Literate Mind and the Human Civilization

Written records permit storage and transmission of knowledge. Without writing, communications will be paralyzed; knowledge will be lost; history could even cease to exist. The importance of writing to humans cannot be overstated.
Taking writing as records presumes writing as secondary to what it records. For sure, the things are what we want, while texts represent them. It seems that writing doesn't have an impact on the things, which operate on their own principles. Nature's operations don't need any texts. The represented knowledge is the main constituents of thought. However, as we will see, it is a different story in seeing and the mind.
As stated in the article "literate mind versus illiterate mind" at, the textual mind, compared with the non-textual mind, is linear, effective, logical and procedural. Here, our discussion employs the concept "representation".
We mostly rely on visual information to know things. The world is represented by visual information. There are basic spatial and temporal relations between pieces of visual information. Although non-textual thought contains a tremendous amount of information, it is too complex to be clear and stable as it grows. Whereas the written symbols are simple, they extend infinitely. Texts sacrifice the abundance in exchange for sequential expansion. When we write or read, the corresponding non-text (visual information) appears in our mind, fragmented. The clearly-shaped, well-defined, procedural and logical elements are the texts instead of the non-text they represent [1]. E.g. it is impossible to imagine what exactly the sentence "New York is beautiful" represents. This distinction between the textual mind and the non-textual mind brings about two kinds of representations.
Compared with the non-textual representations, the textual representations are established, detailed, and extendable. The properties reflect the characteristics of the textual mind. Holding such properties, the mind grows cumulatively without losing rigor. Previous knowledge is able to be preserved while new knowledge is incorporated. Texts enable people to go into details, which are rudimentary for scientific discoveries and technological innovations that are increasingly complex. On the other hand, the unstable non-textual thought sequences will not lead to effective accumulation of knowledge. Illiterates are not able to go into the same detailed levels of the textual mind. The literate mind operates with texts to understand, discover, memorize and utilize the natural rules and principles to invent, create and produce.
As the world goes more complex and texts accumulate, texts become the main established representations of things. However, non-text is the original visual form of the world. They equate the world by large which texts aim at representing. In addition, at a time point, non-text provides much information. As a result, people rely on textual thought for logical process, while cross-checking non-text for causes and effects. Texts form the solid frame of the literate mind, connecting the vast sea of non-text, making logical, procedural accumulation of knowledge. The accumulation of texts in the mind enhances people's capability and leads to the advancement of civilization. More are knowledge-representing texts written or read, more powerful the textual mind would be, and more advanced civilizations would be created.
As the frame of the literate mind, texts are responsible for urbanization and interconnections between things and between people. A literate society is, by far, greater, more organized and regulated than an illiterate one. The laws, highways, cities, social relationships, sciences, technologies, etc. in a society are all regulated, interconnected and maintained by the texts. Without a textual mind, illiterates cannot figure out the complex relations in things and people. Thus, they cannot manage to build larger societies. The more complex are the society, more texts would be needed.
That is to say, written texts establish a detailed and extendable textual mind and become the frame of the literate mind as they record and transmit knowledge. The literate mind supports the accumulation of scientific knowledge and evolution of the created world. It is responsible for advanced civilizations and complex societies.

By Charley Pein


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