8 months ago, I wrote about a wordless world. No need to re-read the reflection as it's about something that can't be put in words :) A quote by philosopher Bernard Stiegler in the article sums up the reflection however: "In a society where musical partitions don't exist, we can't separate composition from interpretation".
This is relevant to us today. Just like musical partitions capture music on paper and make it possible to share a given tune and replay it, our words make it possible to capture our thoughts and share them. Others can then process our own ideas. There is no doubt something is always lost in translation. Words approximate reality.
My question is not about the use of words (sharing, replaying ideas etc.) however but rather about the harmfulness of capturing thoughts with words. The first critique of writing made by Plato more than 2400 years ago uses an Egyptian myth to convey the idea:
"Thamus [an Egyptian god] replied, “Most ingenious Theuth [another Egyptian god], one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another; and now you, who are the father of letters [i.e. writing], have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. 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."
My Evernotes have been piling up for years and years. I have 307 notes today and search them on a regular basis to surface past insights. I call this disease "capturitis". If you feel like hearing some poetry, here's a spoken word poem about our collective ailment :) But I wonder.
What if we never took a single note again? What if we never captured a thought? What if musicians never used partitions again? What would music sound like? Would the world be a cacophony?
Say we stop capturing our ideas, prolong the fermentation, and stop writing in our journals, what will our thinking be like? Does "not capturing" mean we are "trusting" our minds to preserve our best insights? If so, does that mean capturing our ideas through words hinders our true wisdom?
The Goroka tribe in Africa believes “Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”. By taking it out of the muscle, are we short-circuiting the knowledge process?