Blog Post

The Myth of Thamus and Treuth

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 26 June 2020



The Myth of Thamus and Treuth
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Knowledge LetterAppears in the Gurteen Knowledge Letter issue: 240
Posted DateFriday 26 June 2020 11:40 GDT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

When we think about humankind's evolution, starting some 200,000 years ago, particular inventions were a significant step forward for our species.

The invention or should I say the evolution of language, the development of writing, the invention of the printing press, and then more recently the Internet and the World Wide Web were major information/knowledge revolutions.

But have you ever thought that some of these inventions might have been a bad thing, well maybe not bad but that they came with unintended consequences to which we have bene mostly blind?

We are well aware of some of the unintended consequences of the World Wide Web, such as fake news propagated by social media. What about writing? What about the invention of writing itself? And of course reading - the two go hand in hand.

Socrates questioned the wisdom of the invention of writing over 2000 years ago and made up a little story, the Myth of Thamus and Theuth that he told to Plato in the Phaedrus.
For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will, therefore, seem to know many things, when they are for the most part ignorant and hard to get along with since they are not wise, but only appear wise.

Interestingly, some of the writing/reading issues are at the heart of our educational problems today.

We all learn by reading books, but do we learn, or is the learning to some extent an illusion?

Students learn to churn out answers in exams, but how many of them really understand the subject matter.

Watch the two short videos in my blook by Prof. Eric Mazur at Harvard, where he demonstrates the problem and a better dialogic approach, as suggested by Socrates.

We don't best learn through reading or being lectured; we the best learn through dialogue.
Socrates: Yes, Phaedrus, so it is; but, in my opinion, serious discourse about them is far nobler, when one employs the dialectic method and plants and sows in a fitting soul intelligent words which are able to help themselves and him [277a] who planted them, which are not fruitless, but yield seed from which there spring up in other minds other words capable of continuing the process for ever, and which make their possessor happy, to the farthest possible limit of human happines

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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