👓 The End of History? | Francis Fukuyama

Read The End of History? by Francis FukuyamaFrancis Fukuyama (The National Interest | No. 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3-18)

IN WATCHING the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history. The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that "peace" seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world. Most of these analyses lack any larger conceptual framework for distinguishing between what is essential and what is contingent or accidental in world history, and are predictably superficial. If Mr. Gorbachev were ousted from the Kremlin or a new Ayatollah proclaimed the millennium from a desolate Middle Eastern capital, these same commentators would scramble to announce the rebirth of a new era of conflict.

And yet, all of these people sense dimly that there is some larger process at work, a process that gives coherence and order to the daily headlines. The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an "end of ideology" or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

In general, while I’ve been reading Stuart Kauffmann’s At Home in the Universe, I can’t help but thinking about the cascading extinctions he describes and wonder if political extinctions of ideas like Communism or other forms of government or even economies might follow the same types of outcomes described there?   
August 29, 2018 at 09:37AM

Building on this, could we create a list of governments and empires and rank them in order of the length of their spans? There may be subtleties in changes of regimes in some eras, but generally things are probably reasonably well laid out. I wonder if the length of life of particular governments follows a power law? One would suspect it might.   
August 29, 2018 at 09:43AM

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.  

Total exhaustion?
August 29, 2018 at 08:53AM

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.  

What if, in fact, we’ve only just found a local maximum? What if in the changing landscape there are other places we could potentially get to competitively that supply greater maxima? And possibly worse, what if we need to lose value to get from here to unlock even more value there?
August 29, 2018 at 08:56AM

Hegel believed that history culminated in an absolute moment – a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious.  

and probably not a bad outcome in an earlier era that thought of things in terms of clockwork and lacked the ideas of quantum theory and its attendant uncertainties.
August 29, 2018 at 08:59AM

Believing that there was no more work for philosophers as well, since Hegel (correctly understood) had already achieved absolute knowledge, Kojève left teaching after the war and spent the remainder of his life working as a bureaucrat in the European Economic Community, until his death in 1968.  

This is depressing on so many levels.
August 29, 2018 at 09:05AM

Paul Kennedy’s hugely successful “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, which ascribes the decline of great powers to simple economic overextension.  

Curious how this may relate to the more recent “The End of Power” by Moisés Naím. It doesn’t escape one that the title of the book somewhat echoes the title of this particular essay.
August 29, 2018 at 09:18AM

But whether a highly productive modern industrial society chooses to spend 3 or 7 percent of its GNP on defense rather than consumption is entirely a matter of that society’s political priorities, which are in turn determined in the realm of consciousness.  

It’s not so much the percentage on produced defense goods, but how quickly could a society ramp up production of goods, services, and people to defend itself compared to the militaries of its potential aggressors.

In particular, most of the effort should go to the innovation side of war materiel. The innovation of the atomic bomb is a particularly nice example in that as a result of conceptualizing and then executing on it it allowed the US to win the war in the Pacific and hasten the end of war in Europe. Even if we otherwise had massive stockpiles of people or other weapons, our enemies could potentially have equaled them and dragged the war on interminably. It was the unknown unknown via innovation that unseated Japan and could potentially do the same to us based on innovation coming out of almost any country in the modern age.
August 29, 2018 at 09:24AM

Weber notes that according to any economic theory that posited man as a rational profit-maximizer, raising the piece-work rate should increase labor productivity. But in fact, in many traditional peasant communities, raising the piece-work rate actually had the opposite effect of lowering labor productivity: at the higher rate, a peasant accustomed to earning two and one-half marks per day found he could earn the same amount by working less, and did so because he valued leisure more than income. The choices of leisure over income, or of the militaristic life of the Spartan hoplite over the wealth of the Athenian trader, or even the ascetic life of the early capitalist entrepreneur over that of a traditional leisured aristocrat, cannot possibly be explained by the impersonal working of material forces,  

Science could learn something from this. Science is too far focused on the idealized positive outcomes that it isn’t paying attention to the negative outcomes and using that to better define its outline or overall shape. We need to define a scientific opportunity cost and apply it to the negative side of research to better understand and define what we’re searching for.

