Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abraham Lincoln on writing - man's greatest invention?

I just finished a book called "Reading in the Brain:  The New Science of How We Read" that's a neuroscientist's effort to explain the science and evolution of why and how we read and write (did you know, for example, that the letters in the alphabet derive from ancient pictograms and that every alphabet on the planet shares similar graphic characteristics?).  Towards the end, there was this quote from 'Ol Abe Lincoln which I thought some of you might enjoy:

Writing--the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through the eye--is the great invention of the world. Great in the astonishing range of analysis and combination which necessarily underlies the most crude and general conception of it--great, very great in enabling us to converse with the dead, the absent, and the unborn, at all distances of time and of space; and great, not only in its direct benefits, but greatest help, to all other inventions. Suppose the art, with all conception of it, were this day lost to the world, how long, think you, would it be, before even Young America could get up the letter A with any adequate notion of using it to advantage?

When we remember that words are sounds merely, we shall conclude that the idea of representing those sounds by marks, so that whoever should at any time after see the marks, would understand what sounds they meant, was a bold and ingenious conception, not likely to occur to one man of a million, in the run of a thousand years. . . . Its utility may be conceived, by the reflection that, to it we owe everything which distinguishes us from savages.

Abe, you have no idea . . . .



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