History is what somebody wants us to think happened

I have enjoyed watching Terry Jones‘ (yes, the Monty Python guy) documentaries about the Crusades, Medieval Lives, and the Barbarians. They are all very well done, and give a different perspective than the traditional historical view, for instance pointing out that the way we see barbarians today is largely Roman propaganda, still effective 1500 years later.

(Watch the Crusades, Medieval Lives and the Barbarians online.)

Another excellent documentary is When the Moors Ruled in Europe, showing how the Renaissance – and what we know as modern European culture – was born out of the Islamic Golden Age. (Watch it here.) Islam and Islamic culture has traditionally been seen as an enemy in Europe, and this is a good antidote to Islamophobia and a way to nuance the picture somewhat.

We all know that history is “often what people want us to think happened” as Terry Jones says. History is constructed by those in power, often to protect their own interest.

What do I find when I explore this for myself, when I look at my own stories about the past? Well, I can certainly find how my stories about the past are colored by my situation and attitudes now. And even more importantly, I find that my past is quite literally imagined. It is a mental field creation, and that is the only place it lives.

When I look at my future, I find the same. My scenarios about the future are also imagined, they live only in the mental field.

These stories about the past and future are of course very useful. They help my human self orient and function in the world. If I take them as real and substantial, I act as if they were real and get caught up in drama. If I see them as stories with a practical and limited function only, I can use them as tools.

Seeing that past and future are quite literally imagined, the next question gives itself: What about the present? Is that too a mental field creation?

When I look at the present, I find that my stories about the “present” are always about something that just happened, they are really about the past.

Looking a little closer, I find that my story about the existence of a present hinges on my stories about a past and future. If I take the past and future as real, then the present is the razor’s edge between the two, and it seems very difficult to “stay in the present”.

I may recognize the past and future as imagined and happening in the present, but even here, there is a slight sense of a boundary. A present as opposed to something else.

The stories about the existence and content of a present are also – literally – imagined. They are mental field creations. An imagined overlay on the other sense fields. An interpretation. Again, it can be very useful in a practical sense, but it is still only imagined. There is no absolute “truth” to any of it.

Initial outline…

  • past, future, present
    • an idea of a past, future, present
    • ideas about the content of each
      • infinite number of flavors, perspectives, views possible
    • in both cases
      • literally imaginary, mental field creations
      • very useful but also only imaginary
  • present
    • within past/future/present context, always about something that just happened, a past
    • can only exist within past/future/present context
      • if see that past/future is here now, can still be a slight sense of a boundary
    • recognize the idea of a present – and its content – as imagined
      • idea of past, future and present
      • idea of a present that has boundaries somewhere
      • and ideas about the content of this present
      • all imagined, all mental field crations

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