Of course, how can we define a new scientific method (or amend/extend it) to better take into account negative results–particularly in an age when so many results aren’t even reproducible?
August 29, 2018 at 09:32AM

FAILURE to understand that the roots of economic behavior lie in the realm of consciousness and culture leads to the common mistake of attributing material causes to phenomena that are essentially ideal in nature.  

August 29, 2018 at 09:44AM

“Protestant” life of wealth and risk over the “Catholic” path of poverty and security.[8]   

Is this simply a restatement of the idea that most of “the interesting things” happen at the border or edge of chaos? The Catholic ethic is firmly inside the stable arena while that of the Protestant ethic is pushing the boundaries.
August 29, 2018 at 09:47AM

Hence it did not matter to Kojève that the consciousness of the postwar generation of Europeans had not been universalized throughout the world; if ideological development had in fact ended, the homogenous state would eventually become victorious throughout the material world.  

This presupposes that homeostasis could ever be achieved.

One thinks of phrases like “The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” But everything we know about systems and evolving systems often indicates that homeostasis isn’t necessarily a good thing. In many cases, it means eventual “death” instead of evolving towards a longer term lifespan. Again, here Kauffmann’s ideas about co-evolving systems and evolving landscapes may provide some guidance. What if we’re just at a temporary local maximum, but changes in the landscape modify that fact? What then? Shouldn’t we be looking for other potential distant maxima as well?
August 29, 2018 at 09:52AM

But that state of consciousness that permits the growth of liberalism seems to stabilize in the way one would expect at the end of history if it is underwritten by the abundance of a modern free market economy.  

Writers spend an awful lot of time focused too carefully on the free market economy, but don’t acknowledge a lot of the major benefits of the non-free market parts which are undertaken and executed often by governments and regulatory environments. (Hacker & Pierson, 2016)
\August 29, 2018 at 10:02AM

Are there, in other words, any fundamental “contradictions” in human life that cannot be resolved in the context of modern liberalism, that would be resolvable by an alternative political-economic structure?  

Churchill famously said “…democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…”

Even within this quote it is implicit that there are many others. In some sense he’s admitting that we might possibly be at a local maximum but we’ve just not explored the spaces beyond the adjacent possible.
August 29, 2018 at 10:08AM

For our purposes, it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso, for we are interested in what one could in some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind.  

While this seems solid on it’s face, we don’t know what the future landscape will look like. What if climate change brings about massive destruction of homo sapiens? We need to be careful about how and why we explore both the adjacent possible as well as the distant possible. One day we may need them and our current local maximum may not serve us well.
August 29, 2018 at 10:10AM

anomie  

I feel like this word captures very well the exact era of Trumpian Republicanism in which we find ourselves living.
August 29, 2018 at 10:37AM

After the war, it seemed to most people that German fascism as well as its other European and Asian variants were bound to self-destruct. There was no material reason why new fascist movements could not have sprung up again after the war in other locales, but for the fact that expansionist ultranationalism, with its promise of unending conflict leading to disastrous military defeat, had completely lost its appeal. The ruins of the Reich chancellery as well as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed this ideology on the level of consciousness as well as materially, and all of the pro-fascist movements spawned by the German and Japanese examples like the Peronist movement in Argentina or Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army withered after the war.  

And yet somehow we see these movements anew in America and around the world. What is the difference between then and now?
August 29, 2018 at 11:46AM

This is not to say that there are not rich people and poor people in the United States, or that the gap between them has not grown in recent years. But the root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist, so much as with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up, which are in turn the historical legacy of premodern conditions.  

