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The purpose of history is to explain how groups of people interact.

History does not end with a chronological description of past events. They are only the raw materials.

The explanation must seek to identify the reasons of the decision makers, the causes that led to their actions, and the forces that shaped an outcome.

There is abundant evidence showing that in history, like physics, “to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.  Every act has a historical consequence, and the memory of countries is long. To make sense of the present it is necessary to understand the past.

George Orwell stated: “Those who control the present, control the past and those who control the past control the future”. The historian must do its part to prevent this since good history prevents the manipulation of peoples.

Arriving at sound, factual, and logical beliefs is much more complicated than we assume. Even when we use a proper method (see the picture).

Robert A. Burton (A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind and On Being Certain) thinks it may be impossible because contradiction, inconsistency, and paradox are hard-wired into our reasoning machinery.

When a professional scientist tries to understand a phenomenon, he begins by checking that his measuring equipment is accurate and consistent. Any bias or large variation may make the equipment unsuitable for his experiments. Our brain is the tool we use to gather the facts, to select which can be used and which are to be discarded; to concoct our hypothesis and to decide if the evidence corroborates our theories.

Unfortunately, science has shown that we humans easily fall prey to biased analyses. It takes significant effort to realize that we tend to discard evidence that does not match our preconceived views. We are educated from childhood under a number of paradigms, many of which are false, but which society (or the State) finds convenient for purposes which are not necessarily the truth.

Social scientist discovered that children educated under particular concepts cannot cope with facts that disprove their beliefs once they become adults. They have also noticed that propaganda may be quite effective irrespective of age, (despite what many people think). Furthermore, contrary to our instincts, subject matter experts tend to be more wrong than people starting to analyze a topic, because the expert’s mind becomes fixated with certain ideas.

 The method described in the picture shows that every fact must be gathered and checked, and before arriving at a preliminary conclusion, the historian must make a conscious effort to eschew his prejudgments (prejudice). Most historians typically divide the actors into good or bad, smart and fool from the outset. They also assume that certain actors had a Machiavellian plan and others were innocent bystanders. They also adhere to rigid premises that appear self-evident to them. Or they criticize and action without considering past events that motivated it. All these postures are unacceptable. Prejudice and hindsight are a major cause of faulty analysis.

Finally, it must be understood that we never arrive at the truth. The best we can do is to arrive at beliefs that are strongly supported with available facts and a robust logic. It is always possible that new facts, contradicting our stance, can be found or that our reasoning was imperfect.

Supporting beliefs

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