We use cookies and other similar technologies (Cookies) to enhance your experience and to provide you with relevant content and ads. By using our website, you are agreeing to the use of Cookies. You can change your settings at any time. Cookie Policy.


History, Truth and Data


Originally published August 5, 2009


In the spirit of trying to get to the point where it might be possible to ask some clear questions, rather than provide any answers, Malcolm Chisholm considers the relationship between history, truth and data from a very general perspective.

Malcolm Chisholm
Malcolm Chisholm



Want to post a comment? Login or become a member today!

Posted August 11, 2009 by Seth Grimes grimes@altaplana.com

In my reading, Aristotle did not explicitly affirm science.  He promoted truth by assertion rooted in rationalization rather than in empirical study and experiment.  Aristotelianism, especially as adopted and developed by the church, retarded Western scientific progress for the better part of 2,000 years.

Is this comment inappropriate? Click here to flag this comment.

Posted August 11, 2009 by Neil Raden nraden@hiredbrains.com

I typed this once before but it didn't show up. I hope they don't both appear.

First of all, the title was a real grabber. It reminded me of A.J. Ayers' "Language, Truth and Logic." Was that deliberate?

Your version of history, however, reveals a common, western prejudice. The Chinese were excellent scientists at least 3000 years ago and the ancient Sumerians were meticulous astromomers over 5000 years ago, giving us the 360-degree circle and 60 seconds.60 minutes. Why they didn't choose 365 1/4 degrees to a circle I can't say, but Immanuel Velikovsky had a pretty good idea (though the late, great charlatan of science, Carl Sagan, did his best to squelch it).

Part of the problem of assembling facts about history from "events" in operational systems is that too much detail is not only lost in those systems, much of it is never captured, a not to distant echo of our resource-constrained, managing-from-scarity mentality. We have the resources now to capture and understand events and sub-events and keep them. How they are assembled into a tableau of history is, as you point out, subjective, but there are only so many problems we can solve with technology. But if you keep the bits around, you at least have a chance of modeling something that approaches the phenomena you are trying to understand.

Neil Raden

Hired Brains

Is this comment inappropriate? Click here to flag this comment.

Posted August 5, 2009 by George Allen

This was very thought provoking, for me.  We deal with a set of artifacts, remnants of some past events, and we gather those together in packages we reveal as truth, but can only be, at best, theories.  Much as archaeologists deal with their own artifacts, we need to develop data models that embrace conjecture, that can posit a variety of "truths" each weighted by various tangible factors, so we can present our knowledge with the caveats that will help the decision makers understand what they see.

And, as archaeologists, our systems need to "learn" over time, to develop rules that better ferret out the outliers in our data and help us add greater weight to one conclusion over others.

We still deal with GIGO but we seem to have come to expect absolutism.  Since our data world is based in 0 and 1, black and white, we expect that what we are being presented with is one or the other.  Controls at the point of entry can assist us in containing some level of error, like a 2-dimensional barcode on an item which identifies it from all others, thus preventing or signalling duplication if scanned.  But, we still have these humans involved, and as computing devices, humans are notoriously fallible.

That's what makes my job so dang interesting. 


Is this comment inappropriate? Click here to flag this comment.

Posted August 5, 2009 by Benjamin Taub btaub@dataspace.com

Really nicely done, Malcom.  You've read Herodotus, haven't you?

Are you advocating that the relational model is no longer appropriate for accurate capture of history?

-- Ben

Is this comment inappropriate? Click here to flag this comment.