More important than facts

In the age of information and search engines, what could rise above facts?

I’ve been on several walking tours, but Johnnie’s Edinburgh tour stood out. Johnnie made his tour a vivid theatrical experience, reenacting scenes from Scottish medieval history to make them come alive in our eyes. He didn’t choose the most historically significant facts (no mention of William Wallace or King Bruce), but ones that afforded him the best performances (Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn!). Besides, he elicited more laughs on the tour than the average stand-up comedian.

The temple complex at Ħaġar Qim (pronounced hadzar-eem) in Malta dates back to about 3500 BC and is among the most ancient religious sites on earth. Today, a museum welcomes visitors to the site with a 20 minute video that brings it site alive with 3D animation. A nearby display houses several miniature models that let visitors carve flint stone, drag rocks over logs of wood and get a feel for life in that remote era. Despite it being small and rather obscure, I regard it as one of the best museum experiences in the world.

Any historical book on World War I would give you the facts about the effect of the Industrial Revolution on war, trench warfare and how tens of thousands of lives each side lost lost in numerous battle. And yet, way more popular than any of those books is the Hardcore History podcast, where Dan Carlin describes crucial battles from records of the soldiers on the ground. A historian mainly concerns himself with facts. But Carlin would be the first to tell you that he is no historian. He likens himself to a street performer (much like Johnnie) who happens to perform on the internet.

In the 21st century, if you purvey facts for a living, you might have to rethink your profession. But our inability to understand facts will sustain performers and experiences that bring them alive in our eyes.

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