Thursday, January 15, 2015

Message of "End of Course" for "A Brief History of Humankind" Coursera course

To me, the purpose of studying history is purely to learn what has happened in the past, without objective such as predict future, etc. The problem of studying history for a particular purpose like predicting future can make what is learned biased.

This view of mine doesn't change. But today I read a message from the professor of the Coursera course "A Brief History of Humankind" and I liked it. So I copy it here:

 "People often ask, what is the purpose of studying history? They sometimes imagine that we study history in order to predict the future, or in order to learn from past mistakes. In my view, we should study history not in order to learn from the past, but in order to be free of it.

Each of us is born into a particular world, governed by a particular system of norms and values, and a particular economic and political order. Since we are born into it, we take the surrounding reality to be natural and inevitable, and we tend to think that the way people today live their lives is the only possible way. We seldom realize that the world we know is the accidental outcome of chance historical events, which condition not only our technology, politics and economics but even the way we think and dream. This is how the past grips us by the back of the head, and turn our eyes towards a single possible future. We have felt the grip of the past from the moment we were born, so we don’t even notice it. The study of history aims to loosen this grip, and to enable us to turn our head around more freely, to think in new ways, and to see many more possible futures.

 I hope that by introducing you to the history of humankind, this course has helped loosen the grip of the past."
(Dr. Yuval Noah Harari