Seems like whenever I think of something interesting to write, one way or the other, it ends up being related to Google. I am developing a fascination with what they can do with all the data they are collecting. I am becoming to Google, what Dr. Hugo Strange was to Batman, a psychologist, so consumed by analyzing Batman that he ends up trying to be Batman. But I digress…
Before we get to Google, I have to tell you about Anatoly T. Fomenko, a Russian Mathematician, who makes the bold claim that the timing of historical events, Chronology, as we know it is wrong (Sir Isaac Newton makes this claim in a paper too). Fomenko asserts that history is off by about 1000 years. Cultures we think to have existed say 200BC is actually 800 AD. Ancient Egypt, ancient Rome all existed but a lot later than we have come to believe. More specifically, the claim is that the clergy in the 16th and 17th centuries duplicated medieval European history into biblical history. Documents describing the life of kings of ancient Rome are actually documents describing German kinds in 1300. The most controversial claim that falls out is that Jesus Christ was born somewhere near year 1000. Before you guys go “no friggin way, you’ve watched the Da Vinci Code too many times”, let me be the first to say that I am not interested about the accuracy of the claims. You can buy the book here, and form an opinion on it yourself (but I warn you, this is heavy heavy reading). What I am very much interested is what gave Fomenko the initial idea, and the methodology by which Fomenko reaches his claims.
The initial idea comes from analyzing lunar eclipses. There are working laws of physics that allow astronomers to predict exactly when and where on the world an eclipse will happen. We get news of this all the time. They can go backwards in time as well, and match all the recorded eclipses to what the theory predicts. But Fomenko notices (in the works of astronomer Robert Newton) a serious mismatch. Eclipses that were recorded to have happened between 700-1300 AD show lunar behavior that vastly differs from theory and could only be explained by a mysterious non-gravitational force applied on the earth-moon system. However, this mysterious force completely disappears, and everything matches theory, if the dates of the eclipses were wrong and each one actually about 1000 years later than claimed. This surprises Fomenko and he gets obsessed with analyzing chronology.
But he’s a lot smarter than many of us, and devises a statistical method that can determine whether two pieces of text are written in the same time period. Now this is very important, and touches the crux of what I am talking about. Language changes over time. The words we use change. New words are added and some words disappear. The kinds of sentences we construct change over time, and all those changes can be quantified. In a way, the syntax of a document, not its semantics, can be used to determine when it is written. This sounds reasonable and acceptable mathematically. As a result, Fomenko takes a documents said to be written in the times of ancient Rome, and compares it to a documents many years later and concludes that they are statistically from the same time period. There are chapters and chapters comparing kings of ancient Rome to kings of Germany, saying that these two kings were actually the same person. This sounds very reasonable and acceptable mathematically, but accepting is socially is another matter. To make it socially acceptable, the mathematics needs to be extremely accurate. Can it be? Is there a company out there who has the computing power, the smarts, to take vast amounts of text data and analyze it statistically?
Enter Google. They have more data and computing power than Anatoly Fomenko could have ever imagined having. So can this statistical method be improved to get the time interval more and more accurate? Can they date text to within 50 years, 10 years, 2 years? This kind of statistics could shed a lot of light into what historical document is fake, what document is real. It would solve a lot of the world’s problems about how history really happened. Google can, in effect, take history from the hands of historians, and place it in the hands of mathematicians. And that my friends, would be an earth shattering event. Only Google could do this. It would start a whole different way of debating history, one which is more scientific and less ideological. This is a big big step towards organizing the worlds information.
There was a time in history where it was unheard of to discuss human origins in biology class. Who knows, maybe in the near future, human history will be taught in statistics class?