Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Couple Of Thoughts

First, Photon Courier linked to this post, which asks "How Are Your Economic Theories Affected by the Way You Grew Up?," that FLG thought was interesting.

FLG remains steadfast in his belief that it's all about time horizons or, put another way, how much you value the future.

Second, an idea popped into FLG's head the other day while walking the dog. He was pondering Phaedrus -- is it possible that the invention of writing was a bad thing?

In that dialogue, Socrates says:
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.

There's a lot that can be said about this passage, but FLG has, given his rather simple mind, a simplistic take. The primary utility of writing is that it allows people to express ideas across time and space. But perhaps what is most meaningful to people is being in a certain time and place with other people. More specifically, perhaps what is most meaningful to people is expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas in a certain time and place with other people. Why? Because the full meaning of their thoughts, feelings, and ideas cannot be expressed explicitly in words. Body language, facial reactions, the tone and cadence of speech, the back and forth of a conversation are required to express meaning fully. Thus, writing creates the illusion that we can fully express ideas across time and space.

Now, writing, which FLG will admit is fundamental not only to this blog's existence but also the entirety Western Civilization, has a lot going for it. The question FLG is raising is this -- What if all that is a distraction from meaningful lives? What if all our history, knowledge, and technology creates an illusion that we can find meaning in things other than sharing our thoughts and feelings with those who are in the same time and place. What if other times and places don't matter all that much?

FLG realizes this probably sounds more like Prof. Deneen or somebody else over at Front Porch Republic, and in fact FLG did have to read Phaedrus in Deneen's class. If you are going to go to the core of it, what first made the sort of deracinated, community-less existence they are so concerned about possible is writing. The question really is whether giving up all the advances of modernity, most importantly the greater health outcomes and longer lifespans, are worth the increase in meaning, assuming one agrees with the premise that meaning derives almost exclusively from being in the same time and place with other human beings.

Anyway, FLG is fully in favor of writing. It's not like the jury is out for him, but he thought he had an interesting argument with himself while walking the dog and wanted to share.

1 comment:

Withywindle said...

Some of my research relates to this insight. Send email for more.

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