Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for March 25th, 2018

Dreaming in numbers

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Ancient scribes learned not merely to read and write, but also to use catalogues, dictionaries, calendars, forms and tables. They studied and internalized techniques of cataloguing, retrieving and processing information very different from those used by the brain. In the brain, all data is freely associated. When I go with my spouse to sign on a mortgage for our new home, I am reminded of the first place we lived together, which reminds me of our honeymoon in New Orleans, which reminds me of alligators, which remind me of dragons, which remind me of The Ring of the Nibelungen, and suddenly, before I know it, there I am humming the Siegfried leitmotif to a puzzled bank clerk. In bureaucracy, things must be kept apart. There is one drawer for home mortgages, another for marriage certificates, a third for tax registers, and a fourth for lawsuits. Otherwise, how can you find anything? Things that belong in more than one drawer, like Wagnerian music dramas (do I file them under “music,” “theater,” or perhaps invent a new category altogether?), are a terrible headache. So one is forever adding, deleting and rearranging drawers.

In order to function, the people who operate such a system of drawers must be reprogrammed to stop thinking as humans and to start thinking as clerks and accountants. As everyone from ancient times till today knows, clerks and accountants think in a non-human fashion. They think like filing cabinets. This is not their fault. If they don’t think that way their drawers will all get mixed up and they won’t be able to provide the services their government, company or organization requires. The most important impact of script on human history is precisely this: it has gradually changed the way humans think and view the world…Writing was born as the maidservant of human consciousness, but is increasingly becoming its master. Our computers have trouble understanding how Homo sapiens talks, feels and dreams. So we are teaching Homo sapiens to talk, feel and dream in the language of numbers.

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Written by nevalalee

March 25, 2018 at 7:30 am

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