Common Knowledge is Fiction

I remember one historian talking about Troy. The siege of Troy is famous thanks to the classic text, the Odyssey, which talked about a lengthy siege.

In the story, the Greeks won the siege by pretending to withdraw, leaving a large wooden horse outside Troy. The Trojans brought the horse inside the city.

Then, at night, Greek soldiers snuck out of the statue and destroyed the city from within.

This historian said for many years, folk saw Troy as a myth. Then they found archaeological evidence of a city where Troy should be – one that was destroyed in a war.

This confused the historian. He didn’t think the Trojans – or anybody – would be dumb enough to accept a mysterious statue without checking it for enemies. He said there must have been more to the story – something that made them suspend judgement on this strange development.

I found that hilarious.

While we have proof Troy existed, we don’t know how the war ended. The only account is in the Odyssey – a tale that includes gods, monsters and magic. This historian never mentioned the more likely scenario – there was no horse. The siege ended a normal way, but someone spread the legend of a cunning ruse.

This historian never even considered that maybe the horse was just as fictitious as the Cyclops.

‘Everyone knows’ Vikings wore horned helmets, even though they didn’t.

Napoleon was average height.

Adding a pinch of salt to a pot of boiling water doesn’t make pasta cook faster. Well, it does, but only by milliseconds.

Columbus didn’t prove the Earth was round – every seafaring people has known that, because you see the mast of a boat first which suggests the Earth is curved.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address probably didn’t win much applause at the time, since it followed a two-hour speech by Edward Everett (a famous speaker at the time) that was apparently sensational. Lincoln’s address gained attention once it was printed – so after the event.

These are common and easily debunked myths. But the point is not to add a few interesting pieces of trivia – the point is to get you to question more.


People think they can imagine what it was like to live in, say, Victorian London or Cleopatra’s Egypt. But how much of your day to day life is reliably captured? Even with smart phones and social media, how well could an advanced future society reconstruct your life?

They’d get some details right.

But they’d get a lot of it wrong.

The work of historians is never done. Surely we’ve mined all the data from 1357 by now? But historians keep finding new clues, new sources of evidence… and speculating in new ways.

All documents are lies, all archaeological clues are misleading and humans are very good at filling in gaps in our knowledge with pure fiction.

We like to think we know what happened during important historical moments. Take battles as an example. The truth would have been buried as military secrets, though. What came out later would be propaganda, not truth.

You don’t know anything beyond superficial details of any culture you haven’t lived in. No amount of documentaries will fix that.

What does that mean for you and your life?

I explain it all in Monster Mind Edukaré.

Because what we don’t know about the world, or think we do know about it, explains a lot.

Growth means going into the unknown.

It means stepping outside the walls of your mind.

This? This is just the start.

Here’s how you continue:

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