nehal3m 16 days ago

Hah, you can't make this stuff up.

6. Socrates on the Forgetfulness That Comes with Writing ( 33 points by indy 1 hour ago | hide | 5 comments

7. Writing by hand is still the best way to retain information ( 329 points by TangerineDream 7 hours ago | hide | 189 comments

  • wahern 16 days ago

    These things aren't contradictory. Ancient Greek students used wax tablets for taking notes, etc. What Socrates (and Plato and others) were upset about was the growing reliance on permanent writing to displace memorization. For example, giving a speech from notes rather than from memory; or in rhetoric citing to a work without being able to literally recite that part from memory. To the extent writing aided memorization and comprehension, they had no beef. The debate was about the nature of knowledge--whether knowledge could exist independent of an internalized form within the mind--i.e. memorization.

    • jasonhansel 16 days ago

      As always, in Plato there are more levels to this. Plato thinks that all true knowledge comes from memory, and that we gain knowledge by "remembering" things we first encountered before birth but have since forgotten. So it makes sense that he would see memory, rather than (even philosophical) writing, as the ultimate source of truth.

      • Telemakhos 16 days ago

        And, he does it in a written dialogue.

        • pelasaco 16 days ago

          and if Plato and Xenophon never wrote about him, we wouldn't probably know that he existed

    • rramadass 16 days ago

      Well explained!

      People always jump to simplistic conclusions and forget all the nuances involved.

      As another example, The Art of Memorization was highly developed in Ancient India in order to preserve and transmit the vast corpus of "Hindu Literature" consisting of Vedas/Puranas/Kavyas/etc. It is quite fascinating to see how important Memorization has been to Human development and progress across centuries.

      Modern Science has now shown us that Memorization has distinct positive effects on the Brain too.

      1) Extensive long-term verbal memory training is associated with brain plasticity :

      2) A Neuroscientist Explores the "Sanskrit Effect" :

      3) Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers :

      4) Cache Cab: Taxi Drivers' Brains Grow to Navigate London's Streets :

      • kbrkbr 16 days ago

        > People always jump to simplistic conclusions and forget all the nuances involved.

        That looks like a classic Matthew 7:3 - Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

        • rramadass 16 days ago

          Not sure what you are trying to say here, but i was pointing out that the grand parent's snarky comment regarding the apparent contradiction between the two submissions just based on the headlines was "simplistic without understanding nuances".

          • kbrkbr 16 days ago

            Well, people do not always jump to simplistic conclusions and forget all the nuances involved.

            I think that makes this part of your reply an example of exactly what it’s criticizing.

            • rramadass 16 days ago


              It was quite clear from the GP's comment that no time has been spent on thinking through nuances and trying to reconcile the apparent contradiction. It was posted as a "gotcha" which added nothing of value.

              So my criticism was aimed at that in particular and as a caution to others in general. Hence the use of the word "People" as a rhetorical device.

    • eternalban 16 days ago

      > upset about was the growing reliance on ..

      Then he would have freaked out over smart phones. I've first hand seen what happens to e.g. sense of direction once use of the navigator-assist becomes habitual. Some auxiliary mental muscle atrophies in the brain.

      • Broken_Hippo 16 days ago

        You right this like people were born with some sort of innate ability, while my personal experience is that using a gas station toilet means that I have to get my bearings. I, as an adult in my mid 40's, have to actually think about which is my right and left. I also lived without a gps of any sort for most of my life: Before gps, I printed directions. Before that, I relied on maps when I could or just got lost.

        A navigator of some sort means that I can make up for this shortcoming and that I can explore. It isn't perfect, but much better than my brain does on its own.

        • sixstringtheory 16 days ago

          Interesting, I consider myself to have a really good sense of direction, I can reliably locate north in a city or wilderness (with decent weather) without a compass, and can cognitively map complicated sequences of directions involving left/right turns w.r.t. cardinal direction. I do use directions in unfamiliar terrain but once I memorize, I no longer need them and I can usually improvise in nearby areas. I also sort of make it a game to get lost sometimes and find my way out, and that exercise helps me learn places too. Also also, I have always loved reading maps, I just kind of get lost in them as a pastime.

