Alex Rosenberg, How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories
A new book by an established philosopher of science challenges the value of narrative explanations, of history, and of purposeful action more generally.
Historians, it seems, have been doing it wrong. They have been under the spell of believing that people act with purpose, and that by studying history we can understand human motivations and actions. They think, furthermore, that we can tell narratives that accurately describe cause and effect in the past. In truth, says the author, history can teach us nothing, or next to nothing, and we cannot know the motivations or purposes behind the actions of others. Narratives, Alex Rosenburg says, are wrong, or almost always wrong.
In the style of much modern popular science, Rosenberg pulls the reader along with insights from laboratory experiments and a teasing sort of suspense of the type “Is X true: “find out the answer in the next chapter.” But it takes 160 pages of this before one encounters his thesis that humans are not rational, that...