I often wonder how educated, intelligent people so often forget what they already know. For example, how is it that people frequently forget (or suppress) memories and information that would serve as counter-examples to theories that they produce to explain phenomena? This is very obvious in political discussion, where a certain form of hypocrisy is men’s standard behavior.
This morning, I thought about how certain lessons are so strong, they are unlikely to be forgetten, conveniently or otherwise. In this, Hume may have had some insight, though I find his epistemology untenable. For he makes much of the power of vivid impressions in the mind.
Vivacity comes in various ways. Repetition, intense emotion experienced, and perhaps even the profundity of the idea itself may lead to the vivacity of a certain idea or a set of ideas. In addition, certain powerful images make their presence felt—or known—in the mind, though maybe the power of the image depends on its similarity to things repeatedly experienced, on its ability to induce emotion, and on its ability to open the mind’s eye.
I have found the images of Plato’s dialogues to be such powerful images. Though I may be convinced by Socrates’ arguments or the dialogues’ “meta-arguments,” such lessons learnt might not so readily surface to my conscious attention when I encounter other competing images. For example, I might believe that reason should rule the appetites, but it is easy to forget such a belief when I confront the desires of others and my own. Yet, the image in the Republic where the tiny man attempts to control the many-headed beast recalls my attention to the lesson. Feeding a monstrous head only causes it to grow more powerful—and hungrier. When I encounter the appetites’ mutinies, I think of this grotesque image.
Indeed, Plato’s images seem to be remarkably vivid; Socrates was truly a lover of images. Yet, these images assist us in knowing the truth. They also remind us of wisdom gained when such is most necessary.
It is ironic that the dialogues warn us about image-thinking yet provide us with such helpful images by which our lazy and earthy minds may guard themselves against falsehood. Just like Aristotle’s insistence on habit, supposedly lowly images play an important role in living the good life. It is thus important which images we learn. I recommend Plato’s dialogues and the parables of Christ. Sadly, many people in our culture fill their minds only with popular culture. Do you trust Hollywood to craft such signposts to truth?