- Jun 2021
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).
I feel like Western culture has lost so much of our memory traditions that this trite story, which I've seen often repeated, doesn't have the weight it should.
Why can't we simultaneously have the old system AND the new? Lynne Kelly and Margo Neale touch on this in their coinage of the third archive in Songlines.
- Feb 2021
The idea of a purely linear text is a myth; readers stitch together meanings in much more complex ways than we have traditionally imagined; the true text is more of a network than a single, fixed document.
The internet isn't a new invention, it's just a more fixed version of the melange of text, ideas, and thought networks that have existed over human existence.
First there was just the memory and indigenous peoples all over the world creating vast memory palaces to interconnect their thoughts. (cross reference the idea of ancients thinking much the way we do now from the fist episode or so of Literature and History)
Then we invite writing and texts which help us in terms of greater storage without the work or relying solely on memory. This reaches it's pinnacle in the commonplace book and the ideas of Llull's combinatorial thought.
Finally we've built the Internet which interconnects so much more.
But now we need to go back and revisit the commonplace book and memory techniques to tie them altogether. Perhaps Lynne Kelly's concept of The Third Archive is what we should perfect next until another new instantiation comes to augment the system.