          However, I still have to use mnemonics to remember which side is port vs starboard (my mnemonic for this is that when facing the bow, aka forwards, port is on the left, because they both have four letters). I imagine this is what you experience when you say you have to think about right vs left, is that pretty close?

          Fun little anecdote, my cousin had “right” and “left” tattooed on their wrists because they will forget otherwise. At first I found that unbelievable, but I’ve come to realize how different people can be over the years.

          • Broken_Hippo 16 days ago

            * I imagine this is what you experience when you say you have to think about right vs left, is that pretty close?*

            If I pay attention, I can feel my heartbeat. I know that is my left side.

          • williamcotton 16 days ago

            I have a good sense of direction and always did well with orienteering in the Boy Scouts… and I still have to actively think about right and left, especially when someone quickly says “turn left here!” when driving.

      • tppiotrowski 16 days ago

        Riding a bike with GPS leads me to more retention. My theory is that it's the driving speed and number of other drivers on the road that prevents our brain from retaining a route.

        • eternalban 16 days ago

          Can't be because it is too much info to process, imo. Possibly visual cues are diminished because you are spending more time keeping an eye on immediate (but generic) spatial environment.

      • tshaddox 16 days ago

        Is there evidence that this oft-cited claim about using turn-by-turn directions is inevitable (or even true at all, for that matter). I have a decent sense of direction, but I still use turn-by-turn directions routinely both for unfamiliar areas, and for familiar areas because of traffic information. A sense of direction doesn’t really help with tricky exits, one way streets, etc. or with real-time traffic info.

        • guelo 16 days ago

          I don't have evidence just my personal annecdote, but it's such a crutch for me that I sometimes feel embarrased that I can't seem to get around my town of 20 years without punching everything into google maps. What I've started doing is still doing turn-by-turn but putting Google Maps into the fixed North compass mode. It's not quite as convenient but it gives me much more of a sense of direction, kind of like the mini-map in a 3d game.

          • sigkill 16 days ago

            For some reason, every thing is a video game to me, so I'm always trying to "pathfind" different routes, and calculate... for the lack of better word, weights each road has at different times of the day. Makes it pretty quick to remember them. Regardless of where or how I am, I'm mentally always aware of what approximate direction North is.

        • tbrownaw 16 days ago

          I like to check the upcoming directions against my surroundings -- ok I turn at the light after next, where is that visually right now and what distinctive things are before it. Which turns out to be pretty close to the same shape as at least one method for studying new topics.

      • wruza 16 days ago

        You’d be fine navigating his Athens, it was 1.5 km in diameter.

        • inglor_cz 16 days ago

          Ancient cities used to be a maze of narrow alleys with just a few major arteries going through them. A city 1,5 km in diameter built in this way is still quite confusing.

          Also, Athens (Piraeus) was a major port and therefore had to have a nontrivial share of strangers roaming the streets.

      • boredemployee 16 days ago

        I have mixed feelings about what you said. since I feel more comfident to navigate in big cities or unknown places with a navigator-assistant, my brain end up wiring new geographical places. But I kinda agree

    • mizzao 16 days ago

      Nice, the ancient version of using Powerpoint slides instead of good communication.

      • pelasaco 16 days ago

        Nice, the ancient version of "if you use too much GPS you will loose your sense of orientation"

      • Oxidation 15 days ago

        I can just imagine a junior politician at the Areopagus with his head down nervously mumbling from a wax tablet, while Socrates rolls his eyes at the public speaking of the "youth of today".

      • watwut 16 days ago

        Ancient version of old person hating on social and technological change more like.

        • Kamq 16 days ago

          In Socrates' defense, the generation after him did lose to Sparta and allow the Thirty Tyrants to come to power.

          Presumably because the naval plans for the Battle of Aegospotami were written down instead of memorized.

          • watwut 16 days ago

            His own students collaborated with Sparta and made that happen. He was kinda neutral, did not participated and did not fought against them.

