Listening to a lecturer is very helpful if the listener already has a fair grasp of a topic and uses it as an opportunity to critique and refine their own opinions. I've been to lots of lectures in my time and I found it very counterintuitive that I got more out of lectures when I already had a deep understanding of the topic. They are much better used to figure out what a smart person's perspective is rather than for picking up facts (better done from a reference manual or other book).
I might have a bias towards technical lectures with a few equations on the board, but most students in a lecture hall that I've seen don't understand the subject well enough to get much out of the lecture. It becomes more a process of reading the slides to them rather than anything that a lecturer is needed for. There will be three types of students in the hall, in order of best to worst performance; not taking notes because they already understand the topic; taking notes to aid them in private study, and not taking notes because although they don't understand the lecture they also don't know how to use notes in private study later on.
This is why college courses assign readings....
I try to understand during the lecture (there's little to revise where I succeed). I can do this while taking notes.
In the past, I'd take semantic notes, based on my understanding, flagging keys, as an aide de memoire to trigger my memory rather than be it. But now I try to follow the precise words, in case there's some nuance missing from my understanding.
When you discuss something complex with a teacher in an interactive way, the teacher can probe for subtle gaps in your knowledge to make your understanding more complete.
With reading, you build a foundation of knowledge with many gaps and you just hope that they will consolidate over time but the foundation is weaker and so you can't synthesise that knowledge as well until those gaps are closed off through random learning events.
It requires a more flexible kind of intelligence and a modest personality to be able to constantly keep adjusting your old knowledge.
This is key, we've made some progress in punctuation since his day, probably since Shakespears too. The greeks were experimenting with full stops but others like spaces in words
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_(punctuation) ) came much later. We still can't encode emotions in textual information well but we have other methods to convey important concepts, we can make them stand out or have a list of bullet points, these weren't available to Socrates.
I wonder how he'd feel about audio books.
Emojis? The interrobang? Sarcasm?
You can pick up a book on anything (calculus, computer science, philosophy, etc) and just due to information-density, get lost in the minutia. A good teacher stresses the important points so you can get a broader understanding. Then you can go back for the minutia when it is needed.
1) Even within the narrative, Socrates isn't "speaking". He is creating a fictional narrative set in Ancient Egypt where he believed writing originated (wrongly, but that isn't the point).
2) On a second level, Socrates didn't even write this. This is part of Plato's work. Plato was a student of Socrates, and maybe is describing something Socrates really said. Or maybe not. He may be simply giving his own opinion and attributing it to Socrates, who had a higher reputation.
We'll never really know how much the human Socrates matches Plato's literary character. But the reason for that is that Socrates never did write down his teachings, whereas Plato did.
It would be a funny old world in which Socrates had no objection to writing, but never wrote anything, but Plato did have a an objection to writing, but wrote lots of stuff, including lies about Socrates objecting to writing.
But then again, this is a funny old world.
And there's also The Clouds by Aristophanes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Clouds). And in my sometimes I suspect it might be the most accurate portrayal. But we'll never know.
A -> B != B -> A. In other words, you can't draw an affirmative conclusion from a negative premise.
You can say that if Socrates never wrote then we would not have any surviving texts. This is logical. But you can't turn that around and conclud that the fact that we have no surviving texts attributed to Socrates means he never wrote / was against writing. This logical proposition is not closed, there are unaccounted variables for why we may not have any texts. You can only propose the contrapositive, in that if we did have surviving texts from Socrates, it means he wrote.
You could even argue that I shouldn't have said "he never wrote anything", because we just can't definitely know. I was just being brief.
Pythagorean mathematics and science were developing rapidly, alongside spiritual doctrines about harmony in numbers and the cosmos. Even today, Pythagorean ideas are incredibly predictive (e.g., small integer ratios constituting consonance and dissonance). However, even then, there were limits to the ideas. For instance, a triangle with the side of 1 has a hypotenuse of the square root of 2. They may have thought there was more to learn and committing the ideas (which had spiritual meanings) to words may have created non-empirical doctrines. For instance, Pythagoras was familiar with many religious traditions and saw the role of books in creating unbreakable doctrines.
