Re: thoughts on origin of religions

From: Technotranscendence (
Date: Wed Feb 27 2002 - 04:58:57 MST

On Wednesday, February 27, 2002 5:21 AM Jacques Du Pasquier wrote:
>> Oh, that's very hard to imagine! Let's see... Socrates!
> I have to tell you one thing, which is that Plato didn't really
> tape-record the dialogues featuring Socrates, and that his dialogues
> are not really transcripts of such dialogues. I hope you are not too
> disappointed.

Not at all and you revelation is not news to me -- and probably not news
to most people. Even so, the fact that Plato used the dialogue form
seems to show the respect he gave for doing philosophy in real time.

Also, we have other written evidence of Socrates, especially from
Xenophon, to compare Plato too. It doesn't give us the full picture of
how Socrates differed from Plato, but it gives us good grounds for
seeing there was a difference.

My point, however, was limited to showing you don't need writing to do
thinking -- whether that is philosophizing or whatever.

>> Don't you think that the use of the dialogue form by Plato and later
>> philosophers is telling here? I mean you don't need the written word
to do
>> philosophy
> You don't need the written word to argue. But you need the written
> word 1) to remember your results, and think about them further,
> instead of forgetting them from one day to the next, or even from one
> part of the discussion to a later part, and 2) to read the results of
> others.

Number 2 above is trivial. Obviously, you need writing to do reading!:)

Number 1, however, is not exactly true. The written word does make
remembering and comparing results much easier, but it's not absolutely
necessary. People can and do remember their "results." Without the
written word, it's not like everyone falls into utter total confusion.
I mean, did you remember your name or how to tie your shoes because you
wrote them down?

There also seems to be some evidence that preliterate people are better
at recalling lot of details. (If this is true, my guess would be that
most literate people forget stuff merely because they can easily rely on
writing for recollection. So, they never develop a habit of non-written
memory -- or not to the same extent. Perhaps there was some division of
labor here too -- with people who have better memories serving as living

This is not to attack writing. I think it's one of the greatest
inventions of all time. I just don't reduce everything else to it. I
think humans did and still do a lot thinking and remembering outside of

It's also not to say that recalling stuff from memory is perfect or
better than writing it down. Obviously, writing took off because it has
some advantages, and this is one of them.

> You don't think seriously by responding publically to agressive
> remarks. You think seriously by maturing problems over time (including
> by discussion), then making an effort of writing, formulation, then
> re-reading it and reflecting about it, having other intelligent people
> read it, etc.

My point: you don't absolutely need writing to do this. It helps, but
one can consider problems over and over without writing them out.
Writing is so prevalent among us, that it seems inseparable, but think
of how many people make it through the day -- whether they philosophize
or try their hands at other problems, such as irrigating a field or
fixing a car engine -- without the need for writing.

> Very. Remember that the human brain is unchanged since a very long
> time. The reason why it seems so different now is it is full of very
> sophisticated cultural products; those rely on the written word to
> develop. Oral tradition can only go so far.

Ah, I don't deny this. But as far as oral tradition can go, it can
carry along a lot of philosophizing. Without a doubt, we postliterate
people can do a lot of things preliterate people cannot do, but, in this
case [of philosophy], I think it's more us [maybe] being able to do
things better than of use being able to do something preliterate peoples
could not do at all.

> Our brain was not designed to do philosophy (nor science) as you may
> realize. It was designed to be distracted, to react in real time to
> threats, etc. We manage to think more refined thoughts with the aid of
> that intellectual augmentation called writing.

I would argue that our brain was not designed at all.:)

Anyhow, I don't think the evolutionary argument here helps you. (Too
many times people on this list try to cloak their arguments with
evolutionary theory. It's mostly unnecessary.) I never denied that
writing is immensely helpful in philosophy and other endeavors (e.g.,
history), but it did not necessarily create them. It's kind of like
eating and cooking. People ate long before they discovered fire and
learned how to cook food. Do I claim that cooking is totally
irrelevant? No at all! It certainly opens up whole worlds of food
experience not possible before. Yet the fact still remains, we can eat
without cooking. We can think without writing.


Daniel Ust

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