19.307 contemplation and computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 08:19:00 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 307.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005 08:15:35 +0100
         From: Steven D.Krause <skrause_at_emich.edu>
         Subject: Re: 19.304 contemplation and computing

Of course, the problem of technology and "critical thinking" (or just
"thinking") has been a problem for thousands of years. A key passage
comes from Plato's *Phaderus* when Socrates tells the story of how
the Egyptian god Theuth invented literacy (oh, and also invented
"draughts and dice"-- an interesting connection with writing and
reading, if you ask me), and how Thamus, also an Egyptian god,
criticizes this new-fangled writing. Here's the passage I have in mind:

"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."

Substitute "digital communication" for "letters" and I think you can
see how these things fit together.


Steven D. Krause
Associate Professor, Department of English Language and Literature
Eastern Michigan University * Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Received on Thu Sep 29 2005 - 03:33:38 EDT

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