If Pythagoras had committed his ideas to writing, he could have been wrong or incomplete about his knowledge. Since he didn't do this, all of his influential concepts remain completely commensurable with modern science and mathematics. That's huge. As a result, those who wish to can still take spiritual inspiration from Pythagorean ideas about cosmic harmony without violating empirical reality.
"'Tell him the truth, then, Cebes,' he [Socrates] said: 'I made them [poems and a hymn], not because I wanted to compete with him [Aesop] or his verses! I knew that wouldn't be easy-but because I was trying to find out the meaning of certain dreams and fulfil a sacred duty, in case perhaps it was that kind of art they were ordering me to make. They were like this, you see: often in my past life the same dream had visited me, now in one guise, now in another, but always saying the same thing: "Socrates," it said, "make art and practise it." Now in earlier times I used to assume that the dream was urging and telling me to do exactly what I was doing: as people shout encouragement to runners, so the dream was telling me to do the very thing that I was doing, to make art, since philosophy is a very high art form, and that was what I was making. But now that the trial was over and the festival of the god was preventing my death, I thought that in case it was art in the popular sense that the dream was commanding me to make, I ought not to disobey it, but should make it; as it was safer not to go off before I'd fulfilled a sacred duty, by making verses and thus obeying the dream.'"
One distinction that I do want to make (that was made to me as an undergrad studying both Classics and Philosophy) is that we do want to remember that Phaedo is essentially third-hand information. It is written by Plato based on his understanding and editing of conversations he had with students of Socrates.
My professors always made this very clear and stressed that while it is common to consider things in the Platonic dialogues as Socratic canon, they were not, in fact, written by Socrates at all or in his immediate time period; as I recall, they were written a few decades after his death.
The philosophic Socrates is what Plato made.
A few others (Xenophon etc) also wrote of Socrates, but the philosopher Socrates is 99% Plato's writings.
It's like the question of whether X or Y was the real Shakespeare.
Even if so, the only thing we care about Shakespeare is his plays, and those don't change if the real name of the person who wrote them was another (Borges makes that point somewhere, iirc -- actually Shakespeare himself makes it too: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet").
"Socrates" people read / care about for 2 millennia -> what Plato wrote.
"Shakespeare" people read / watch / care about for several centuries -> the plays and poems themselves
Before calculators, students would memorise times tables.
Before Google, students would need to learn about the world.
Before Siri, students would need to learn how to write well enough for Google to interpret their questions.
A few more iterations and no-one will need to think, we can just be shipped around in mobility scooters like in Wall-E. If a machine can make better decisions, why should we even have the right to decide anything?
Sure, that's an extreme position, but this is partly where the concern over writing came from - as new ways of processing, storing, and exchanging information arise we lose some of the old (and more human) ways.
I disagree. A few more iterations people would think more about how to think and improve thinking, and focus more on the root problem rather than nitty-gritty problems along the way.
"Sons are seldom as good men as their fathers; they are generally worse, not better"--Homer, The Odyssey
> Before Google, students would need to learn about the world.
What does that even mean? Read it in encyclopedias? Travel? If it's travel, then there's your answer - most people couldn't, and if it's encyclopedia's - how is that any better than Google?
"Real knowledge, Socrates said, can only be gathered via dialog: a give and take of questions and answers where ideas are interrogated until the knowledge is truly understood. But with a book, that cannot be done unless one has access to the author."
What I have finally been able to articulate for myself is that education is not information, it is the effect of a relationship and practice.
When you isolate information in the dynamic, it describes how ostensibly educated people can be starkly ignorant of facts, and how autodidacts aren't reliable no matter what truths they might be in possession of. The internet gives us unlimited information, with only some means to practice it if you code, and it simulates relationships that do not materially exist. It is making us stupid in a way we can't readily appreciate, which is perhaps what being stupid itself means.