            Socrates opponents then kicked Sparta out, suffering and risking torture and death. And they then blamed Socrates teachings for what transpired. (Yes, the court that sentenced him was miscarriage of justice.)

    • squaredot 16 days ago

      As my ancient Greek's professor used to say, by looking at the class taking notes: "Why do we write? We write to forget!".

    • dr_dshiv 16 days ago

      Beautiful. Do you have more written about Plato or related topics?

      • wahern 16 days ago

        For a very in-depth analysis of this topic, see The Art of Memory by Frances Yates. Much of that book is conjectural, and I don't think it ever found much purchase within the scholarly community. (Not because it's outright B.S., I don't think, but rather because the implications aren't particularly interesting to modern scholars of philosophy or history; the conjectures aren't worth proving or disproving.) However, it definitely helped me to contextualize Ancient Greek thought in this area, especially Platonic thought and its effect on subsequent philosophy in the Western tradition. I don't think this aspect of Ancient Greek philosophy or Platonic thought, especially the historical context, is clarified until rather advanced philosophical studies in university, if at all, so when you do you see it discussed or alluded to it's not stated plainly and it be can difficult to recognize. Usually it's just the implications and the more abstract aspects that are discussed, pre-translated into modern terminology and concepts.

        Memorization was an important technology of the time, and like most technologies it was used (and abused) to analogize and conceptualize abstract processes and phenomena, often to the point of equivocation. Failing to appreciate the role that memorization played back then is like failing to appreciate, for example, how the Internet and social media shape our understanding and debate of culture and politics in the early 21st century; the debates can all seem very esoteric, random, and confusing unless and until you have the historical anchor to contextualize things. Then much of the logic, presumptions, and emphases become easier to understand and translate into more familiar terms; banal even.

        I'm reminded of this admonition against technological equivocation from a mathematics professor, E.C. Zeeman, discussing the role astronomy as reflected in the Antikythera Mechanism had in shaping ancient thought on the nature of the world:

        > I would like to conclude by telling a cautionary tale. Let us try and place the Antikythera Mechanism within the global context of ancient Greek thought. Firstly came the astronomers observing the motions of the heavenly bodies and collecting data. Secondly came the mathematicians inventing mathematical notation to describe the motions and fit the data. Thirdly came the technicians making mechanical models to simulate those mathematical constructions, like the Antikythera Mechanism. Fourthly came generations of students who learned their astronomy from these machines. Fifthly came scientists whose imagination had been so blinkered by generations of such learning that they actually believed that this was how the heavens worked. Sixthly came the authorities who insisted upon the received dogma. And so the human race was fooled into accepting the Ptolemaic system for a thousand years.

        > Today we are in danger of making the same mistake over computers. Our present generation is able to view them with an appropriate skepticism when necessary. But our children's children may be brought up within a society dominated by computers, that they may actually believe this is how our brains work. We do not want the human race to be fooled again for another thousand years.

        • CrypticShift 16 days ago


          I believe we should be humbled by how deep the "elite" of some older civilizations may have understood "themselves" and "the human condition". We need to see through all that fossilized blinkered strata, and not just throw it all away.

          We are so proud of our "information machines" and "neurocognitive psychology" advances. Simple things like "memory" still completely elude us today.

          You will still have a "tunnel vision" (="fooled again for another thousand years") even if your tunnel (=technology) is grandiose and your vision is precise (=science).

        • SpaceManNabs 16 days ago

          the way that the art of memory talks about tables and charts as mnemonic devices changed my view on note taking forever.

          I actually heard of this socrates piece when researching the art of memory. was really good timing because that is when that article about google making us dumb came out. Now i look back and laugh.

          • rramadass 16 days ago

            >the way that the art of memory talks about tables and charts as mnemonic devices

            Is this the same book by Frances Yates mentioned by the GP? If so, can you point me to the relevant chapter? I just downloaded the book.

      • Apocryphon 16 days ago

        It’s all in their mind.

        • salawat 16 days ago

          Not at all! In fact, the part written in their minds is the part that has tangled with the dialogues and their associated context.

          Socrates was about the living of philosophy, not merely writing or reading it.

