the exact answer? You can't say for sure. Oh - but hey! What about more recent history? History with eye witness accounts from people that are alive still like World War II? Well, I don't think even then we know the truth. Think of the propaganda on all sides that bias the eye witnesses. Plus, there have been several studies showing how eye witness accounts can get things wrong.

So, here is where I get to use a quote:

Indiana Jones: Archaeology is the search for fact... not truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall. (IMDB)

I like that quote even though I don't like the word FACT.

More like this

"For both, there really is not a truth." I'd argue with this. Either the Chinese visited America before Columbus did, or they didn't. We might never find enough evidence to know, definitively, one way or the other, but that doesn't mean that it's in some kind of weird indeterminate quantum state. One or the other is true.

A better example from history might be: "How many people died due to Stalin's actions?" The answer you get will depend on how your model defines "Stalin's action" and "due to", and therefore doesn't have a single definitive answer.