25 February 2012

"Writing encourages forgetfulness"

That's the clear implication of this passage about ancient Egypt, attributed to Socrates:
[Writing] will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”
Via Lapham's Quarterly.


  1. I've noticed the same thing with telephone numbers and caller ID, and thanks to GPS, a lot of kids these days can't even read a road map...

    1. agree.. I can only remember phone numbers I knew prior to getting my cell phone, and none of the ones now on auto-dial

    2. While I agree as well, it should be pointed out that forgetting lower-level tasks often opens one up for higher-level abstract thinking. Consider how many mathematicians have more difficulty with arithmetic than with higher level proofs or other more sophisticated derivations. In life, every disadvantage usually comes with an equal and opposite advantage of some kind. You just need to look for it.


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