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A New Chronology?
March 2, 2004 1:25 AM   Subscribe

The mathematician Anatoly Fomenko is one of a number of Russian academics advancing revisionist chronologies which portray a greatly foreshortened view of European history. He argues that mediaeval and classical histories as we know them today were fabricated in Renaissance times. In his book 'History: Fiction or Science', he 'proves' that Jesus Christ was born in 1053 and crucified in 1086, and that the Old Testament refers to mediaeval events... Fomenko's theories have been debunked, but his ideas have nevertheless gained some currency in Russia: among his supporters is the former chess champion Garry Kasparov. Of course, Fomenko is by no means the first mathematician to grapple with the subject of chronology: indeed, any history must be founded in part on a calculus of dates... Are there any parallels, I wonder, between the spread of theories like Fomenko's and the renewed prevalence of Biblical chronologies in the US, for example: is there some kind of psychological solace in perceiving history on a smaller scale than current academic orthodoxy allows? (more inside).
posted by misteraitch (50 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Fomenko, by the way, is also a notable 'mathematical artist', some of whose graphic works are reminiscent of M.C. Escher's. And I neglected to mention above that I found several of these links by way of Uncle Jazzbeau's Gallimaufrey.
posted by misteraitch at 1:27 AM on March 2, 2004


I'm not sure, but I think his lighting/shading is way off.

Judging by his understanding of light propagation, I don't think I trust his understanding of european history - he ain't no M.C. Escher.

Great post, tho'.
posted by spazzm at 3:38 AM on March 2, 2004


Why do so many mathematicians (a beautiful mind) and chess-players (bobby fischer) go crazy? I'm serious, this is an area ripe for research. There's something very unstable about high levels of male brain intelligence, and I want to know how it works.
posted by dgaicun at 3:45 AM on March 2, 2004


Everyone is crazy dgaicun. Anne Sexton? Zelda Fitzgerald? What is crazy? Let's not be so quick to point the finger. Maybe society is nutty.
posted by ewkpates at 4:43 AM on March 2, 2004


"Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination."
-G.K. Chesterton

"The cases of great mathematicians with mental illness have enormous resonance for modern pop writers and filmmakers. This has to do mostly with the writers'/directors' own prejudices ... The Mentally Ill Mathematician seems now in some ways to be what the Knight Errant, Mortified Saint, Tortured Artist, and Mad Scientist have been for other eras: sort of our Prometheus, the one who goes to forbidden places and returns with gifts we all can use, but he alone pays for."
-David Foster Wallace
posted by fuzz at 4:59 AM on March 2, 2004


The answer is given in "a beautiful mind": pattern recognition. In order to make discoveries, one has to think outside the box in a very extreme way: he has to actively look for relationships everywhere. Of course, only few of these are real, but the process has already started. Fomenko's reconstruction is nothing else but "seeing" patterns.
posted by MzB at 5:33 AM on March 2, 2004


pattern recognition.. fractals must drive them nuts.
posted by stbalbach at 5:39 AM on March 2, 2004


MzB - Good point, but to what extent is this active rather than the inherent expression of a particular sort of cognitive ability ?

[ misteraitch, this is a great post ]

For every major orthodoxy there is one or more alternate theories - usually high on the crank scale - to attract the ignorant, insane and unwary.

I can easily see how the last few centuries of Russian history - replete with real conspiracies, government intrigues, official propaganda and lies of a vast scale, and wholesale bloodshed - has laid a fertile ground receptive to conspiratorial whisperings from every quarter.

There is a simple logical fallacy in play here, the assumption that - if government, society, or orthodoxy lies about some things - then orthodoxy must be lying about many, or most, things.

I find Russian conspiracists and radical historical revisionists more understandable, in view of Russian history, than their American counterparts - the "Creationists" and the Biblical literalists who date the age of the Earth at a few thousand years.

