Plato: The Illusion of Wisdom
With a new focus on “Digital Detox” and the potentially unintended and detrimental consequences of having our devices possibly, and literally, rewire how our brains work, I’ve decided to repost this here.
This is one of my favorites, again from Plato. It’s found in the beginning of a fascinating book, Technopoly by Neal Postman. The book questions whether technology, or at least “too much technology” is a positive… and if man will (has?) become dependent to the point of haplessness. It may seem an odd entry for this particular space, but in reality this is one of the strings of thought that drive me. Victims of comfort; caged by fear.
The last line in this little story is particularly thought provoking. How many people are full of disjointed “information”, and confuse (or advertise) this as “wisdom”? In reality, most are nothing simply well- trained parrots. Polly can squawk “E=MC2!” all month, that doesn’t mean she knows a thing about relativity…
Enjoy a classic..
Source: Technopoly by Neil Postman, New York: Vintage Books, 1993, pp3-4.
You will find in Plato’s Phaedrus a story about Thamus, the king of a great city of Upper Egypt. For people such as ourselves, who are inclined (in Thoreau’s phrase) to be tools of our tools, few legends are more instructive than his. The story, as Socrates tells it to his friend Phaedrus, unfolds in the following way: Thamus once entertained the god Theuth, who was the inventor of many things, including number, calculation, geometry, astronomy, and writing. Theuth exhibited his inventions to King Thamus, claiming that they should be made widely known and available to Egyptians. Socrates continues:
Thamus inquired into the use of each of them, and as Theuth went through them expressed approval or disapproval, accordingly as he judged Theuth’s claims to be well or ill- founded. It would take too long to go through all that Thamus is reported to have said for and against each of Theuth’s inventions. But when it came to writing, Theuth declared, “Here is an accomplishment. my lord the king, which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians. I have discovered a sure receipt for memory and wisdom.” To this, Thamus replied, “Theuth, my paragon of inventors, the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice it. So it is in this; you, who are the father of writing, have out of fondness for your offspring attributed to it quite the opposite of its real function. Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are, for the most part, quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.