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The Phaedrus

28 Jan
The Phaedrus is a discussion between Socrates and Phaedrus as recorded by Plato.  I found this portion referenced in a comment to the New York Times article “The Dilemma of Being a Cyborg” by Carina Chocano.  The article is a worthy read as well.  I found it interesting that already back in Plato’s time, there was a concern that memory would be eroded when it was offloaded to secondary storage (such as the written word).
The article speaks to being human is to forget, something we all do, and to reminisce. We generally do this gracefully, over time.  When we entrust our memory to a device and the device fails, we lose our memories completely all at once, something that is out of our normal context. 
The commenter to the article mentioned that this was not a new thought… that Plato had recorded it a long time ago…

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.

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in humanity, technology, thought

 

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