If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Tuesday 7 August 2012
Read gnomica 1-50 here!
“Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books,
for a liar who will deceive with his tongue
will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.”
Maimonides (1135 – 1204)
This influential medieval polymath, a Jewish physician and scholar of the Torah born in Córdoba (Spain), wrote his religious works in Judeo-Arabic and his medical treatises in Arabic.
His advice from almost a millennium ago is still valid, perhaps even more so. For one could happily write the same thing today and substitute ‘internet’ for ‘books’. Students in particular are much inclined to assume that what drops down from the “cloud” onto their computer screens just has to be “the truth” – and in all likelihood many of us (and in the interest of full disclosure I confess that I too must acknowledge, however reluctantly, membership in that pronominal category) do on a daily basis. Accustomed as we have become, almost in spite of our better natures, to a kind of empty-caloric but super-tasty tabloid macdonaldization not only of newspapers and magazines but also of television and the blogosphere, we rarely pause to ‘source the sources’ putatively supporting whatever verbal or visual structures are flitting past our blunted ratiocinative faculties. We just don’t have the time!
But, if you know a good deal about some subject, google it and browse the articles. You’ll find that some are excellent, and others leave much to be desired. But, given the vast oceans of ‘informative’ data inundating our brains, not even the most conscientious, with all the good will and honest intentions in the world, can possibly evaluate in any serious way the accuracy or validity of even a fraction of what we read and see. We just don’t have the time!
I certainly do not see this as sufficient reason to jettison use of the web, only to heed Maimonides, proceed cautiously, and take few things on trust. A kind of subliminal temptation for each of us to rely on that flood of data pouring into us and on that basis pre-consciously to fashion a Gestalt of reality that merely reinforces our preconceptions and conforms to our intellectual-emotional comfort zones is truly enormous … but, again, remember Maimonides.
He, incidentally — and needless to say — is the eponymous source for the famous Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.
[PS Maimonides’ citation made me think of discussions I have had over the years about this general topic with a very good friend – so thanks for that, Nigel C.!]