The perspective doesn't matter much other than to give some mental respite from the nonsense of echo chambers and social hall of mirrors most people seem to be preoccupied with, but then again, that is the comfort philosophy was meant to provide, so YMMV.
Unfortunately, I almost never see the secondary effect. With all the time people save from using computers, we're not doing all the things we complained we didn't have time for. We're just able to waste more of it, in new ways.
He relied on his followers to improve on his ideas and transmit those improved versions, and perhaps they did. However knowledge does get lost (e.g. how to read Cretan Hieroglyphics). It's good to insure against that.
There are advantages to live discussion but it doesn't preclude making occasional records in the form of books. Why not do both?
Contra the article, books do contain knowledge. It's knowledge in the form of 'know that' rather than 'know how to'. Yet if we could somehow obtain science textbooks from the future, we could use those books to recreate advances in knowledge in a much shorter space of time, i.e. we could bridge the gap to know-how. So books do have value beyond entertainment and recording historical facts.
Even if you understand the words completely, in every field there's a distinction between "yeah that's the proper way the book says to do it" and "this is what we do in real life".
For example, my car's owner manual says you should let the engine idle for 5 minutes after driving to let it cool down, and my state driver's manual says I need to do an inspection (all lights, etc) before each drive -- but come on.
However, those are small drawbacks and are overwhelmed by the benefits.
Furthermore, the existence of the problem does not mean emoticons and tags are necessary for its solution. The existence of a rich literature prior to their introduction strongly suggests they are not.
Now conversations aren’t perfect either, it’s up to us to direct and ask questions when we seek better understanding. However writing doesn’t give us that ability. On the other hand with writing, given our laziness in forming thought, we can ponder and distill thoughts till they are worthy of committing to record. Speech can also be well thought out and meticulous though (ex. Vidal vs Buckley), so it’s not confined to writing, but we are more used to it in writing because debating is not prominent whereas writing is.
Just because written language can be argued over, that does not make spoken and written communication equivalent in that regard.
Writing does far more than just time-shifting. Handling complexity is one important benefit. Disseminating information accurately is another.
Debating is not prominent partly because it is not efficient (even in law, the amount of verbal debate is dwarfed by the amount of written communication, which is necessary in its own right as well as necessary to support what verbal debate does happen.)
The modern world is inconceivable without near-universal literacy, and it seems very odd to have to defend that point on HN.
More importantly the claim wasn’t that Socrates was absolutely right, it was that he had a legit point when he argued that there are inferior aspects. I however acknowledge these drawbacks are dwarfed by the benefits conferred by writing. So yes writing is great, no doubt, but it does lose something while gaining us a lot more in return.
Never the less, I admire his steadfast refusal to write even while acknowledging we are poorer for not having his thoughts first hand. Yet, he nor anyone else owed or owes it to us.
> ... an excerpt from The Phaedrus, a dialog between Socrates and someone named — wait for it — Phaedrus...
The only reason we know that Socrates was against writing is because Plato (et al.) wrote those thoughts down.
Also, the dialog is not against writing, it merely states that dialog is superior for presenting and exploring ideas or knowing what someone is about.
It also says that writing is something you can do as a pastime in later years, but it is not the serious pursuit of one's life, which I also suspect is Plato commenting upon himself from the text.
The map is not the territory.
Even Socrates was recognizing this, that you couldn't really know the topic of a writing without having been there, done that, yet writing could help recall.
And there are plenty of examples of 'book knowlege' being essentially ignorance, e.g., passing a certification exam is a far cry from being able to reliably sort out the issues in the field. So, we must not expect to rely on writing (& other media) exclusively.
That said, (good & valid) writing and other forms of stored information can of course both before encountering a situation to truly learn it more quickly, and afterwards to help recall detail.
Similarly, GPS can be used as a crutch to allow people to get anywhere without developing even so much as a clue as which direction is North, or can be used to enhance the precision and speed of expert navigators.
