Books as Dragon’s Teeth

23 March 2007 at 7:31 pm 1 comment

I attended a seminar on “Emerging Libraries” a couple of weeks ago in Second Life where I heard Michael Keller of Stanford mention “the Library of the Mind” as something that 21st century technology will expand.  He was referring to technology as what I call a “mnemonic prosthesis” which extends our memories and other aspects of our mindbrain beyond the body.  In an email clarifying comments about this concept of the “Library of the Mind” he made at a different conference (“the future is here; what are we waiting for?”), he recommended an old book called The Sources of Western Literacy by Felix Reichmann.  Browsing the book, I found this quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica:

Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve, as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.  I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.

This captures something of the sense that I have of books being energonomic conduits: they capture and store brainenergy, which is released when another reads them.  The physical energy that one uses to write ideas, compose a book, and publish and distribute that book, is stored in the form of the book.  The book therefore comes to embody all of the energy (or “emergy“) used to produce it, including the years and decades of the writer’s education as well as the fruits of cultural and political infrastructure.  Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi recognizes this in his book Creativity, in which he provides 5th century Greece, 15th century Florence, and 19th century Paris as three exemplary milieu in which surplus attention led to remarkable achievements and advancements (see pp. 8, 32-36, 332-35).  Such surpluses come about when a convergence of economic, political, and cultural factors allow for a particular matrix of individual, field of study, and domain of knowledge to give birth to a creative (i.e. culture-changing) phenomenon.

One thing Milton forgot to mention:  the dragon that has books for teeth is green.


Entry filed under: books, energonomics, Second Life.

Cosmocentrism The Neuroscience of Choice

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Cognitive Surplus « Scholaris Erratus  |  2 May 2008 at 10:56 pm

    […] of positive psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, who speaks of those historical moments when “surplus attention” (a different way of conceiving “cognitive surplus”) allowed for explosive […]


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