Shards of stone broken across a path

Do we need to understand the past?

How much do we need to understand all that’s gone before us? All the ideas, events, experiences or intentions that invariably shape so many details of our everyday lives in the present. Sometimes it seems easy enough to forget about it, to say there’s more than enough in the present to occupy our minds, but what does it mean to do that? What are we leaving behind if we simply plough on with “how things are”?

It’s interesting to imagine how much the past influences us – to what extent we’re effectively living within all of the thought processes preceding our own. All those projects, theories and solutions others dreamt up and set in motion around various aspects of our lives, subtly informing the ideas we have in mind as much as the systems we’ve woven into each day. That whole convoluted heritage of human society.

Of all the thought flowing through our history, can we really just pull the plug and forget about it? All those intriguing ways ideas spread, grew, cross-pollinated and evolved through various communities, places and periods of time. Things hiding away, forgotten about, only to emerge at later moments in new forms; taking people on different journeys to arrive at different points. All the errors and successes of those paths.

Isn’t it an incredible, weaving conversation? All the minds that’ve been inspired by certain ideas – notions that’ve spawned civilisations and galvanised people to fight for specific principles, ideals or ways of life. Thought, in strange ways, having woven its way through time to the point where we’re each standing in the present day.

The idea that we might now step away – break the chain of understanding and transmission – to walk forward with only the fruits of modern civilisation sometimes seems strangely daring: can we cut those ties and be sure of where we stand? If history’s the arc of all the beliefs, facts and forces that’ve led humanity to this point, what would it mean to leave that path with only our currently accepted narratives about it?

Would we still have a thorough enough understanding of existence and the modern world’s place within it? Will we still have enough knowledge to constructively engage in redressing whatever pressing matters still need to be addressed? If the past’s a mysterious place filled with distant personalities, trains of thought, ideas and their imperfect expression, can we still grasp the full complexity of it all?

Sometimes it seems the past is simply a complex jumble with “truth” buried somewhere within it – ideas that might’ve been working themselves out behind the scenes, hoping to make their way through and into our lives. Also, that modern life’s convenient retellings might sometimes be clouding over the reality of it all with strange assumptions, conclusions or implications. As if our true path, the value it holds, may be obscured.

If the past’s a chain we hold our place in by understanding, what would happen if our grasp of it became skewed, distorted or incomplete?

Notes and References:

Learning all we need to know
The thought surrounding us
Integrity and integration
Does technology oversimplify things?
Shaping the buildings that shape us
Learning from the past, looking to the future
Do the “lies” blind us to truth?
Detaching ourselves from the past
How fast can it all unravel?
How quickly things can change

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