August 29, 2018 at 11:47AM

But those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies.  

and then there are the millennials…
August 29, 2018 at 11:51AM

Beginning with the famous third plenum of the Tenth Central Committee in 1978, the Chinese Communist party set about decollectivizing agriculture for the 800 million Chinese who still lived in the countryside. The role of the state in agriculture was reduced to that of a tax collector, while production of consumer goods was sharply increased in order to give peasants a taste of the universal homogenous state and thereby an incentive to work. The reform doubled Chinese grain output in only five years, and in the process created for Deng Xiaoping a solid political base from which he was able to extend the reform to other parts of the economy. Economic Statistics do not begin to describe the dynamism, initiative, and openness evident in China since the reform began.  

August 29, 2018 at 11:58AM

At present, no more than 20 percent of its economy has been marketized, and most importantly it continues to be ruled by a self-appointed Communist party which has given no hint of wanting to devolve power.  

If Facebook were to continue to evolve at it’s current rate and with it’s potential power as well as political influence, I could see it attempting to work the way China does in a new political regime.
August 29, 2018 at 12:04PM

IF WE ADMIT for the moment that the fascist and communist challenges to liberalism are dead, are there any other ideological competitors left? Or put another way, are there contradictions in liberal society beyond that of class that are not resolvable? Two possibilities suggest themselves, those of religion and nationalism.  

August 29, 2018 at 12:19PM

This school in effect applies a Hobbesian view of politics to international relations, and assumes that aggression and insecurity are universal characteristics of human societies rather than the product of specific historical circumstances.  

August 29, 2018 at 12:30PM

But whatever the particular ideological basis, every “developed” country believed in the acceptability of higher civilizations ruling lower ones  

August 29, 2018 at 12:37PM

Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.  

Has it started again with nationalism, racism, and Trump?
August 29, 2018 at 12:48PM

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👓 Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult | C Thi Nguyen | Aeon Essays

Read Why it’s as hard to escape an echo chamber as it is to flee a cult by C Thi Nguyen (Aeon)

First you don’t hear other views. Then you can’t trust them. Your personal information network entraps you just like a cult

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

But there are two very different phenomena at play here, each of which subvert the flow of information in very distinct ways. Let’s call them echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

A stunning essay that gives me hope that we’re not in a “post-truth” world. On the other hand, we’re going to need to do a lot of work …

hat tip: Ian O’Byrne

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👓 How teachers can support students during Ramadan | PBS

Read Column: How teachers can support students during Ramadan (PBS NewsHour)
If students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers during Ramadan, it can turn a challenging month into the most rewarding.
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👓 The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A’s Christianity | Bloomberg

Read The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity (Bloomberg.com)
The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness.
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👓 Chris Aldrich is reading “South Korea’s Shamanic Panic”

Read South Korea's Shamanic Panic (Foreign Affairs)
For over a month now, South Koreans have been asking a rather unusual question for citizens of a modern democracy: whether their president, Park Geun-hye, could have been under the influence of the supernatural while in office.
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Game Theory’s Tit-for-Tat is Just a Mathematically Complete Version of Religion’s Golden Rule

Francis Fukuyama (1952- ), American political scientist, political economist, author
in The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)

 

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Schools of Thought in the Hard and Soft Sciences

A framework for determining the difference between the hard and soft sciences.

A recent post in one of the blogs at Discover Magazine the other day had me thinking about the shape of science over time.

Neuroscientists don’t seem to disagree on the big issues. Why are there no big ideas in neuroscience?

Neuroskeptic, Where Are The Big Ideas in Neuroscience? (Part 1)

The article made me wonder about the divide between the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ sciences, and how we might better define and delineate them. Perhaps in a particular field, the greater the proliferation of “schools of though,” the more likely something is to be a soft science? (Or mathematically speaking, there’s an inverse relationship in a field between how well supported it is and the number of schools of thought it has.) I consider a school of thought to be a hypothetical/theoretical proposed structure meant to potentially help advance the state of the art and adherents join one of many varying camps while evidence is built up (or not) until one side carries the day.

