Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mo Tzu on External Memory

The Chinese philosopher Mo Tzu (470-391) apparently wrote that "the sources of knowledge lie in what is written on bamboo and silk, what is engraved on metal and stone, and what is cut on vessels." I quote in accordance with Nicholas Basbanes, On paper. The "Everything" of its Two-Thousand Year History by a Self-Confessed Bibliophiliac (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013), p. 5.

I am not sure it was written by Mo Tzu or Mo Zi, as he is also called. The Book of Master Mo seems to have been compiled over a number years by his pupils. Still, it is an interesting reminder that before paper, there were other ways of fixing memory. Long before paper, people realised "Verba volent, scripta manent."

I did like Basbane's book, though I do believe that his choice of topics is less than judicious. Furthermore, precise references—any references—are often lacking. Thus he does not tell us where his quote of Mo Tzu comes from.

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