  • Avshalom 16 days ago

    On a similar note: because Socrates never wrote anything down, it's entirely possible everything attributed to him was made up.

    • aap_ 16 days ago

      Plato's Socratic dialogs are certainly not meant to be taken as a transcription of dialogs that actually happened. Socrates is used as a literary device. It's quite likely that earlier dialogs are more in line with Socrates' actual character but the later ones are what you might call fan fiction for sure. For a completely different account of Socrates see Clouds by Aristophanes.

      I find Socrates a very fascinating character and Plato's dialogs very entertaining to read. He is such an expert troll (no wonder they sentenced him to death).

    • virissimo 16 days ago

      Possible, but improbable, since some attributions (approximately) agree across independent sources like Plato, Xenophon, Aristophanes, etc...

      • wrp 16 days ago

        Also, secretaries who recorded speeches in shorthand were a well established institution is ancient Greece and Rome. Since Socrates was a celebrity teacher, it's likely his every speech (after becoming famous) was taken down verbatim.

        • jasonhansel 16 days ago

          Well, Plato and Xenophon both present Socrates' Apology speech, and their versions are almost completely different. So at least one of them is made-up, rather than being a verbatim copy; probably both of them are (to some extent) fictitious.

      • Avshalom 16 days ago

        Fan fiction manages to agree about made up stuff across thousands of writers. Fictional canons in general easily produce (approximate) consistency across writers.

        • hunterb123 16 days ago

          It isn't fan fiction, generally fans don't talk directly with the creators of their process, for years on end.

          Socrates pupils listened and discussed his ideas with him directly and very in-depth.

          Instead of him writing down statements to be misinterpreted, he instilled his philosophy into many people through direct conversation.

          • Avshalom 16 days ago

            I mean don't get me wrong I'm just having fun, I'm not some socrates-truther but "generally fans don't talk directly with the creators of their process, for years on end" have you met fans? Hell yesterday the entirety of Tumblr decided to invent a fake Scorsese film with memes and slash/fic and fanart and arguments about it's place in his canon. They probably produced more in a day than was written about Socrates in a century.

            • hunterb123 16 days ago

              It's not about how much you produce, it's about how well you knew the reasoning behind the thought.

              By talking with the person directly you're able to understand that reasoning much better vs interpretation.

        • tshaddox 16 days ago

          Especially when the huge amount of clear contradictions are ignored. I don’t know if that’s the case with Greek philosophy, but it’s certainly the case with some other historical writings.

        • cratermoon 16 days ago

          Especially once headcanon is established.

  • mataslauzadis 16 days ago

    This post was likely made as a counterpoint to the other

    • PeterisP 16 days ago

      I don't think there's a counterpoint at all - on the debate of handwritten notes vs typed notes the Socrates argument would definitely not be on the side of faster typed notes but rather on putting more effort into careful writing, it's just that he's saying that you should go way beyond taking mere handwritten notes and verbally repeat the same content until you can fully memorize it by heart.

      The first article is saying that A < B and Socrates is saying that B < C - and both of them use similar argumentation (essentially, that taking shortcuts to do it faster is counterproductive to proper understanding), there's no contradiction and no counterpoint.

      • hunter-gatherer 16 days ago

        I've not studied greek philosophy for some time, but is strict memorization really what Socrates and Plato taught as a tool to learn? Or did they happen to mean being able to, for example, present a lecture without notes?

    • nehal3m 16 days ago

      Makes sense, yeah. I still chuckled.

  • 627467 16 days ago

    I've noticed the increase in these occurrences in HN where an article on an idea pops up and almost simultaneously another article on the opposite of the that idea appears.

    It may seem coincidence but I came to understand that it's just the community digesting and reacting to the original idea very quickly

    • kelseyfrog 16 days ago

      It's a bit of a karma hack. Posting rebuttals and references is a quick way to leverage the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Speaking of which, I should probably something about the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon soon.

      • mjhay 16 days ago

        Having just read what the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon[0] is, I think this is a rare virtuous karma hack, because it would give a series of related posts more interest, at the same time the information around them are more in the forefront of the reader's minds, making it more efficiently absorbed.


svnt 16 days ago

Socrates seems here he is mostly expressing the frustration that he cannot entrain a book into his methods, and that their authors cannot keep pace with him in dialogue.

