Complete Knowledge

“If the past were recoverable in its totality it would, after all, overwhelm the present.”

— John Hale

I had an idea years ago for a story where all the surviving archaeological secrets that complicate human history were suddenly revealed. Everything which the line of sight keeps hidden: the foundations of an ice age settlement swallowed by the sea; the staggered bones of a lost legion sunk into the desert; every unrecorded explorer’s grave hastily scratched into the tundra; the last surviving copy of a book we thought had burned.

From somewhere in the depths of space, a beam of coordinates is received by our telescopes, and in that instant the globe becomes a cemetary where the dead have risen from their graves. We can only guess at the source of the data, and its motives, but the result is paradoxical: history is broken by uncertainty once every secret is made manifest.

I read the Hale quote much later. It’s most likely I was thinking about this quote by Lovecraft:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

And this one, by Fernand Braudel:

I have always believed that history cannot be really understood unless it is extended to cover the entire human past.