Firmness of Science vs. # of Schools of Thought
Simple linear approximation of the relationship, though honestly something more similar to y=1/x which is asymptotic to the x and y axes is far more realistic.

Theorem: The greater the proliferation of “schools of though,” the more likely something is to be a soft science.

Generally in most of the hard sciences like physics, biology, or microbiology, there don’t seem to be any opposing or differing schools of thought. While in areas like psychology or philosophy they abound, and often have long-running debates between schools without any hard data or evidence to truly allow one school to win out over another. Perhaps as the structure of a particular science becomes more sound, the concept of schools of thought become more difficult to establish?

For some of the hard sciences, it would seem that schools of thought only exist at the bleeding edge of the state-of-the-art where there isn’t yet enough evidence to swing the field one way or another to firmer ground.

Example: Evolutionary Biology

We might consider the area of evolutionary biology in which definitive evidence in the fossil record is difficult to come by, so there’s room for the opposing thoughts for gradualism versus punctuated equilibrium to be individual schools. Outside of this, most of evolutionary theory is so firmly grounded that there aren’t other schools.

Example: Theoretical Physics

The relatively new field of string theory might be considered a school of thought, though there don’t seem to be a lot of other opposing schools at the moment. If it does, such a school surely exists, in part, because there isn’t the ability to validate it with predictions and current data. However, because of the strong mathematical supporting structure, I’ve yet to hear anyone use the concept of school of thought to describe string theory, which sits in a community which seems to believe its a foregone conclusion that it or something very close to it represents reality. (Though for counterpoint, see Lee Smolin’s The Trouble with Physics.)

Example: Mathematics

To my knowledge, I can’t recall the concept of school of thought ever being applied to mathematics except in the case of the Pythagorean School which historically is considered to have been almost as much a religion as a science. Because of its theoretical footings, I suppose there may never be competing schools, for even in the case of problems like P vs. NP, individuals may have some gut reaction to which way things are leaning, everyone ultimately knows it’s going to be one or the other (P=NP or P \neq NP). Many mathematicians also know that it’s useful to try to prove a theorem during the day and then try to disprove it (or find a counterexample) by night, so even internally and individually they’re self-segregating against creating schools of thought right from the start.

Example: Religion

Looking at the furthest end of the other side of the spectrum, because there is no verifiable way to prove that God exists, there has been an efflorescence of religions of nearly every size and shape since the beginning of humankind. Might we then presume that this is the softest of the ‘sciences’?

What examples or counter examples can you think of?

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Brief Review: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

The Swerve: How the World Became ModernThe Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Stephen Greenblatt provides an interesting synthesis of history and philosophy. Greenblatt’s love of the humanities certainly shines through. This stands as an almost over-exciting commercial for not only reading Lucretius’s “De Rerum Natura” (“On the Nature of Things”), but in motivating the reader to actually go out to learn Latin to appreciate it properly.

I would have loved more direct analysis and evidence of the immediate impact of Lucretius in the 1400’s as well as a longer in-depth analysis of the continuing impact through the 1700’s.

The first half of the book is excellent at painting a vivid portrait of the life and times of Poggio Bracciolini which one doesn’t commonly encounter. I’m almost reminded of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, though Greenblatt has far more historical material with which to paint the picture. I may also be biased that I’m more interested in the mechanics of the scholarship of the resurgence of the classics in the Renaissance than I was of that particular political portion of the first century BCE. Though my background on the history of the time periods involved is reasonably advanced, I fear that Greenblatt may be leaving out a tad too much for the broader reading public who may not be so well versed. The fact that he does bring so many clear specifics to the forefront may more than compensate for this however.

In some interesting respects, this could be considered the humanities counterpart to the more science-centric story of Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Though Simon Winchester is still by far my favorite nonfiction writer, Greenblatt does an exceedingly good job of narrating what isn’t necessarily a very linear story.