But that was never the point of writing. The point is to use some small fraction of sensory+cognitive function to give yourself access to a separable, durable, redundant, and location-independent form of information.

Not touched on here but in other recent books is the possible loss of sensory+cognitive function that comes with simply learning to read and write in the first place. It’s possible this is the origin of the myth of Odin sacrificing an eye to read the runes.

  • wwweston 16 days ago

    > the possible loss of sensory+cognitive function that comes with simply learning to read and write in the first place.

    I don't doubt this is possible but I'd love a cite to find out what the case looks like.

    • svnt 16 days ago

      One place I’m sure I read it was in the first couple chapters of Joe Henrich’s The WEIRDest People in the World — hopefully he cites sources there. I can’t look up my notes just now but if I get a chance and find more I’ll post.

      • wwweston 16 days ago

        Oddly, was just browsing in a library today and that title was one that caught my attention. Will have to check it out!

beefhead 16 days ago

I like Thamus' argument against the intrinsic value of writing — shallow reminding, rather than remembering, comprises the vast majority of internet dialogue.

"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."

barbariangrunge 16 days ago

One point he’s making, that many people miss, is that there was a time when people learned to memorize large bodies of information for ready recall. Note the oral traditions of indigenous peoples, the exam system in historical east Asia, or even the way western schools used rote learning until recently.

Socrates is partially lamenting the expected loss of this super ability. And he was right: it is rare to memorize things reliably now since we have so much reference material

I think he underestimated how many ever-changing programming apis we would need to “learn” today — otherwise he might have more sympathy for the use of reference material

  • Andrew_nenakhov 16 days ago

    > Socrates is partially lamenting the expected loss of this super ability.

    This 'super' ability, while impressive, offers far too little benefit for the effort necessary to achieve the memorization. A scholar who has a bunch of notes and books at his disposal will almost always outdo a scholar who has memorized 1% of the material contained in written form. That's why we don't memorize things and rely on externalized storage of knowledge. It is far more effective.

    • Jensson 16 days ago

      Humans aren't smart enough to parse complex things without a ton of memorization. You can look up knowledge, but you can't look up how to look up a specific set of knowledge. Expanding that core is still necessary no matter what age you live in and requires you to remember things.

      So the scholar who focuses on looking things up might be more effective today, but he wont get any deep knowledge in any domain, while the scholar who focuses on putting things in his mind will probably be less effective today but get much deeper understanding of domains. For deeper domains like math or physics the only way to get anywhere is to embed a ton of knowledge in your brain, there is just no way to get anywhere with shallow look ups.

      • Andrew_nenakhov 16 days ago

        The lookups aren't necessarily shallow. They are as deep as is necessary for the scholar at his current task.

        The undeniable truth is that if memorizing everything Homer-style was effective in sciences, people would be doing it, achieving great results. But it doesn't happen, and it is easy to understand why: It is not effective.

        In our field, we don't need to remember every single parameter of an API we use, we just need to know where to look when the necessity arises, while we focus on more important things.

    • watwut 16 days ago

      In addition, a scholar who has a bunch of notes and books at his disposal will actually end up remembering useful parts of it all too. However, the scholar will wasted significantly less time rediscovering what he vaguely remembers and bothering colleagues whether they do happen to remember.

      • Andrew_nenakhov 16 days ago

        Yes, because memorization will happen naturally, of the things most important for such scientist. But if such scientist would exert himself to remember everything verbatim, he'd end up remembering only a tiny bit of information and will likely end up accomplishing nothing else.

jamesgill 16 days ago

The supreme irony, of course, being that Socrates never wrote anything down and we only know of him because his student Plato (and others) did write things down.

And Socrates’ views on writing weren’t unique to him; many of that era felt the same. Socrates was a man of his time in this respect.

sixstringtheory 16 days ago

> [writing] 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

This is another really important point. Socrates believed in the dialectic, where you are engaged with your teacher and can ask questions and test your assumptions and get feedback.

