The Explosion of Knowledge

I think one of the greatest pieces of advice that I've ever been given came from Socrates. That's right, Socrates gave me advice. He said, "Employ yourself in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored for."


Actually, Socrates was giving this advice to a group of young boys. As his students, Socrates would take them through the marketplace-the center of life in ancient Greece-and teach them about the world they observed around them.


It's funny that Socrates would advise his students to study writings because Socrates was illiterate. At that time, only "special" people were taught to read and write. All of his life, stories and knowledge were passed down by word of mouth. He understood the need to write in order to record ideas, as well as the need to read in order to study these ideas. While Socrates would be put to death for some of his revolutionary ideas and disruption in the marketplace, his legacy continued in at least one student that we know of: Plato.


Plato, unlike Socrates, was literate. He was one of the "special" people who were taught to read and write. Still, Plato did not completely trust writing. He realized that something could be written, and then changed; edited or skewed. While Plato did write some things, he spent most of his time teaching. He took a group of students to a farm called Academos (as in "Academy") and created a new generation of thinkers. One of his most famous students was Aristotle.


Like his teacher, Aristotle could read and write. In fact, to Aristotle writing was everything; opposite Plato. He and his students worked to record everything about the world. Aristotle would have a famous student as well.


This particular student would not become a teacher. He would not spend his time with groups of scholars or sit recording the world. He would instead become a king and conquer the world. He would be immoratlized in history as Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia. Alexander would conquer nearly every nation in the world during his time. More importantly, he would create a common culture among his conquered nations, which resulted in a common language. Suddenly, it became much easier to teach people to read and write. By the time Alexander died, most of the population was literate; a huge advancement from Socrates time.


Still, Alexander did something even more revolutionary. He took all the writings in the world (anywhere from 40,000 to 1,000,000 depending on who you ask) and complied them in on central location in Alexandria. All the greatest scholars would go there to read, study, and think. Thus, the first library-or university, as some say-was born.


In only four generations, the human race experienced an explosion of knowledge. In the time of Socrates, most of the population was illiterate. By the time Alexander died, the world had shifted and advancements like places like universities were being formed. Through the work of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander, global knowledge became available in little more than 100 years.


Today we are in the midst of a similar phenomenon. As technology evolves more information, cultures, languages, and ideas are made available to us. The world is exploding once again, overflowing with knowledge. A vast amount of knowledge is literally at our fingertips. We have the power to do and know things ancient philosophers and kings could've never imagined. The say knowledge is power. Then we've got access to all the power in the world. So the question is: Will you be weak? Or powerful?


"The unexamined life is not worth living." -Socrates

"And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul." -Plato

"All men by nature desire knowledge." -Aristotle

"There is nothing impossible to him who will try." -Alexander the Great





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