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Education, literacy and its cognitive effects: problem-solving and decision-making in Homer and archaic and fifth century BC Athens
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 19:02 authored by Kay Leiper
This work draws research from the cognitive sciences, neurosciences and linguistics into dialogue with the history of Athens in the fifth century BC. This was the first recorded incidence of a society teaching reading and writing to its citizens. The aim of the work is to understand how problem-solving is significantly influenced by literacy or the lack of it. This research posits both culturally sensitive factors altering cognition (in this case through the overlay of literacy), and universal cognitive characteristics in the processing of domain or multi-domain specific language. Literacy education, whilst making no genetic change, developmentally recycles brain architecture in the left hemisphere. This is the hemisphere dominant in processing/producing writing. Metred language (prosody), on the other hand, is a function dominant in the right hemisphere and is a general characteristic of an oral society's concrete, implicit procedural knowledge. In the modern world poets and song writers have highly developed cognition in poetic language. However, among the general population, children and adult non-literates are also shown to possess preponderant abilities to process this form of language. This suggests two things: that the ability to generate poetic language is innate, and, that prose literacy education in some way inhibits this inborn ability to 'think' in poetry - at least in modern western education. In Athens, beyond alphabetic consciousness, the majority became functionally literate by reading poetry but were unable to devise extended continuous written prose. Within several generations a majority of citizens achieved functional literacy within the context of Athenian society. The extant texts of the period provide the first descriptions of a cognitive interface between 'orality' and 'literacy' in a population experiencing literacy en masse. Thucydides, Aristophanes, the logographers and some of their sophist teachers all provide first hand accounts of the impact on individual and collective decision-making. In the second half of the century sophistic education came to Athens introducing, to a minority, tuition in new constructs of extended abstract probabilistic argument accomplished by the use of written prose. Literacy education of this type creates a 'bootstrapping' effect in that writing skills allow more complex abstract argument which, because of the complexity beyond normal oral 'cognitive capacity', in itself, becomes a form of 'serial reasoning'. The work researches the Sophists and their curriculum; in particular the refinements Gorgias devised, which, to some extent, reconciled the psychological disconnect created by speech-makers trained in the extended written prose construction of forensic and abstract deliberation and audiences who could not initially formulate their ideas in such a medium.