Jason Silva and Socrates

beginning of infinity

Jason Silva. Visionary or conference troubador? The excitable ‘futurist’ and film maker is certainly enthusiastic in his fervently optimistic embrace of all things technological. Personally, I love his films (check out his website here) which are animated visual extravaganzas interspersed with philosophical asides.

In one film Jason talks about how Socrates denounced writing things down as an evil, something that destroys memory, intelligence and imagination. Not so, Jason. That would be Plato, writing a fictionalised character of Socrates in his dialogue, Phaedrus – which puts that into a slightly different context. But it’s an interesting analogy (and super ironic on Jason’s part) for today’s data-filled world, where a vast pool of ‘knowledge’ is just a click away, yet is always filtered through the perceptions and knowledge (or rather, lack of it) of others. Are we losing the ability to discern the truth from a variety of sources? Are we becoming more Wikipedic?

“Think of learning as a continuum of cognitive and expressive experiences that range from gathering data for the purpose of understanding the world; to organizing data into useful and coherent informational patterns; to applying information to real questions and problems and, in the process, creating knowledge; to developing wisdom.” Peter W. Cookson. “What Would Socrates Say?” Teaching for the 21st Century 67.1 (2009): 8-14

There appear to be two schools of thought:

Those who believe that we can blog and Twitter a path to knowledge through a democratised, collective data sharing that somehow bubbles up from the hive.

Then there are those who think that our technology is literally stupifying us, turning us into misinformed anti-intellectuals, stumbling though a new landscape of hyper-individualism.

I should also add that Jason points out the quality of information on the internet has improved – so that alongside all the trash there is a vast store of knowledge that has been collected and disseminated by experts. It’s the discernment of what is useful and what is not, as Peter Cookson observes above, that is becoming the new skill to acquire, in the context of the digital world.


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