On the plane home last week I talked to a sharp Yale historian, and realized we devote far more resources to preserving historical sites, and to making history available via museums, than we do to funding professional historians to make sense of it all. That reminded me of complaints that NASA spends far more on sending instruments into space to collect data than it does on funding scientists to analyze that data. In both cases we collect far more data than ever gets carefully analyzed.
Now part of the explanation must be that the public can more easily see historical sites, museums, and space instruments than historians and data analysts. But that doesn’t seem to me a sufficient explanation – I suspect we are also just more interested in touching the past, and in touching space, than in understanding either. We talk about understanding because that is a modern applause light, but really we just like to touch exotic things. The more we can touch, the further is our reach, and the more important and powerful we must be. I wonder how much more this explains.
Added: We have related desires to see art and sport events in person, up close, and to meet and touch celebrities in person.