Symbolic representations can be used to indicate meaning and can be thought of as a dynamic process. Hence the transfer of the symbolic representation can be viewed as one ascription process whereby knowledge can be transferred. Other forms of communication include observation and imitation, verbal exchange, and audio and video recordings. Philosophers of language and semioticians construct and analyze theories of knowledge transfer or communication.
While many would agree that one of the most universal and significant tools for the transfer of knowledge is writing (of many kinds), argument over the usefulness of the written word exists nonetheless, with some scholars skeptical of its impact on societies. In his collection of essays Technopoly Neil Postman demonstrates the argument against the use of writing through an excerpt from Plato's work Phaedrus (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York, pp 73). In this excerpt the scholar Socrates recounts the story of Thamus, the Egyptian king and Theuth the inventor of the written word. In this story, Theuth presents his new invention "writing" to King Thamus, telling Thamus that his new invention "will improve both the wisdom and memory of the Egyptians" (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York, pp 74). King Thamus is skeptical of this new invention and rejects it as a tool of recollection rather than retained knowledge. He argues that the written word will infect the Egyptian people with fake knowledge as they will be able to attain facts and stories from an external source and will no longer be forced to mentally retain large quantities of knowledge themselves (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York,pp 74).
Andrew Robinson also highlights, in his work The Origins of Writing, the possibility for writing to be used to spread false information and therefore the ability of the written word to decrease social knowledge (Robinson, Andrew (2003) The Origins of Writing in Crowley and Heyer (eds) Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society, Boston pp 34). People are often internalizing new information which they perceive to be knowledge but in reality fill their minds with false knowledge.
The above points are moot in the modern world. Verbal communication lends itself to the spread of falsehoods much more so than written, as there is no record of exactly what was said or who originally said it (usually neither the source nor the content can be verified). Gossip and rumors are common examples. As to value of writing, the extent of human knowledge is now so great that it is only possible to record it and to communicate it through writing. Major libraries today can have millions of books of knowledge (in addition to works of fiction). It is only recently that audio and video technology for recording knowledge have become available and the use of these still requires replay equipment and electricity. Verbal teaching and handing down of knowledge is limited to those few who would have contact with the transmitter person - far too limited for today's world. Writing is still the most available and most universal of all forms of recording and transmitting knowledge. It stands unchallenged as mankind's primary technology of knowledge transfer down through the ages and to all cultures and languages of the world.
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“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
—Thomas Henry Huxley (182595)