Of these, well..... should things continue down their merry path to hell, this class of Americans who reject wholesale major areas of scientific thought will slowly devolve - and as the US middle class is in cleaved in two by globalization - into a subclass of faith-based primitives who worship Jesus and the magic of cargo (and perhaps even conflate the two) who are ruled, or shepherded, by a class of scientific cognoscenti equivalent in some ways to Wells' morlocks.
posted by troutfishing at 6:05 AM on March 2, 2004


Isn't it amazing how as the math gets more abstract, some mathematicians forget the mundane, such as how to count.
posted by caddis at 6:31 AM on March 2, 2004


Yet another guy to add to my list of academics who keep trying to make bold statements about things outside their field of study.
posted by mikeh at 6:43 AM on March 2, 2004


Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
- from Alice in Wonderland, by (mathematician) Lewis Carroll
posted by CrunchyFrog at 6:45 AM on March 2, 2004


troutfishing-

and as the US middle class is in cleaved in two by globalization - into a subclass of faith-based primitives who worship Jesus and the magic of cargo (and perhaps even conflate the two) who are ruled, or shepherded, by a class of scientific cognoscenti equivalent in some ways to Wells' morlocks.

did you dream that up, or did you find it somewhere?

i find the idea fascinating, and i'd love to read more about it if there are any links you can give me. i'd google for it, but i don't know what i'm looking for, exactly, that wouldn't just give me a bunch of H.G. Wells links.

</hijack>

what i don't understand about all this, is how do we through out a coherent line of history? i mean, we have unbroken records for a few thousand years. if not western culture, than at least in turkey and china. and let's not forget about biblical contemporaries like josephus, and lines of monarchy stretching back almost 2000 years like japan. in fact, doesn't britain's monarchy span back at least a thousand (or will, in about 62 years)?

i think this guy might be on the right track that the dates we attach to things aren't perfect...but other than that he's a crackpot.
posted by taumeson at 6:49 AM on March 2, 2004


woah!

how do we through out

should be

how do we throw out
posted by taumeson at 6:51 AM on March 2, 2004


"In order to make discoveries, one has to think outside the box in a very extreme way"

I think about it the other way 'round. - Crazy people tend to think outside the box. The crazy comes first and sometimes (rarely) some groundbreaking ideas fall out.
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2004


Look.... dinosaurs, okay? I know it's a simplistic way to shoot down the chronology/religious people and is open to argument and all that but fucking dinosaurs, okay? Earth. Older than a few thousands years. A LOT older. There were dinosaurs. Big ones.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:24 AM on March 2, 2004


troutfishing and y6y6y6: Yes, some endowment is needed to get started. But when one is aware of this "gift" and begins (successfully) using it, he cannot stop.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
posted by MzB at 7:28 AM on March 2, 2004


Yet another guy to add to my list of academics who keep trying to make bold statements about things outside their field of study.

Not to be snarky, but I think there are far more non-academics who make bold statements about things wihtout studying any field at all.

While I agree that this chap might be a bit crazy, there have been plenty of great crossover discoveries throughout history.
posted by krunk at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2004


I agree with y6y6y6's last comment, and with MzB's following point as well, and with XQUZYPHYR, and krunk....I'm just so agreeable today. Isn't this just one pleasant, happy clusterf....oops, sorry - I got a little carried away there. But I think everyone here has a unique, valid point : extensions of individuality, each distinct, like snowflakes.

taumeson - you won't find any direct links to that. I made it up. I'm working on this as a component of a larger analysis of the current relationship between science, culture, and religion in the US. The idea itself is actually a hyperbolic or parodic extension of C.P. Snow's "The Two Cultures" theme....I think I first expressed the notion several years ago, just after the 2000 election, on a NYT climate debate forum :

"( NYT climate debate forum, 10/10/2000 ) VortmaxO, I imagine, watches television, and uses a microwave oven -
fruits of science. How is it that so many scientists (and the number is growing) - whose research generates such cool stuff could be so wrong about climate change? Climate change research does not produce such a "product"....But, remember, theoretical physics produced little "product" until the day that it spawned the atomic bomb.

Is it necessary to believe in science to function in modern society? I have a relative who sends his children to a school which teaches that the world was created, by the christian god, about 6,000 years ago and that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time!....

At a certain point, as our beliefs about the world decouple from what science teaches, we become reduced to the status of aborigines gawking at radios or of pacific island cargo cultists dressing up as US GI's to bring down planeloads of goods. We become less than "primitives" who tend to have, at least, pragmatic views, and religious cosmologies far more sophisticated and nuanced than our own. We become delusional."


Them's fightin' words.....The PH of that rhetorical acid will dissolve an entire average human in under a minute. It sure shut my opponent up.
posted by troutfishing at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2004


There is a simple logical fallacy in play here, the assumption that - if government, society, or orthodoxy lies about some things - then orthodoxy must be lying about many, or most, things.

Bingo. And this fallacy runs rampant right here on MetaFilter.

