Here is another story. A former winner of the BBC quiz show “Mastermind” recently took part in a pub quiz which came down to a tiebreaker between his team and a group of young people who were relying on BlackBerrys. Anyone familiar with quizzes these days knows that this can happen, whether it is under the table or outside in the smokers’ zone; the combination of wireless internet access and Google searching is simply too powerful for some to resist and for others to prevent. In this case, happily, virtue triumphed and the team led by the Mastermind champion won. Then afterwards a young woman from the losing side came over and asked in baffled tones: “How did you get that?” So attuned was she to the idea that answering quiz questions was a task to be outsourced to the internet that she seemed not to understand the idea of general knowledge that was kept in the head.
SOCRATES I have something to say heard from men of former times; they themselves know the truth. And if we by ourselves should find it, would we then any longer have any care for human conjectural opinions?
PHAEDRUS What you asked is ridiculous. But say what you assert you've heard.
SOC Well now, I heard how there was, near Naucratis in Egypt, a certain one of the old gods there, whose sacred bird is the one they call Ibis. And the name of this spirit is Theuth. Now, this one first found number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, and further, draughts and games of dice, and then, indeed, written letters. Now furthermore, at that time the king of all Egypt was Thamos, in the upper region's great city, which the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; and they call the god Ammon. Coming to him, Theuth displpayed his arts and said they must be given out to the other Egyptians. He asked what benefit each art had, and as the other went through them, he expressed blame on the one hand, praise on the other, for what in his opinion the other spoke beautifully or not beautifully. Many things, then about each art in both senses, it is said, did Thamos reveal to Theuth, to go through which would make a long speech. And when it came to written letters, "This knowledge, king," said Theuth, "will make the Egyptians wiser and provide them with better memory; for it has been found as a drug for memory and wisdom." And the other said, "Most artful Theuth, one person is able to bring forth the things of art, another to judge what allotment of harm and of benefit they have for those who are going to use them. And now you, being the father of written letters, have on account of goodwill said the opposite of what they can do. For this will provide forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through neglect of memory, seeing that, through trust in writing, they recollect from outside with alien markings, not reminding themselves from inside, by themselves. You have therefore found a drug not for memory, but for reminding. You are supplying the opinion of wisdom to the students, not truth. For you'll see that, having become hearers of much without teaching, they will seem to be sensible judges in much, while being for the most part senseless, and hard to be with, since they've become wise in their own opinion instead of wise.
PHAE Socrates, you easily make Egyptian speeches - and speeches from whatever country you wish.
SOC Well, my friend, people in the sacred temple of Zeus at Dodona asserted that the first prophetic speeches came into being from an oak tree. Now, for the men of that time, seeing that they were not wise like you young men, it sufficed, because of their siimplemindedness, to hear from an oak and a rock, if only they should say true things; for you, however, perhaps it makes a difference who the speaker is and frm what country. For you do not look at only that thing: whether it is so or otherwise.
PHAE You have given a correct rebuke, and in my opinion the situation as regards written letters is as the Theban says.
SOC So then, he who supposes that he has left behind an art in writings, and he in turn who receives it with the thought that there will be something distinct and solid from writings, would be full of much simplemindedness and would fail to understand Ammon's prophecy, supposing written speeches to be something more than reminding one who knows about the things that the writings are about.
PHAE Most correct.
SOC Indeed writing, Phaedrus, doubtless has this feature that is terribly clever, and truly resembles painting. For the offspring of that art stand there as living beings, but if you ask them about something, they altogether keep a solem silence. And likewise speeches do the same. For you would think that they speak with some understanding, but if you ask something about the things said, wishing to learn, it indicates some one thing only, and always the same. And when it's been once written, every speech rolls around everywhere, alike by those who understand as in the same way by those for whom it is in no way fitting, and it does not know to whom it ought to speak and to whom not. And when it suffers offense and is reviled without justice it always needs its father's assistance. For by itself it cannot defend or assist itself.
PHAE These things you've said are also most correct.
SOC What then? Do we see another speech, the brother of this one, and genuine—do we see both in what manner it comes into being and how much better and more powerful it naturally is than this one?
PHAE What is this one and how do you say it comes into being?
SOC The one that is written with knowledge in the soul of him who understands, with power to defend itself, and knowing to speak and to keep silence toward those it ought.
PHAE You are speaking of the speech of him who knows, a speech living and endowed with soul, of which the written speech might justly be said to be a certain image.
SOC Just so, absolutely...
if you enter "the answer to life the universe and everything" into Google, its calculator function will return 42, but it doesn't explain how I am to understand this result.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:25 AM on September 29 [+] [!]
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