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Psuedo-Science Babble? | XXV |

In trying to get a grip on early Babylon, I stumbled across a publishing phenomena I had not even noticed previously:  Graham Hancock.  I grew up reading Charles Fort and Edgar Cayce.  I have lusted after any writing on any mystery of any age, but after having sated my desire to believe the most amazing tales, my rational mind, slowly digesting the claims, eventually commits much of it to the refuse bin.  And yet I like to think that by casting my net wide enough, somewhere in the midst of what I have examined, lies the truth.

It is true that there are mysteries. It is a useful and intelligent process to speculate about them.  But it is embarrassing to everyone-- not just scientists-- when the process becomes a circus side-show that obscures the known, and panders to desires of an unknowing public. It sounds like I am about to lay this accusation at Graham Hancock's feet as many have already done, but I intend to suggest rather, that he is doing a better job of walking the line between science and mumbo-jumbo than most.

Let me go back for a moment.  If Jules Verne had not put his science in the form of fiction, I am sure he would have been frontally attacked by critics for suggesting such things were possible.  And yet many of Verne's conceptions turned out to be good science. Clive Cussler makes free with world history whenever he smells a good story, but no one complains.  Why is it then that a speculative history analyst-- a term I would apply to Hancock-- should pose such a threat to the canon of science?  The fear that the truth will be obscured, as mentioned above, is a valid one for scientists. But what about areas where there are no valid theories?   What's wrong with identifying lines of inquiry to prove or disprove new theories where no progress has been made?

It appears to me there is a right and wrong way to do this.  I certainly do not admire the reasoning or tactics of Richard Hoagland, while admitting he has the ability to say interesting things. Certainly he will be right part of the time because he claims that anything that has ever occurred to him is a theory for which the world owes him due credit.  If one has ever listened to him with Art Bell on radio, one gets the sense that double-talk has now been improved to "pan-dimensional" talk.  And thus anything he says is equally unprovable as it is irrefutible.  Babble has that quality. It is sad to have this sort of side-show presented as "science."

Hancock does not claim to be a scientist however, but an investigative journalist, and his works show more research and thought, and persistent questioning of evidence, than one finds among other fringe writers of  what might be called "sensationalized history."   Of course he has a an underlying theory about the the pre-ice-age existence of advanced civilization for which he tries to selectively gather evidence. Nothing wrong with that if done correctly.

But there are some worries.  One is that in the last decade or so he has run here and there around the world while publishing his instant insights and claiming he is looking at things never noticed, studied, or understood before.  That sort of self-promotion is often largely unfair to former investigators.  Then, there is this Hoagland-like counter-attack on critics of his books.  Controversy sells books, and his willingness to turn criticism to his own advantage, instead of admitting, like Michael Wood might, "true, we just don't know for sure," is not his finest feature.

Despite these negatives I think that many of the ideas that Hancock puts forward "have legs."  Who else is trying a multi-disciplinary approach to the question of what man was doing past 5000 years ago?  Surely, we have our neolithic research, but was there something more? That's a good question.

Where was civilization before Babylon?  It may have been brought from the sea-faring culture of the Indus valley via the persian gulf. The Indus culture is older than anyone thought and may have been the source of the Vedas, which are thought to have been orally transmitted for eons before written down. Further, I think it is perfectly reasonable to attempt to read ancient texts as though they were (are) history instead of myths.  Within history we have called our own rulers gods.  So why should not the gods of the Veda's have been men?  Osirus of the Eqyptions an actual ruler?  The history may be literally what we have always taken as metaphor. Nothing wrong with exploring that.

Prove it. Disprove it. Fail to do either and argue about it.  The only time-honored approach seems to be the last one.

And as for the birth of agriculture, I previously never had a theory about that.  After reading Hancock, I now have two, both implied but not demanded by his writing.  1) around the end of the last ice age there were fewer animals to hunt either through cataclysm or perhaps over-hunting   2) agriculture was established by a Vedic culture that valued meditation and required a fixed location and a minimum of food.  Along the same lines, has it ever been suggested that only a culture that on a religious basis valued vegetarianism might take up farming?

Is it possible that civilization before the last ice age was more into asceticism than shopping malls?


Mar. 31st, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
A progression something like hunter-herders-growers does make sense. There is also that argument in the division of labor that women invented agriculture so they would not have to walk so far gathering food while pregnant.

I still like, as an idea, that cities may have begun as places for staged events, temples, markets, etc., and not places where people would want to live unless they had to.

100,000 years certainly allows one to think gradually, but I am going to check out that book (name?) written recently about the rate of evidential decay that our own civilization would undergo if it were were to end today.
Apr. 1st, 2009 07:12 am (UTC)
Sites like Gobekli Tepe do support your theory. Some ceremonial centres in the Americas were built on sites that were not able to support populations, they had to be provided with everything. I suppose that at least some of the ancient cities did start the way you think.
Apr. 1st, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
The book I was thinking of is by Alan Weisman: The World Without Us. I have no idea if he knows for sure what he claims to know, but he estimates all traces of New York City could be gone in less that 20,000 years with an ice sheet scouring the last traces.

He also suggests that Mr. Rushmore or other monolithic stone structures could show evidence of civilization lasting as long as 7 million years. So, how old are the oldest pyramids really?

As always there is the lure of sensationalizing what might have happened (parsing all possibilities) as truth, overlooking the more mundane things that probably happened.


A W guote from the front pages of the book: Wittgenstein's Poker: I know that queer things happen in this world. It's one of the few things I've really learned in my life.

Cydonia photo: ESA

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