But trout, old fish, you mean the Eloi, not the Morlocks. The Morlocks were the subterranean, ape-like vermin.
posted by languagehat at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2004


XQUZYPHYR, dinosaur "fossils" were planted in the ground by God to test us. [/childhood religious instruction]

A shortened chronology makes our portion of the timeline relatively larger, which lets some of us feel more significant.

Math, chess, and insanity. I believe (based on being a computer programmer and chess player and associating with same) that the correlation is due to the ability -- and willingness -- to obsessively, almost maniacally, focus on abstract, almost meaningless details. There was supposedly a study (which I can't track down online) which compared chess masters to grandmasters and found the difference lay not in talent, but in degree of obsession, or "love" of the game.
posted by callmejay at 8:28 AM on March 2, 2004


I'm reminded of a bit of dialogue from a Terry Pratchett novel, "Small Gods." The characters were discussing the local band of philosophers, and one guy says (I'm paraphrasing), "They're way out there, come up with 99 ideas, all totally useless."

"Why do you keep them around then?"

"Oh, because that 100th one can be a real humdinger."
posted by yesster at 8:31 AM on March 2, 2004


troutfishing: From 'In The Beginning Was the Command Line' by Neal Stephenson:

Contemporary culture is a two-tiered system, like the Morlocks and the Eloi in H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, except that it's been turned upside down. In The Time Machine the Eloi were an effete upper class, supported by lots of subterranean Morlocks who kept the technological wheels turning. But in our world it's the other way round. The Morlocks are in the minority, and they are running the show, because they understand how everything works. The much more numerous Eloi learn everything they know from being steeped from birth in electronic media directed and controlled by book-reading Morlocks.
posted by Nick Jordan at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2004


But trout, old fish, you mean the Eloi, not the Morlocks. The Morlocks were the subterranean, ape-like vermin.

I don't think he does you know, the Eloi were just the flock, the Morlocks provided for them and kept them fed up for slaughter. (Incidentally, that's pretty good site for - legally - free books.)
posted by biffa at 8:40 AM on March 2, 2004


Why do so many mathematicians ... go crazy?

Wait a minute here. Other than Nash (who has yet to enter the pantheon), and Cantor (the victim of mathematical persecution), who among famous mathematicians has gone crazy?

(Not defending chess players here -- I know about Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy.)
posted by anewc2 at 9:14 AM on March 2, 2004


Nick Jordan - interesting. (and furthermore, blah blah blah.....) I think the comparison of our current societal relations to Wells' fantasy probably has been made many times, but tying it to the cargo-cult theme....it's an XD38 thing (hee hee). Neal Stephenson's idea there is an almost direct reworking of C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures" theme, although I've read that the theme far predated Snow - at least as far back as Wells, but probably even back as far as Plato and even further. It's a timeless theme, that of the keepers of knowledge (secret or not) who maintain the system which provides for the naive, ignorant, or merely unschooled masses. Going back far enough, these keepers of knowledge - often secret - would have been mainly priestly classes who studied the movement of the heavens for signs of the future and for direct scientific prediction - of eclipses, as a timekeeping method (as the first proto-scientists) and even - a la Graham Hancock - for a "long count" calender of many thousands of years (such as the Mayan) kept for mysterious purposes (Hancock has plenty of ideas on this). This class would mediate between the human and divine worlds and propitiate divine wrath to stave off cataclysm. I think we are coming now almost full circle - scientists are being dragged, kicking and screaming, inevitably into the role of a priestly class dispensing magic and the cornucopia of plenty we in the developed world all enjoy (at the moment, anyway).

_____________________________________________

biffa - the main differences I see with what's starting to emerge is 1) our "eloi" are self selecting and - in fact - some of them are (though I think they are overall a bit less wealthy than average) fantastically rich, and some are even powerful politicians. But I think my finger to the wind accurately points out where this trend is headed. 2) Our "morelocks" are mostly benign, not cannibalistic at all. In general, I think scientists exemplify much of what is best about human nature - very unlike Wells' monsters.

anewc2 - I don't know if they are more inclined to insanity, but mathematicians are as a group edgy and excitable and, occasionally - as in the case of a succesful proof of a major unsolved theorem - groups of mathematicians can erupt into the temporary madness of celebratory riots.
posted by troutfishing at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2004


Does Kepler qualify as a mathematician?
posted by yerfatma at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2004


Wait a minute here. Other than Nash (who has yet to enter the pantheon), and Cantor (the victim of mathematical persecution), who among famous mathematicians has gone crazy?
Well, there's Godel.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:36 AM on March 2, 2004


Maybe the original (and forgotten today) meaning of a formula "Years of Grace" differs from one which is accepted today. Maybe it was "years in Greece", "Greek years" or something like this. It is possible also that there is a relation between terms Grace, Greece and Christ. Was the name of Christ associated in some sense with a name of country "Greece"? For example Christ
religion = "Greece religion"?