So, even though the Map is not the Territory, that does not mean that maps are useless, only that they need to be used properly, and with mindfulness of how you curate your own knowledge and skills.
My bias is towards the latter.
Real-time communication offers an opportunity for error detection/error correction in transmission, thus - better understanding. This mechanism is lost with written text.
What a fantastically prescient depiction of social media.
“Don’t quote from Wikipedia”
“The telephone is going to destroy face to face communication”
And now, in my generation, kids hardly know how to read cursive, write and spell (by hand). The art of 19th and 20th century rhetoric and wordplay is dead. But, maybe we didn’t really need it? Many people are typing more than ever and debating economics and stuff, with SMH and TLDR and their emoji game is strong.
Well, I don't think this quote had the internet in mind, but in hindsight it was pretty prophetic for where we are at right now.
What are you on about? With YouTube/Instagram/Snapchat the rhetoric is even more valuable because whatever you say on record is going to be multiplied another million times.
In the 19th and 20th century the chance was that whatever you said would never reach anybody past you closest friends and family.
Today we get fun from watching porn and speaking in quick bursts amid our increasingly hectic lives. The apps you mentioned just feed us entertainment like the TV did back in the day, and send endless notifications. Most people’s speech isn’t like it was 100 years ago because back then that’s how they entertained themselves back then. For the same reason people don’t play piano as much.
I understand not using it for academic research (just link the original sources), but for online discussion, it's quite nice.
Of course, the writer can try to anticipate questions and capture as many facets as possible, but the more comprehensively one does that---for example by covering both elementary and complex queries from all possible audiences---the more likely that one ends up with a mess of an essay that few would want to plod through.
In addition, the readers, having no chance to pose questions, often ends up having to make a judgement call about the validity of the argument based on the limited case presented in the writing.
Note: a dialog conducted via the written words does not really count, because interaction is still there, albeit less immediate than a direct exchange. And in such cases, the people who read the written record of this dialog would not get so much out of it as the two original participants, again due to the lack of interaction.
If you go to office hours, the professor right there will ask if you understand what they are going on about. They read your body language and see your glazed over expression and go into more detail or try and explain in another way. By the time you leave you are far more likely to know your answer and more.
My job now is a research position that is pretty collaborative, and being able to have face to face discussions with my co workers is a huge boon for my own understanding. I think if I were to work remote or communicate via slack I would loose so much understanding for the sake of working in sweatpants on my futon.
"Great master" he said "You are wise and know many things. But tell me this: What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
The master slapped him.
At that moment, the student attained enlightenment.
What you are doing alone is maybe "silently pondering" but it is just, at best, a tidying up of what you have gained socially.
The kind of thinking we manage to internalise and perform individually is an impoverished kind, and lacks the ability to do a lot for us.
All psychological growth is therapeutic, requiring a therapist (educator, coach, peer, friend, ...) to serve as a foil to push you past the cycles of your current safe state.
It's not just the student who's engaged in the teaching process, the teacher is too. And with small enough class sizes, or the "gold standard" of one-on-one tutoring (virtually all teaching methods are compared to this, in effectiveness, from what I've read), the teacher not only transmits information, but monitors the reception, sees how students are responding, where they're having difficulty, where they're readily grasping the information, when they're going off on false tangents. And knows how to respond to those circumstances. It's often not appropriate to say "no, that's wrong", but instead to prompt the student through the process of reasoning why a thing is wrong.
Socratic dialogue is one variant of this, and is in fact, almost wholly that last element: letting the student wander off into the weeds and either come to the realisation themselves, or have pointed out (and Socrates employs both methods) that this is pretty clearly ridiculous.
The point of dialogue, and of the clapping metaphor, is that it is extraordinarily difficult to dialogue alone. There are some tricks to this (rubber-duck debugging, say), but having another interested, intelligent, and motivated partner almost always helps.
