I read. It’s what I’m likely doing if I’m not doing something else. (I used to think I read a lot, but Goodreads fixed that misapprehension – that’s neither here nor there.) I tend to flip between fiction and non-fiction, and lately much of my non-fiction has been historical, in one way or another. History is, by definition, in the past – and distinguishing between what’s obvious in hindsight and what was obvious at the time, well, it’s hard.
I recently read an article by a game designer about conspiracy thinking (yes, that conspiracy, but that’s not the important bit). The author focused on conspiracy thinking through the lens of game design, and apophenia – our tendency to see connections, or intent, where none exist.
This got me thinking about some of the historical stories we tell. That World War One was catalyzed by the killing of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The impact of Mohamed Bouazizi on sociopolitical events in 2010/2011. David Cameron calling for the referendum on the UKs membership in the EU.
We’ve collectively constructed these stories after events to explain events. If we assume that the stories are true, and that the causal links they assert are causal, not just coincidental, they’re not the only stories we could have chosen to tell.
If someone had told us one of those stories as those events were unfolding around us – how would we recognize it as more than just a story? How would we recognize it a possible future? A likely future?