Saturday, 19 May 2012

Summarising Histories

In several articles on, I have enjoyed summarising fictitious histories. Robert Heinlein's Future History (see here) extends from an invention in 1955 to a new society in the twenty second century. Poul Anderson's History of Technic Civilisation (see here) extends from interplanetary exploration in 2150 to a civilisation spanning several galactic arms in 7100. Each of these series was created by a single author and therefore is in some ways dwarfed by the mythical, legendary and historical narrative of "Christian civilisation" (see here) imagined by populations for generations. This history extends from Genesis and Prometheus as mythological beginnings to the Papacy, the British monarchy and the kingdom of Ethiopia as modern institutions.

Mythologically, the Kings of Britain are descended either from the Trojan Prince Aeneas or from the Kings of Israel whereas the Pope manages to combine both Biblical and Classical traditions in a single person. As Bishop of Rome, he is the direct successor of Peter, the chief disciple of Christ (whose creative power was projected back from the first verse of the Fourth Gospel to the opening phrase of the Torah), while, as Pontifex Maximus, he is the chief priest of the Roman state religion whose earlier deities, the Olympians, succeeded the Titans including Prometheus who had given mankind civilising arts. Ethiopia claims the Ark of the Covenant, kings descended from Solomon and the Rastafarian Messiah. No single mind could have imagined all this.

While continuing to appreciate mythology, we can also appreciate scientific accounts of cosmic history: knowledge that has been discovered, not imagined. No community of minds however numerous could have imagined scientific cosmology although imagination remains necessary to hypothesise explanations of unexpected phenomena. Probably, inflation, dark matter and dark energy are modern equivalents of phlogiston. Intellect and imagination have brought us a long way both in fictitious narratives and in increasing knowledge.     


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