Greenblatt includes lots of interesting tidbits and some great history. I wish it had continued on longer… I’d love to have the spare time to lose myself in the extensive bibliography. Though the footnotes, bibliography, and index account for about 40% of the book, the average reader should take a reasonable look at the quarter or so of the footnotes which add some interesting additional background an subtleties to the text as well as to some of the translations that are discussed therein.

I am definitely very interested in the science behind textual preservation which is presented as the underlying motivation for the action in this book. I wish that Greenblatt had covered some of these aspects in the same vivid detail he exhibited for other portions of the story. Perhaps summarizing some more of the relevant scholarship involved in transmitting and restoring old texts as presented in Bart Ehrman and Bruce Metzter’s The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption & Restoration would have been a welcome addition given the audience of the book. It might also have presented a more nuanced picture of the character of the Church and their predicament presented in the text as well.

Though I only caught one small reference to modern day politics (a prison statistic for America which was obscured in a footnote), I find myself wishing that Greenblatt had spent at least a few paragraphs or even a short chapter drawing direct parallels to our present-day political landscape. I understand why he didn’t broach the subject as it would tend to date an otherwise timeless feeling text and generally serve to dissuade a portion of his readership and in particular, the portion which most needs to read such a book. I can certainly see a strong need for having another short burst of popularity for “On the Nature of Things” to assist with the anti-science and overly pro-religion climate we’re facing in American politics.

For those interested in the topic, I might suggest that this text has some flavor of Big History in its DNA. It covers not only a fairly significant chunk of recorded human history, but has some broader influential philosophical themes that underlie a potential change in the direction of history which we’ve been living for the past 300 years. There’s also an intriguing overlap of multidisciplinary studies going on in terms of the history, science, philosophy, and technology involved in the multiple time periods discussed.

This review was originally posted on GoodReads.com on 7/8/2014. View all my reviews

Ordering In-N-Out by Chapter and Verse

Eating at In-N-Out has always been a religious experience for me, but did you know you can order almost anything they make by Bible chapter and verse?

Eating at In-N-Out has always been a religious experience for me, but today, to mix things up when ordering lunch, I tried making my order by number, but not In-N-Out’s traditional #1, #2, or #3 system.

I got myself

  • a Nahum 1:7
  • a Revelation 3:20 with cheese
  • two Proverbs 24:16s
  • two John 3:16s
  • and a Chocolate Proverbs 3:5.

What?!” you ask. “I’m all too aware of In-N-Out’s ‘Secret menu’ and have heard of a 4×4 and even a mythical 20×20, but what is a Nahum 1:7?!”

In-N-Out aficionados have probably noticed that the company prints references to Bible verses with just the book, chapter, and verse on their burger wrappers, fry containers, and on the bottom of their cups, so why not order this way as well?

For those not in-the-know, here’s the “translation” to help make your next meal more religious than it already was:

Products and Bible Verses

  • Burger and cheeseburger wrappers:

    Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

    Revelation 3:20
    In-N-Out Burger Wrapper with bible verse Revelation 3:20
    In-N-Out Burger Wrapper with bible verse Revelation 3:20
  • Beverage cups:

    For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

    John 3:16
    In-N-Out soda cup with bible verse John 3:16
    In-N-Out soda cup with bible verse John 3:16
  • Milkshake cups:

    Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

    Proverbs 3:5
    In-N-Out shake cup with bible verse Proverbs 3:5
    In-N-Out shake cup with bible verse Proverbs 3:5
  • Double-Double wrapper:

    The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.

    Nahum 1:7
    In-N-Out Double Double Burger Wrapper with bible verse Nahum 1:7
    In-N-Out Double Double Burger Wrapper with bible verse Nahum 1:7
  • Fry container:

    For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

    Proverbs 24:16
    In-N-Out French Fries with bible verse Proverbs 24:16
    In-N-Out French Fries with bible verse Proverbs 24:16

 

I’ll note a few interesting things:

  • The verse for the hamburger is about dining together with others – this is always important.
  • If you substitute the product the wrappers contain for the words “Lord,” “God,” and “Son,” there is certain sense of poetic verisimilitude in the new verses: their shakes apparently have a heavenly thickness, the double-double sounds like it will fill you up, and the sugary sodas will give you everlasting life. I wonder what would happen if we transubstantiated a hamburger bun?