Just reading the material doesn’t afford that opportunity. You can’t ask a dead author of a book questions and get answers back.

That’s why it’s nice to be provided solutions to solve problems in STEM texts. Interactive technology like with modern MOOCs help provide more sophisticated feedback. But still nothing comes close to having access to an actual professor like during office hours.

galaxyLogic 16 days ago

I think there is "Forgetfulness that comes with Programming".

When you program you are constantly doing problem-solving. Having to tackle new problems every day pushes the memory of the solutions you came up in previous days out of your brain. There is just not enough room in the brain.

But writing down the code helps to rediscover your earlier discoveries if you take time to document your code. Still it may be difficult to figure out where such old code and documentation is stored.

  • keyle 16 days ago

    Completely agree with this, I'm very efficient at clearing the board in my short term memory and give 110% of what I have to the problem at hand.

    It makes anything I done previously almost as good as if someone else did it and I need to rediscover it. Which is a good thing, because boy that guy couldn't code himself out of a well.

  • anadem 16 days ago

    Ah, yes, that explains to me how it is that when I'm stuck in some bit of code and go look on StackOverflow or wherever, I find an answer I'd posted long before.

    • galaxyLogic 16 days ago

      Funny that happened to me as well I was reading somebody's answer on SO and it took me some time to realize I had written it myself.

      • sixstringtheory 16 days ago

        This is like a more wholesome version of using git-blame to see what idiot wrote that crappy bit of code and seeing your own name on it.

  • visarga 16 days ago

    > writing down the code helps to rediscover your earlier discoveries

    Using Copilot you can "remember" other people's discoveries too.

rramadass 16 days ago

Nice passage, relevant excerpts (with my comments :-);

>one man can give birth to the elements of an art, but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them. And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are.

Definition of "Peer Review".

>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

Writing is an aide to Understanding which you still have to work at and internalize.

>You have not discovered a potion for remembering, but for reminding;

Exactly right.

>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.

This is so true in the Modern World where there is lots of information being created and consumed but few people understand what they have Read and/or Written.

>And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”

Is he describing HN ?

>When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.

The bane of the Internet !

psychphysic 16 days ago

I have to write reports for work.

And once that report is written I struggle to remember anything about the case.

Put that report in front of me and seemingly without reading it I can recall it in detail that amazes me.

I do think there is a psychological archiving effect from writing. And that in the right circumstances it can help remember as well as declutter your mind.

Mind you I have no evidence for any of this other than personal experience.

  • themitigating 16 days ago

    Do you mean visulizing the set of papers or filename?

    • psychphysic 16 days ago

      No unfortunately I have to open the report.

      It's fairly useless phenomenon but I imagine there is some words that prompt me subconsciously?

      The reports are 5 pages long and titled date and subject. The first page is just details of where when what who.

      I don't even consciously read it having it there somehow helps me remember.

stephc_int13 16 days ago

Socrates was obviously wrong but not entirely.

I think that we tend to underestimate how much of generational knowledge is lost.

Writing can help, but not much. Most of what we know is uncommunicable with words, especially at the expert level.

  • visarga 16 days ago

    > I think that we tend to underestimate how much of generational knowledge is lost.

    Not anymore. We can record and distill it into models, the past knowledge gets to have a second life. Models can capture even what cannot be precisely put into words.

  • vbezhenar 16 days ago

    Everything is communicable with words.

    • philipswood 16 days ago

      It would seem that way, but some human skills are widely regarded as "unexplainable".

      One example would be chicken sexing - determining the gender of a young chick.


      for a nice view on it.

      Another rich field of examples come from sport training. There even if you can explain a skill, the explanation is often not much use in learning it effectively.

    • stephc_int13 16 days ago

      Ask a pro tennis player to explain everything about his play.

      Anyone attaining true mastery in a field has obviously learned a lot, but they can rarely describe what it is, they see it, they feel it, they can show, but they can't explain.

      • vbezhenar 16 days ago

        That's the problem with tennis player, not problem with words.

