Monday, December 21, 2009

FW: technology improved knowledge? (was Friday humor; was A book of possible intersst)

From Autocat

On Sun, 20 Dec 2009 13:50:09 -0700, Laurence S. Creider wrote:

>What we are doing is outsourcing our memory and knowledge (literally). Because we can store knowledge and the results of experience outside of our own heads, we can devote more mental activity (and "space"?) to discovering new things. Further, our knowledge need not die with us. Sowhat we individually remember is only a small portion of the accumulated knowledge. So this is outsourcing we need.
>
>There are losses. No one in western culture since at least the 12th century can know and integrate all knowledge. We have gradually moved from knowing a small number of texts deeply and through many encounters to racing through massive amounts of information (the so-call reading revolution of the 18th century from intensive to extensive reading). I think these developments make the acquisition of wisdom harder and rarer.

Socrates discusses this in the Phaedrus. Sorry for the extended quote, but I can't figure out a decent link. Socrates talks about it by describing a wonderful Egyptian myth of the discovery of writing (Both quotes from http://books.mirror.org/plato/phaedrus/):

"SOCRATES: At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality."

And then he continues with:

"SOCRATES: I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and they cannot protect or defend themselves."

And this makes sense. Whenever you are trying to understand something, questions must arise in your mind if you are listening intently: "Do I understand the argument correctly?" "What about...?" "This part doesn't make sense" and so on and so on. You want to ask questions constantly if you are an active listener.

With face-to-face communication (dialogs) this can occur but you cannot ask questions of a written text. This is why Socrates told his students not to write (which Plato among a few others, didn't follow, thank goodness!). But Socrates' criticisms have always remained true because a printed text is fixed and it is ridiculous to ask questions of a book. The way this has been "solved" is with other published materials. There undoubtedly will be later books or articles that raise interesting questions, correct errors, and so on, but that is difficult, and is a main aspect of research. Some of the experiments with new technology attempt to get around this. Two
that I can think of immediately are the book Gamer Theory at:
http://www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/

and I believe a more successful attempt is with Lessing's Golden Notebook
at: http://thegoldennotebook.org/book/p1/

The commentaries and updates are held within the same item and in effect, solves the problems of Socrates. Who knows what there will be in the future?

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