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Boulton: So, in a sense, writing
is the enabling technology of civilization.
John Searle: It's right, as far as it goes, to say that the written language
enables civilization. But I would go a further step and say it doesn't just
enable it in the sense of making it possible, but rather,it
constitutes it. It is a constitutive element of civilization in that
you cannot have what we think of as the defining social institutions of
civilization without having written language. You cannot have universities
and schools. But not just the pedagogical institutions, but you can't even have
money or private property or governments or national elections, or for that
matter, cocktail parties and marriages. You can't even have a summer vacation or
a lawsuit without a written language.
written language is where language acquires, not just a much greater creative
power, but an enduring power, because you can create these wonderful writings
that survive, that go on and on and get repeated. Think of the Constitution of
the United States or the Declaration of Independence.
Boulton: Itís the infrastructure of civilization.
John Searle: Indeed. It is the infrastructure, but it isn't just the
infrastructure of roads and bridges, it's the infrastructure of human
John Searle, Mills
Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of
California-Berkeley. 2004 National Humanities Medal for shaping modern thought about the nature of the
human mind. Author of Mind: A Brief Introduction to the Fundamentals of
Philosophy. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/searle.htm#EnablingTechnology
Dr. Keith Stanovich: There's
your idea of -- and I like that the phrase of "a writing system is a
technology," and it's a cultural artifact that is, again, not natural in
the sense that those famous articles in reading talk about things being natural.
Boulton: And not like today's technology, where some team got together and
figured it out. We would not let machine in the world run anything like this.
Dr. Keith Stanovich: Right.
Now, there's it being a technology in the insight, and there's that insight. But
then that's the point you just made, I think the issue is then: How efficacious
a technology this is is kind of another issue. I think there are two things
because there's technologies that are not as messed up, but nonetheless, someone
would still have to have the insight, that you're still dealing with a cultural
artifact. All I'm saying is that those are all good points, but I think there
are two things rattling around in there.
Stanovich, Canada's Research Chair of Applied Cognitive
Science, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto.
John Searle: People don't just get born into how to live as human beings,
they have to learn how to live as human beings. Much of their learning
-- indeed, almost all of their learning is by way of language. Some is
by way of brute animal imitation. But once you get really going with advanced
forms of civilization like falling in love or becoming a doctor, then you must
have written language.
the forms of civilization that we think of as essential to the distinction
between humans and other forms of animal life require advanced institutional
structures. You and I spend our lives locked into institutional structures. I
spend my life in a university. You spend your life engaged in various kinds of
linguistic and technological enterprises. All of those require language, but
particularly the advanced human forms of civilizations, like universities and
like governments and like national elections - all of those require writing.
Boulton: Excellent. So, the development of writing and the complexity that's
come with writing and the dimensions with which writing can refer to itself,
and so forth, has actually changed the oral language.
John Searle: Oh, well, of course. It's changed the way we think and talk.
I can't have the kinds of feelings that I have without language, but I can't
have those without writing. So, I mentioned falling in love, but there are all
kinds of other emotions that you cannot have without some way to articulate
those. And that requires social forms of articulation, and they require written
forms of articulation.
John Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of
Mind and Language at University of California-Berkeley. 2004 National
Humanities Medal for shaping modern thought about the nature of the
human mind. Author of Mind: A Brief Introduction to the Fundamentals of
Philosophy. Source: COTC Interview - http://www.childrenofthecode.org/interviews/searle.htm#TechnologyModern
Boulton: Right. One of the things
that gets me though, is that what weíre saying in effect is that the
majority of our children, to some degree, are having their lives all but fated
by how well they learn to interface with an archaic technology.
Reid Lyon: Well, by archaic technology,
if you mean lousy teachingÖ
I mean by the code itself.
Reid Lyon: Well, I see what you mean.
not going to change the code, Iím sure.
Incredibly Modern Invention One of the interesting things about reading is that itís an incredibly
modern invention. I mean, in a sense, reading was invented by Gutenberg. I once
Gardner at Harvard make such a statement and Iíve loved it ever since. You
could say reading was invented by the Swedish kings, who for the first time
required that every child in the kingdom must learn to read and who left the
local preacher, the local minister responsible for teaching them. And
thatís a seventeenth century event. So in fact, this incredibly heavy
exercise that weíre all engaged in, that involves such intensive learning is
based on a relatively recent event.
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Developing Child; Co-Editor: From
Neurons to Neighborhoods
Edward Kame'enuiCommissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of
Education; Director, IDEA, University of Oregon Dr. G. Reid LyonPast
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Dr. Keith Stanovich
Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto Dr. Mel
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Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness &
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SearleMills Professor of the Philosophy
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