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Thread: Historical facts that are complete bullshit?

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    Historical facts that are complete bullshit?

    I'm thinking of the idea that Columbus was the first person to say that the world was round. (it came up in a stupid anti-smoking PSA I was subjected to as a kid that I posted in "Fluff.") The Greeks proved it wasn't centuries earlier, and while peasants of his day might have believed it was flat, the kind of crew Columbus hung around with all knew it was round. In fact, he got the size of the Earth and would have starved to death if there had not been land in the way.

    Where did that come from? Why do these kinds of stories spread?

    Edit: There probably shouldn't be a question mark in the title, but oh well.

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msg_v2 View Post
    I'm thinking of the idea that Columbus was the first person to say that the world was round. (it came up in a stupid anti-smoking PSA I was subjected to as a kid that I posted in "Fluff.") The Greeks proved it wasn't centuries earlier, and while peasants of his day might have believed it was flat, the kind of crew Columbus hung around with all knew it was round. In fact, he got the size of the Earth and would have starved to death if there had not been land in the way.

    Where did that come from? Why do these kinds of stories spread?

    Edit: There probably shouldn't be a question mark in the title, but oh well.
    Much of classical learning had been lost to western Europe with the fall of Rome, and was only then starting to be restored with the fall and intellectual flight from Byzantium. There certainly were plenty of thinking folks in Europe that understood the Earth was a spheroid. You could see ships appear to sink as they traveled out of port, and an eclipse of the moon always presented a disk shadow and never a vertical line.

    But rational ideas had to compete with a lot of church oriented BS. Like a circular map of the world with Jerusalem at its center.

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    Quote Originally Posted by OrionzRevenge View Post
    Much of classical learning had been lost to western Europe with the fall of Rome, and was only then starting to be restored with the fall and intellectual flight from Byzantium. There certainly were plenty of thinking folks in Europe that understood the Earth was a spheroid. You could see ships appear to sink as they traveled out of port, and an eclipse of the moon always presented a disk shadow and never a vertical line.

    But rational ideas had to compete with a lot of church oriented BS. Like a circular map of the world with Jerusalem at its center.
    I know Wikipedia isn't the best source, but because I'm lazy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_Flat_Earth

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msg_v2 View Post
    I know Wikipedia isn't the best source, but because I'm lazy:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myth_of_the_Flat_Earth
    During the early Middle Ages, virtually all scholars maintained the spherical viewpoint first expressed by the Ancient Greeks.
    This is not the same as saying it was non-existent.

    Behold Jerusalem Centric Earth.

    Circa 1300 English map.


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    No larger image?

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msg_v2 View Post
    I'm thinking of the idea that Columbus was the first person to say that the world was round. (it came up in a stupid anti-smoking PSA I was subjected to as a kid that I posted in "Fluff.") The Greeks proved it wasn't centuries earlier, and while peasants of his day might have believed it was flat, the kind of crew Columbus hung around with all knew it was round. In fact, he got the size of the Earth and would have starved to death if there had not been land in the way.

    Where did that come from? Why do these kinds of stories spread?
    This book might be a good place to start, if you haven't read it. I read it while I was in high school, and it did a lot to pique my interest in actually studying history (as opposed to "learning" it, or that's how I think of the difference).


    Not for the versions of events he offers (take these as you will, or don't, which I think is what he would say), but for the fairly detailed perspective on the process whereby what gets passed around as commonly known "fact" can easily originate as bullshit that merely sounded good to someone. It's a fairly punchy read that should get you started on the basics of historiography. (Tracing the origins of ideas about historical events, not just the facts of the events themselves.)

    He has another book called Lies Across America which is also pretty entertaining. It's basically a tour of historical monuments that commemorate events which probably didn't happen. (E.g. there's one in Idaho somewhere that supposedly marks the spot where a huge massacre of settlers by Indians took place, except the original source for reports of this event happening turns out to be some rambling drunk that a journalist met in a bar.)

    In short, a common reason people accept ideas as fact has less to do with their evidentiary basis and more to do with how they fit a self-conscious image of one's own self or native culture. E.g. Americans like to think of the "New World" as a place where progress from the "Old World's" more egregious idiocies could take place, so a lot of us will readily believe the first white guy to set foot in the Americas was also the first white guy to realize he was living on a spherical planet, without caring too much whether or not this is what, strictly speaking, actually happened.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

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    Senior Member jyng1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by msg_v2 View Post
    Where did that come from? Why do these kinds of stories spread?
    I liked this article from The Independent. It's a little bit like Facebook when someone buys into a completely bullshit story and shares it. Natural News anyone?

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    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    The notion that Columbus discovered the world is round has a pretty clear providence.

    One glaring weakness, then, of the work as a historical biography, is the enduring mythic assertion that it was only the voyages of Columbus that finally convinced Europeans of his time that the Earth is not flat. In truth, no educated or influential member of medieval society believed the Earth to be flat. The idea of a spherical Earth had long been espoused in the classical tradition and was inherited by medieval academics.
    Irving wanted to dramatise the backwardness of the Catholic church - as opposed to Protestantism, which in that era, before the waves of Irish immigration, was strongly associated with America. So in a sense there was a desire among the early Americans to 'protestantise' Columbus - make him a Protestant figure, and the whole flat-earth myth was a good way of doing so.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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