Animal Style Anyone?

Now if only there were a special chapter and verse for getting my burger “animal style!”

Genesis 7:2 perhaps?

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.

This might be far preferable to Exodus 22:19:

Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

But let’s be honest, with all the fat, salt, sugar, and cholesterol in a good-ol’ traditional #1, I’m going to die sooner than later whether it comes animal style or not.

I’m curious how many In-N-Out employees know their product so well that they can take orders this way?

 

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Lecture Series Review: “Augustine: Philosopher and Saint” by Phillip Cary

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint (Great Courses, #611)Augustine: Philosopher and Saint byProfessor Phillip Cary, Ph.D., Eastern University (The Learning Company, 1997)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series of 12 audio lectures is an excellent little overview of Augustine, his life, times, and philosophy. Most of the series focuses on his writings and philosophy as well as their evolution over time, often with discussion of the historical context in which they were created as well as some useful comparing/contrasting to extant philosophies of the day (and particularly Platonism.)

Early in the series there were some interesting and important re-definitions of some contemporary words. Cary pushes them back to an earlier time with slightly different meanings compared to their modern ones which certainly helps to frame the overarching philosophy presented. Without a close study of this vocabulary, many modern readers will become lost or certainly misdirected when reading modern translations. As examples, words like perverse, righteousness, and justice (or more specifically their Latin counterparts) have subtly different meanings in the late Roman empire than they do today, even in modern day religious settings.

My favorite part, however, has to have been the examples discussing mathematics as an extended metaphor for God and divinity to help to clarify some of Augustine’s thought. These were not only very useful, but very entertaining to me.

As an aside for those interested in mnemotechnic tradition, I’ll also mention that I’ve (re)discovered (see the reference to the Tell paper below) an excellent reference to the modern day “memory palace” (referenced most recently in the book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything) squirreled away in Book X of Confessions where Augustine discusses memory as:

“fields and spacious palaces” “…where are the treasures of innumerable images, brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses. There is stored up, whatsoever besides we think, either by enlarging or diminishing, or any other way varying those things which the sense hath come to; and whatever else hath been committed and laid up, which forgetfulness hath not yet swallowed up and buried.”

Those interested in memes and the history of “memoria ex locis” (of which I don’t even find a reference explicitly written in the original Rhetorica ad Herrenium) would appreciate an additional reference I subsequently found in the opening (and somewhat poetic) paragraph of a paper written by David Tell on JSTOR. The earliest specific reference to a “memory palace” I’m aware of is Matteo Ricci’s in the 16th century, but certainly other references to the construct may have come earlier. Given that Ricci was a Jesuit priest, it’s nearly certain that he would have been familiar with Augustine’s writings at the time, and it’s possible that his modification of Augustine’s mention brought the concept into its current use. Many will know memory as one of the major underpinnings of rhetoric (of which Augustine was a diligent student) as part of the original trivium.

Some may shy away from Augustine because of the religious overtones which go along with his work, but though there were occasional “preachy sounding” sections in the material, they were present only to clarify the philosophy.

I’d certainly recommend this series of lectures to anyone not closely familiar with Augustine’s work as it has had a profound and continuing affect on Western philosophy, thought, and politics.

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The Response of the Schoolmaster

This must certainly be the quote of the week from English author Alan Bennett’s play Forty Years On:

Foster: I’m still a bit hazy about the Trinity, sir.
Schoolmaster: Three in one, one in three, perfectly straightforward.  Any doubts about that see your maths master.

 

A lovely bit of satire on Evolution vs. Creationism… what will they come up with next?

Watched Christian Groups: Biblical Armageddon Must Be Taught Alongside Global Warming from The Onion
Constitutional debate continues over whether public schools should include biblical Armageddon alongside global warming in end-of-world curriculum.