Can't really give tosh like that much credence...
posted by dash_slot- at 9:38 AM on March 2, 2004


More crazy mathematicians:
Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem proved the limitations logic, and layed the foundations for exploring these limits. He was paranoid about being poisoned. Because of this, he wouldn't eat, and died of malnutrition.

Theoretical physicist/mathematician Ludwig Boltzmann was bipolar, and hanged himself during one of his bouts of depression.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 9:39 AM on March 2, 2004


XQUZYPHYR, dinosaur "fossils" were planted in the ground by God to test us. [/childhood religious instruction]

actually, callmejay, dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark, but were likely killed in all the wars and conflicts leading to the time of King David.

How else could the enormous beasts have built Stonehenge?
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:41 AM on March 2, 2004


I don't know, I think I like Fomenko's stuff better than Escher's. I mean, Escher's definitely the better draftsman, but Fomenko's prints have actual mood to them, plus he's willing to do batty things like drop a Lichtenstein brushstroke in the middle of his geometric explorations or shove an Escher-standard geometry + galaxy composition into pulp-fantasy-cover-land by sticking a wizard in the picture. He seems more affecting and more fun. I'd like to see his works in person sometime.

I don't like the dice pictures so much, but I don't mind the light sources being inconsistent, because as far as I can tell the pictures amount to a great big fuck you to two-point perspective.
posted by furiousthought at 9:42 AM on March 2, 2004


misteraitch, this is the kind of stuff I come to Metafilter for. Great post!

About mad mathematicians, my theory is that the more you think about abstract things (like higher mathematics), the less you can rely on down-to-earth, common sense. Once you have trained yourself not to listen to that inner voice of common sense, you can make great discoveries... or great lapses of judgment.
posted by Triplanetary at 10:07 AM on March 2, 2004



XQUZYPHYR, dinosaur "fossils" were planted in the ground by God to test us. [/childhood religious instruction]

actually, callmejay, dinosaurs were on Noah's Ark, but were likely killed in all the wars and conflicts leading to the time of King David.


Um, I think we all know by now that the fossil record was created by the big dinosaurs who couldn't swim during the flood drowning and crushing all the lilttle trilobytes. Duh.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:30 AM on March 2, 2004


Why do so many mathematicians (a beautiful mind) and chess-players (bobby fischer) go crazy?
you can make great discoveries... or great lapses of judgment.
: your mind's wealth... or filling your mind with too many thoughts.

XQUZYPHYR to your derailed statement, not all religious groups accept dinosaurs as non existent. Have attended many churches that recognized them with Earth's older age. Would add more but not the place.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:08 AM on March 2, 2004


So are people really saying that there are no crazy artists? I'm no art-historian, but that just seems, well, unlikely.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 11:41 AM on March 2, 2004


Those Noah's Ark pseudoscientific explanations are just infuriating to me. Listening to someone try to "explain" how a boat of any size could carry two of everything from elephants to aphids makes me want to shove a boot in their nether-regions.

I have a good friend who is somewhat of a father-figure to me, seminary trained and ordained minister in the Baptist faith.

If you ask him about how it was feasible, he doesn't break out charts and graphs and make gigantic assumptions, he simply says "It was a miracle, God made all the animals fit" and leaves it at that.

At least I can have respect for that point of view because it displays conviction. I don't agree with it, but it is at least unashamedly appealing to their beliefs and admitting it is not a logical or reasonable event.

But the "Noah apologists" that try to explain how the worldwide flood wasn't really a flood and wasn't really worldwide and how the boat that had to hold 2 of everything (and 7, or 14, of the ruminants) really didn't have to hold 2 of everything and maybe wasn't even a boat.

I hate those people and refuse to even speak with them anymore.