        • yywwbbn 16 days ago

          You’re implying that if there was a hypothetical ‘perfect’ manual on tennis written by someone you could become a world-class player just by reading it, and with no interaction with other players?

          • vbezhenar 15 days ago

            Of course not. You need genes. You need muscles. You need muscle memory. You need reflexes. Basically genes and trainings.

            • yywwbbn 15 days ago

              Sure. You’d have all of those things and the book. You can also have robot that’s very good at tennis to train with.

    • anadem 16 days ago

      That's not my experience; it sounds like a glib rejoinder.

      • aussiesnack 16 days ago

        It's so manifestly false, the only charitable assumption is that they're making an offbeat point. Perhaps it could be defended by simply defining 'everything' as 'all propositional knowledge'. Or maybe you could say true 'communication' is only possible between people who already share the concepts they're communicating, in which case words are only a Kripke-esque pointers, excluding the obvious cases of purported difficulties communicating with words. A bit of a stretch perhaps.

        At a minimum, it's a tad gnomic without some expansion.

      • spindle 16 days ago

        Agreed, especially since it's a well known topic in the philosophy literature and one generally agreed to be contentious. See Frank Ramsey's famous rejoinder to Wittgenstein, "What you can't say you can't say, and you can't whistle it either." FWIW, I think Ramsey was wrong (for once), but my point is that it's clearly a very difficult topic.

    • nathias 16 days ago

      not at all, google dispositional knowledge

Archelaos 16 days ago

When interpreting this passages one must not forget that the whole dialog is itself presented in writing. One example of the famous Socratic irony (which is ironically Platonic irony).

  • aap_ 16 days ago

    This is exactly what I thought, and this is of course fully intentional. You can really feel book-Socrates trying to break the 4th wall in that excerpt. Really amazing writing.

xchip 16 days ago

Thanks Plato for taking the minutes of Socrates meetings.

  • Maursault 16 days ago

    That is some very nice sarcasm. Humor much appreciated.

    > Socrates did not write down any of his thoughts, however his dialogues were recorded by his student and protégé, the philosopher Plato (428 – 347 BCE).

    Plato did not "write down" Socrates' dialogues. Plato wrote the dialogues. Though we do have some authentic ideas from Socrates, such as, "I know that I know nothing," the idea that wisdom begins with ignorance, and most scholars still accept The Apology as at least quasi-historical. Socrates must have made a great impression on Plato, but when we read The Republic, we are not reading Socrates. It is the humble and brilliant Plato, alone.

mozball 16 days ago

The article and comments focus on writing and forgetfulness. But IMO Socrates also makes a second deeper point - about writing (and reading) and the illusion of knowledge.

> SOCRATES: You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.

An eloquent writer or speaker may give the reader or listener the mistaken impression about the depth of his knowledge or of the validity of his assertions. But we can't know for sure unless those ideas are challenged in debate or in experimentation.

Similarly, someone who reads a book or two on C++ may come away with the mistaken impression that they know everything necessary to program well in it. Likewise, a person who reads Newton's works may think he has the requisite knowledge to be a scientist like Newton. Or that by reading all the great works on philosophy one can become a philosopher on par with the great philosophers.

Such thinking ignores all the hours and years of dedication and experience needed to attain true knowledge and understanding of a subject. Its starts out with reflecting on the problem of interest and coming up with solutions and then applying those solutions. When those ideas are inevitably challenged by ignored or unforeseen sub-problems - One must focus on and address each of those sub-problems. And so on and so forth in a feedback loop of continuous reflection , application and refinement. Lot of that context is lost when transferring the final end report into writing (or any other medium). As philosopher Alfred Korzybski remarked, "the map is not the territory" and "the word is not the thing".

When reading Socrates criticism of writing, what's scary is not about how laughably wrong he was in hindsight. But that (as history has proven) even though the advantages of writing far outweigh the disadvantages, it still doesn't invalidate his original criticism which still stands today.

achrono 16 days ago

What puzzles me is Socrates refers to listening to an oak (tree) or even a stone, but dismisses the possibility of the same from a painting.

