Setting fire to truth as we know it

Everything you know is wrong. At least it could be. This is according to findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that show evidence humans used fire one million years ago – 600,000 years earlier than previously thought.

I consider myself an amateur student of historiography, the study of history, so I recognize how we perceive the past is very often about who we are now. This means we often view historical events improperly because of our current worldview.

To that end, I recognize we tend to shape history retroactively resulting in a somewhat inaccurate story we tell ourselves about how we got where we are.

That really isn’t a problem. I’m not really interested in the truth because the farther back we go, the more difficult it becomes to actually uncover it.

Our standards for credible evidence rapidly decline to the point that any writing before the Dark Ages is essentially considered factual. I’m okay with never being sure about the details of history.

The astute reader might wonder how this fits in to the recent discovery about human beings and fire.

We accept history is a messy and inexact science because we don’t have perfect records, and accounts are limited.

We know Caesar might not have said, “the die has been cast” as he crossed the Rubicon. That might be an apocryphal story created to help us conceptualize the importance of that moment. That’s okay. But the idea fire might have been used 600,000 years earlier than we thought is unfathomable.

Up until the last couple of years, we were working from an assumption that was off by more than half a million years. That’s not an apocryphal story about a brief utterance, that’s 600 millennia.

In other words, everything you know might be wrong. If we missed the first use of fire by that much, what else have we gotten wrong?

As we go forward, we’re constantly gathering new information about life’s mysteries. We’re rewriting history, science and medicine almost every day. Our beliefs about how the human body works and how the universe works, much less what happened there centuries ago, are always changing.

What we know at this moment in time might be entirely wrong. Five hundred years ago, we thought the universe revolved around this planet. Now we think this planet revolves around a star that exists among billions of ours. What if that construct is wrong too?

What if instead of nearing the end of discovery, we’re actually only beginning the second act?

Considering we just learned humans were using fire 600,000 years earlier than we thought, I wouldn’t be surprised if we aren’t a few decades away from discovering so many other assumptions about life are wrong.

Think about that as you live your life. People are obsessed with the truth to such an unhealthy point that they cast aside things they believe to be false, such as religion, and embrace what they believe to be true, such as modern science.

Yet modern science is almost constantly proved wrong by the science that comes after it. The best minds of Galileo’s time know far less than the best minds of our time, but that doesn’t mean we know everything or even that we know anything.

Finding out humans played with matches a million years ago lends credence to the argument that everything we know is wrong because until recently, we thought something completely different.

It’s enough to make you wonder about big questions and to realize you don’t have any of the answers.


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