Public Lecture by Dr. Robert Logan: Alphabet, Mother of Invention


Western thought patterns are highly abstract, compared with Eastern. There developed in the West, and only in the West, a group of innovations that constitute the basis of Western thought. These include (in addition to the alphabet) codified law, monotheism, abstract science, formal logic, and individualism. All of these innovations, including the alphabet, arose within the very narrow geographic zone between the Tigris-Euphrates river system and the Aegean Sea, and within the very narrow time frame between 2000 B.C. and 500 B.C. This is not considered to be an accident. While not suggesting a direct causal connection between the alphabet and the other innovations, it is claimed that the phonetic alphabet played a particularly dynamic role within this constellation of events and provided the ground or framework for the mutual development of these innovations. The effects of the alphabet and the abstract, logical, systematic thought that it, encouraged explains why abstract science began in the West and not the East, despite the much greater technological sophistication of the Chinese – the inventors of metallurgy, irrigation systems, animal harnesses, paper, ink, printing, movable type, gunpowder, rockets, porcelain, and silk. Credit must also be given to monotheism and codified law for the role they played in developing the notion of universal law, an essential building-block of science. Almost all of the early scientists – Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Anaxagoras and Heraclitus – were both law-makers in their community and monotheistically inclined. They each believed that a unifying principle ruled the universe.

Date: Thursday, October 25 Time: 7:15 – 8:15 p.m.

LOCATION: University of Toronto, Carr Hall, Room 404, located at 100 St. Joseph Street, St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. (First street north of Wellesley; the parking lot is opposite Carr Hall).

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