The direct transmission model of education, just play a tape or teletransmit some remote lecture to satellite classwrooms, fails largely because it lacks interactivity. At best you can hope to target the lecture to some preferred band of the group, but you're going to lose those below that level, and bore those above. It's not a completely wasted effort, but it's not nearly as effective as discussion in smaller groups.
What you'll find with most universities that employ large lecture halls is that there is the lecture, given to 100s, possibly a thousand or more students, and the discussion section, usually lead by a TA, with 20-30 participants. In theory this splits the transmission and interaction, in practice, the sections only very partially make up for the mass medium of the lecture.
My own best learning experiences, regardless of topic, have come from smaller classes, typically of about 15-20 students. Even topics in which I had virtually no prior interest became fascinating with small size, good instruction, and an impassioned professor. (By contrast, several classes I'd really expected would be interesting proved highly disappointing.)
Books carve something of a middle ground, as do recordings where the individual has playback control. You can treat a book as a series of inquries and skip directly to the sections of interest, re-read, speed or slow the pace, annotate, etc. (Much of this is described in Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book.) With video or audio, increasing (or occasionally, decreasing) playback spead, pausing, and replaying, can give some of this capability.
There's also a point in learning in which there really isn't an established dogma or canon, and where the process of learning is actually a process of discovery (we call that research). Even here, without someone who's specifically expert in the field, a set of fellow-travellers, familiar or not with the route, can help in its exploration.
Two hands work together. One hand merely fans the air.
No? Then the dialog wasn't enough either. One way or the other, a written account can be the best representation of an idea. Because it has all the dialog has. Even better: it can be organized and sensible, not a random walk thru the idea as a dialog often is.
Clearly you can do foundational work in a field & still go on to misunderstand its basic principles! :)
Then, after becoming older and important people he throws something like "God doesn't play dice" into the world. Fortunately, he had very few of those moments, but makes one wonder if that kind of thing is inevitable.
There are many ways we learn things and they all have pros and cons. I can't believe someone as intelligent as Socrates would genuinely believe one shouldn't write or read to learn.
On the contrary, if used properly and moderately, new technology can strengthen our mental abilities.
Let's use a computation metaphor. All external but easily accessible information is in the HDD. Nowadays it contains almost all human knowledge.
But the things that are in your mind to be retrieved instantaneously are in cache. A bigger and more utilized cache is better, but for humans it takes a lot of effort to move things into cache, and our HDDs are expanding ever larger, so now people keep their cache empty and unused.
Reading a poem will give you some joy and perhaps insight, but memorizing the poem will make it a part of you. It's only function is not just reciting and recalling. It makes your mind more beautiful because it has beautiful things in it. It's not about the poem. It's about you as a person.
Which take me to the memory palace or method of loci. It's a mnemonic device described by the Romans where you memorize information by visualizing it as a walk through a palace with many rooms and locations. I think it was more than just a mnemonic device because embedded in that metaphor is the implication that what you memorize exists physically in your mind.
If the ancient peoples tried to beautify and decorate their minds with beautiful knowledge, then the modern people have industrialized their minds and kept them brutally empty.
Note that not all these philosophers were anti-writing, just that you can't understand the debate without understanding the premises. Would Socrates be cool with electronic Socratic dialogue? I know enough to know that I don't know enough to be able to say one way or another. As far as I understand, Plato had different theories about knowledge and memory than Socrates, though both (in keeping with the era) emphasized their interrelationship. So we should be skeptical that Plato accurately conveys the essence of Socrates' epistemic theories.
Ah, those kids...
And he was right, it is close to impossible to preserve knowledge between generations, there is always huge losses, unfortunately, but still he was wrong, obviously, because books scales much better than talk.
What scales is exactly superficial knowledge but not the wisdom, to me he was right.
What happened was that good authors learned to effectively have a dialog with their readers, anticipating their readers' expanding knowledge, what they have probably overlooked, and the questions that would be puzzling them.
I doubt Socrates -- or Plato, for that matter -- ever imagined an almost entirely literate society, let alone what powers that would unleash.