Proof Humans Are Capable of Working Magic

July 31st, 2012

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time.

A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

– Carl Sagan, The Persistence of Memory

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  1. fil

    It certainly is a powerful medium. It is capable of great good and great harm. It has “magically” convinced people that they are expert in matters they where they are most ignorant. Each of us are gifted in some areas and challenged in others. I am sure I could read everything ever written about artificial intelligence and remain woefully inept.

    I enjoy reading but have mostly sworn off the activity…deeming it a waste of my time. As Garrison Keillor stated on The Prairie Home Companion this weekend, “I am an English major. I am good at writing about things I know little about.” There is a lot of that that goes on…and there is a fool born every minute that believes what they read is fact and truth. Fact/life is stranger/more interesting than fiction. Folks need to put down their books, turn off their computers and TVs, quit relying artificial entertainment to distract them from life and get on with developing relationships with the folks that are near and dear to them.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    It is certainly true that you can’t believe everything you read. Or see on TV. Or hear from a colleague.

    But isn’t knowledge a powerful weapon against ignorance? The same could be said of a philosophical system of logic, which would, I think, be tough to pick up without reading.

    I certainly value the time I spend reading with my boys every day. But that sentiment isn’t limited to childhood. It is easy to have a shallow or smalltalk-filled conversation with adults. It’s usually considerably more difficult to get to know people more deeply or to have more meaningful conversations. I have found good books to be one of the most effective ways to do that. A discussion about a good, thought-provoking book can teach us more about others in an hour than a month of chatter.

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  2. fil

    Yes, but all of the best thought provocation without application is useless. There are few areas where one can develop a high level of understanding without engaging the activity seriously in a practicum-like manner.

    John, I am not sure about the validity of your last sentence. Without face-to-face experience ones knowledge remains “magical”-regardless of what one has read. You may be sensitized to an issue however significant ignorance remains. Off the top of my head I will cite racism, poverty, parenting/nurturing children, sports, cooking/baking, gardening and breeding livestock as areas where I have developed a good measure of expertise where my understandings are significantly more experience based than book based. While I find it enjoyable to read in these areas I rarely find those readings to be of much value by way of practical application. I believe it is much more useful to pay attention to the details of my personal engagement in this regard.

    I would choose a sense of justice/wisdom over knowledge-as a weapon against ignorance. Knowledge and intelligence carry no guarantees against a long list of evil and ignorance.

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  3. John Goerzen

    Two separate things here; be careful not to conflate them.

    You were talking earlier about human relationships. This is a different topic than acquiring knowledge. My point with the last sentence was that we get a deeper view of someone’s soul if we discuss some deeper topic, such as are covered in many books. It wasn’t a commentary on knowledge.

    Knowledge and experience go hand in hand. Both are important, and which is more important has literally been a matter of debate for centuries. I have many years’ experience doing what I do. That’s part of why I’m good at it, but it is also undeniable that the knowledge I have obtained through study is also important. Take out either of those factors and I wouldn’t be nearly as good at it. The same is true for a great many fields. If I did not, say, know the equations giving properties for the travel of radio waves, I would no more be able to build my own antenna than if I didn’t know how to solder.

    In the end, to bring this back on-topic, my intent wasn’t to claim that books are superior to everything always. Just that they aren’t bad.

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  4. fil

    The utility of books is great…especially related to science and technology. However, in general, I believe we have become too enamored with our gadgets at the expense of our interpersonal needs as humans. This certainly is not the fault of books-but how we use them.

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