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Calvisius Sabinus - It is one thing to remember, another to know.

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posted on May, 13 2010 @ 11:00 AM

In the upcoming issue of Adbusters — #89: The Ecopsychology Issue — there is a thoughtful letter to the editor by David Miller of Calgary. Mr. Miller writes in defense of Google, which he feels has been unjustly attacked by stodgy old-school educators. This is how he explains the essence of his argument:

“The Google Generation can retrieve facts almost instantaneously, from nearly anywhere, on an infinite number of subjects. Some may see this as detrimental to the intelligence of youth, but I see it as liberating. Without the need to memorize vast swaths of cold, dead, factual information, it is possible to cut to the quick and focus on the larger picture.”

What is interesting about this argument is that it originated out of the ancient philosophical inquiry into the nature of wisdom. And one can trace its rhetorical lineage through Montaigne, the inventor of the essay, to Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher. Arguably, Mr. Miller is obliquely quoting Seneca who once wrote: “it is one thing to remember, another to know.”

If we were to take only these words by Seneca into account, then we could conclude that Miller’s defense of search engines is valid: in releasing us from the burden of remembering, Google frees us to know. But a deeper reading of Seneca reveals a stinging rebuke of relying on Google.

For Seneca, the stereotypical Google user would be remarkably similar to Calvisius Sabinus, a rich Roman who Seneca explains mastered a unique type of ignorance and stupidity. Sabinus was a foolish man, unable to remember the facts and literary allusions that comprised the educated culture of that time. But he was also a vain man who wanted to be intelligent. With his great wealth he devised a plan.

Calvisius Sabinus purchased educated slaves, each of whom was tasked with knowing a specific bit of culture. One slave knew Homer, another Hesiod and there were others that were expert in each of the nine lyric poets. It cost him a tremendous amount of money to educate these slaves, but once they were ready he put them to use. If, in the midst of a feast, he wished to recite the Greek poet Pindar then he would simply speak while his slave whispered into his ear. In this way, Sabinus believed he had attained wisdom because as he explained to a guest who suggested it would have been easier to educate himself instead of his slaves, responded that, “what any member of his household knew, he himself knew also.”

From our perspective, Calvisius Sabinus is ridiculous. But one must wonder whether we are not like him. Do we rely on Google to provide us with the knowledge that we lack, leaving ourselves empty of wisdom? Is Google like the retinue of educated slaves, ever ready to insert the proper cultural reference so that we may stay in overall ignorance?

For Seneca, the definition of wisdom was not simply to be one who does not rely on memorization. He went further, and said that wisdom was something that can only happen once knowledge had become internalized, a part of ourselves. Or, in the words of Montaigne, who wrote the following after reflecting on the story of Sabinus:

“We take other men’s knowledge and opinions upon trust; which is an idle and superficial learning. We must make it our own. We are in this very like him, who having need of fire, went to a neighbor’s house to fetch it, and finding a very good one there, sat down to warm himself without remembering to carry any with him home.”


I found this extremely interesting for my own introspection and I have to admit, I use Google more than I'd like.

posted on May, 13 2010 @ 11:41 AM
reply to post by Crossfate

Awesome subject!

I have to agree with Calvisius. Maybe it is from my years of managing organizations, but I totally agree that it isn't important how much I know. It is important how much information I have access to, and how much information my staff has.

Really, to take the Professional Engineering exam (P.E.) you will often see people with 2 wheeled dollies hauling a 6 foot stack of books into the test center as reference material! It is absolutely impossible even for world class Chemists, or Engineers, or Biologists to memorize charts and tables and graphs. What is more important is that they understand the CONCEPTS of the calculations and studies that are important to their field, and that they have ACCESS to the specific data that is needed at the time.

It is always impressive to hear someone quote Bible Verse, but is it necessary? As long as you get the Concept of living right, then is it important to memorize the verse? Also, how credible is your rote memorization. One letter here or there can change a concept drastically. In my typing on ATS I often type "not" when I mean "now." When I go back and reread my post, it reads exactly opposite of my intent! One letter can make a huge difference, so imagine what several years of fog can do to memorized data.

I think our education system should be utilizing these resources, and accelerating our youth to attain new heights of education. Imagine the limitless possibilities of an educated youth with an infinite amount of data at their fingertips! The "Singularity" is just around the corner. Some estimate 2030 will be the time when mankinds total wealth of knowledge doubles moment by moment and reaches infinity. In 20 years imagine our interface between man and machine! Imagine everything that could possible be known at your fingertips and available in microseconds!

posted on May, 13 2010 @ 11:56 AM
reply to post by getreadyalready

I agree completely as the only things that stick in my head from the years upon years of reading and research I've done are the things that relate to a bigger picture in my life, in philosophy and in every area really.

I might not remember the details of everything but I always remember how they effected my opinion and how they ultimately advanced or changed my perspective on the specific subject. Thanks for the input.

posted on May, 13 2010 @ 11:59 AM
Interesting topic. A flag and a star.
I agree with the OP, actually. Google, I believe, HAS indeed become detrimental to our learning. I use Google tons! Every time I go to the doctor, and he tells me I have such and such wrong I look it up and sometimes I even think to myself, I have been mis-diagnosed! But, I digress, this isn't about me...

This is about easy-access to a vast array of information. I think, that once the internet is no longer accessible, many people will be so used to saying what they believe to be a fact, and then someone will say, No! You are wrong! and then they will reply, "You don't believe me? Look it up!" and then they will remember, that looking it up would involve a long and arduous journey to the library card, and people will be stupefied by the whole prospect of actually having to work a little bit to attain the knowledge that was at their fingertips not a decade ago!

I am a big fan of the library. It's not like google. It doesn't have EVERYTHING, but it has lots, and it has just about all I need. And I am not restricted, like with google, you never know if what you're reading is true, fact, fiction, false or what? You know what I mean... It's hard to trust. But with hard books, it is often backed up by other books, or experiments, or philosophical logic... the author almost always puts some very hard work in. Of course, books can be wrong, don't get me wrong, however, even wrong books often will admit that they may be wrong.
I especially like those "Viewpoints" books which show one side of an argument, and then the other side. But with google, you look up what YOU WANT TO and you will find WHAT YOU WANTED TO. It's very hard to find un-biased information through the internet.

posted on May, 13 2010 @ 12:18 PM
Great thread! S+F

This quote really stuck out to me;

“The Google Generation can retrieve facts almost instantaneously, from nearly anywhere, on an infinite number of subjects. Some may see this as detrimental to the intelligence of youth, but I see it as liberating. Without the need to memorize vast swaths of cold, dead, factual information, it is possible to cut to the quick and focus on the larger picture.”

I think it is true, we spend so much time focusing on and filling our heads with dates and names, we really dont have time or space in our memory for the big picture. When the hell am I going to need to remember the exact date of the start of the spanish armada?

Maybe thats the point of our educational system, the goal is to fill the head with so much information, we get suck arguing over little details instead of seeing the whole picture. All we have is little details!!!

If we freed up our memory banks and left the detailed stuff to be stored on our external hard drive (google), maybe our brains could compute the big equasions!!

[edit on 13-5-2010 by bringthelight]

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