This link should be required reading for any Noah discussions.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:12 PM on March 2, 2004


biffa: You're probably right; it's been a long time since I've read the book. Sorry, old fish!
*tosses troutfishing back in stream*
posted by languagehat at 1:16 PM on March 2, 2004


That "cargo" reference made me think of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel book. It was a New Guinean umbrella term.
posted by john at 2:29 PM on March 2, 2004


languagehat - thanks, that hook in my mouth sure hurt! *swims upstream to spawn*

Ynoxas - I sense bitter experience in your words. I just think of it as a form of collective insanity and leave it at that. My brother is one of those, BTW.

john - I was thinking of the famous Cargo Cults. (I suspect Diamond was referring to these as well)
posted by troutfishing at 2:46 PM on March 2, 2004


Re our little side discussion about crazy mathematicians:
I think mathematics leads to insanity, and insane people are interested in studying it.

When I was studying math I became totally insane. I could barely walk without overanalyzing everything. Everything becomes binary and absolute, and it's hard to relate to people who are kind of talking about nothing all of the time. It's probably hard to understand what drives mathematicians, and its almost hard for me to remember how it felt to be studying these sorts of questions, and to constantly have really difficult problems churning through your brain. Your brain begins to work differently and more intensely, and it becomes harder to separate your conscious from your subconscious. You can solve problems in your sleep, and remember them when you wake up. You can push yourself to become much smarter than you are in these senses, but you do lose your grip on the surrounding world, and it is hard to relate to people. Many, many of my math professors were totally insane.

Ted Kazinsky anyone?
posted by goneill at 3:04 PM on March 2, 2004


Trout, (can I call you Trout?) I was with you then until you mentioned Graham Hancock. Him and Von Daniken make a great team.

Anyway, the russian guy didn't mention the Cornish - must be nuts!
posted by lerrup at 3:16 PM on March 2, 2004


troutfishing,

Ah! He very well might have. That was the setup to the whole book. A New Guinean asked him the question, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" 25 years laster he writes this 400+ page answer.
posted by john at 4:33 PM on March 2, 2004


goneill is the authentic voice on this thread, I thunk.

lerrup - sure, of course. Don't take me so seriously! - I'm not confusing Graham Hancock-land with hard science. I should have been clearer on that. I used to worship Von Daniken...as a 10 year old. But - for me - Hancock's oeuvre is in speculative territory. It will be a long time, if ever, until he is vindicated or disproved. Most likely it will be a bit of both - isn't that in the nature of speculative quasi-scientific journalism? Such as Hancock serve to push the bounds of the conceivable. But they are clearly not scientists.

john - that's what I thought. Diamond's friend's question stuck in my head too : it's subtle (or quite blunt, but if so, unavoidable). I'm a fellow Diamond fan. But I didn't mention "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in relation to cargo because I'd run across the concept a number of years prior.
posted by troutfishing at 8:16 PM on March 2, 2004


When I was studying math I became totally insane. I could barely walk without overanalyzing everything. Everything becomes binary and absolute, and it's hard to relate to people who are kind of talking about nothing all of the time. It's probably hard to understand what drives mathematicians, and its almost hard for me to remember how it felt to be studying these sorts of questions, and to constantly have really difficult problems churning through your brain. Your brain begins to work differently and more intensely, and it becomes harder to separate your conscious from your subconscious. You can solve problems in your sleep, and remember them when you wake up. You can push yourself to become much smarter than you are in these senses, but you do lose your grip on the surrounding world, and it is hard to relate to people.

Interesting. I got me a math degree too (only a BSc, so perhaps I stopped just in time), but my experience at the time was pretty much the opposite.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:20 AM on March 3, 2004


stavros - perhaps that's why you didn't go on to a career as a mathematician.
posted by troutfishing at 7:23 AM on March 3, 2004


Neither did I. I wasn't a talented math student, but a crazy one.
posted by goneill at 8:46 AM on March 3, 2004


Damn, goneill. Blunt and wonderfully descriptive. Nice job!

Obsessive mentation.

It's a self-induced, savant-flavored autism - usually accompanied by massive disdain for everything and everyone peripheral to The Problem. Everything outside of The Problem becomes meaningless and frivolous. Purpose is defined by it's relationship to The Problem.

It is counterfeit, irrational, delusional - and very addictive.

What? Who me? Of course not! I can quit anytime! But why should I, you featherbrained bitch!
posted by Opus Dark at 8:23 PM on March 3, 2004


The Problem™ - make it your only problem.
posted by troutfishing at 8:52 PM on March 3, 2004


stavros - perhaps that's why you didn't go on to a career as a mathematician.

Spot on. I think. That whole decade is a little hazy....
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:49 PM on March 3, 2004


Well, that's a common generational experience. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything.
posted by troutfishing at 8:33 PM on March 4, 2004


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