How Do We Think?

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"More simply, did human being once think differently from the way we do now, and do we now think differently from the way we may think in the future?"

-From Eric A. Havelock's The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present, page 27

Even though Havelock is disgussing a book (The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan) that was written almost fifty years ago, I think these questions posed by it are still relevant.  I definitely know that I think differently than people did in the past.  From our readings so far, especially Plato's work, we can see that in the past, memory was an important part of each person's everyday life.  I can see this even when I look at my own family.  My mother remembers much more than I do.  In fact, she still sometimes reminds me of things that I have to do that I have forgotten.  And, when I talk to my grandmother about what she did when she was young, she can remember extremely specific details, like what she was wearing when such-and-such happened.  Part of this strong memory may be a personal characteristic (my father's memory is not nearly as good as my mothers); however, I do think it has a lot to do with what and how we think today.

Now, we have so many more ways of remembering things.  First, paper was more available so people could take notes.  Then there were audio recording devices, then personal computers and Blackberries, and now most cell phones can retain large amounts of information and personal computers are the size of a small tablet.  Also, because of this technology, there exists a greater availability of information, so we are not required to remember as much.  We can simply go to sites like Wikipedia to find any basic information, and extend our almost limitless search from there.

However, thinking and remembering are slightly different, and I do know young people today who can remember every detail of whatever people tell them.  What is different about our thinking today is that we think more often in terms of how to aquire information than how to remember it.  If we are looking for scholarly information, we usually (hopefully) do not think about going to Wikipedia.  We think about going to the library homepage, then to a search for online articles, then to a specific search engine, and so on.  The ancients only had the information they had memorized or could obtain from another person, and people in the more recent past had what these, but also what they could write down or find in books.  Now, so much more information is available to us that the ways of aquireing that knowldge is what we spend more time thinking about.  I wonder what people in the future will spend most of their time thinking about?


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