What does he even mean by listening to an oak? To my 21st c. ears, it is much more sensible to talk of listening to a text as if the author were really here, howsoever remote the text or the author be, than listening to a stone.

mib32 15 days ago

This is why now instead of taking notes, I only take voice notes. Each time I need to think about something, to clarify in my mind, I launch Voice Memos on my iOS device and record my thoughts.

It immensely helped me to structure my mind and be more clear about my ideas. I highly recommend that to anyone.

sowhybother 16 days ago

'But hey, that we forget is such useful.'

> um "To be honest, i for my part for shure didn't know what the heck i had forgotten at all"

'For sure, that's the good thing..."


robg 16 days ago

Don’t we read Plato’s writings of what Socrates said?

  • jasonhansel 16 days ago

    We read Plato's writings of what a character named "Socrates" said; this character is based (to some extent) on the historical Socrates but is largely Plato's invention.

    • User23 16 days ago

      We also have Xenophon and Aristophanes as sources about Socrates.

      • s3000 16 days ago

        Sophist means teacher, wisdom [1],[2]

        kratos means power, or ruling [3]

        How big is the probability that somebody is named 'ruler of the wise' and then becomes arguably the most influential philosopher of all time?




        • jasonhansel 16 days ago

          The first part of the name "Socrates" (Σωκράτης) comes from "sos" (σῶς), meaning "whole," not from "sophos" (σοφός), meaning "wise."

          You'll note that "Socrates" and "sophos" have different vowel sounds (omicron vs. omega), and that the accented syllable in "sophos" is missing from "Socrates."

          The "-crates" suffix indeed derives from the word for "power," but it's common in ancient Greek names: Philocrates, Hippocrates, Crates of Thebes, etc.

          • s3000 16 days ago

            Thanks for the correction.

        • marginalia_nu 16 days ago

          Do we know for a fact it was a given name and not a nickname?

          (also worth mentioning the Cratylus in this discussion; etymology was definitely something these people thought about)

        • philipswood 16 days ago

          People with suitable names often seem to be over-represented in a field.

          Cute, but no one is really sure why.

          So while his name seems a tad much, that in itself isn't enough to disprove he existed.

          (This is even more true in cultures where names usually mean something - think Hebrew biblical names)

aap_ 16 days ago

> Pp. 551-552 in Compete Works, edited by J. M. Cooper

Sigh. This is not how you cite Plato. Stephanus pagination exists for a reason.

fedeb95 16 days ago

Ironically, Plato wrote them down.

PedroBatista 16 days ago

I'm no cultured man, but I write not to remember but to forget.

beeforpork 16 days ago

Zettelkasten is the opposite and usually considered genius. :-)

abanayev 14 days ago

Good thing Plato was able to write this down.

CyanBird 16 days ago

What a good day is to read Socrates

Thanks for sharing

EGreg 16 days ago

Kids these days, with their writing and their abjads and alphabets… rotting their brains LOL. And they think I am corrupting the youth!

I don’t think Socrates really existed btw. He was likely a rhetorical device of Plato and Aristophanes, similar to Sherlock Holmes of Arthur Conan Doyle. And both authors say the same of their main character:

“He was the wisest, and the best, man I have ever known!”

  • handedness 16 days ago

    No, Socrates very likely existed. He was mentioned not just by Plato and Aristophanes, but also a number of other contemporaries: Ion of Chios, Eupolis, Ameipsias, and Xenophon.

    We also have references to contemporary accounts by Antisthenes, Aischines of Sphettos, and Aristippos of Kyrene.

    His trial was also mentioned by Aischines.

    It's a popular theory on the web but it is a difficult one to justify when we have so much evidence to the contrary, and I'm aware of no serious historian who supports that view.

    • dr_dshiv 16 days ago

      Wow, Ameipsias sent me down a rabbit hole. Apparently wrote a comedy about Socrates and his tutor, a music theorist.

      Now for Eupolis…

  • rcarr 16 days ago

    I think Conan Doyle came to dislike Sherlock in the end if I remember right. In fact it might even be a trend for detective writers to dislike their detectives as I seem to recall Agatha Christie disliked Poirot as well.