Plato’s Problem and Meno: How Accurately Portrayed?

SOCRATES: Then he who does not know may still have true notions of that which he does not know?

MENO: He has.

SOCRATES: And at present these notions have just been stirred up in him, as in a dream; but if he were frequently asked the same questions, in different forms, he would know as well as any one at last?

MENO: I dare say.

SOCRATES: Without any one teaching him he will recover his knowledge for himself, if he is only asked questions?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: And this spontaneous recovery of knowledge in him is recollection?

MENO: True.

SOCRATES: And this knowledge which he now has must he not either have acquired or always possessed?

MENO: Yes.

SOCRATES: But if he always possessed this knowledge he would always have known; or if he has acquired the knowledge he could not have acquired it in this life, unless he has been taught geometry; for he may be made to do the same with all geometry and every other branch of knowledge. Now, has any one ever taught him all this? You must know about him, if, as you say, he was born and bred in your house.

MENO: And I am certain that no one ever did teach him.

SOCRATES: And yet he has the knowledge?

MENO: The fact, Socrates, is undeniable.

SOCRATES: But if he did not acquire the knowledge in this life, then he must have had and learned it at some other time?

MENO: Clearly he must.

SEE:Meno by Plato

 ***

LEE SMOLIN
Physicist, Perimeter Institute; Author, The Trouble With Physics

Thinking In Time Versus Thinking Outside Of Time

One very old and pervasive habit of thought is to imagine that the true answer to whatever question we are wondering about lies out there in some eternal domain of “timeless truths.” The aim of re-search is then to “discover” the answer or solution in that already existing timeless domain. For example, physicists often speak as if the final theory of everything already exists in a vast timeless Platonic space of mathematical objects. This is thinking outside of time.

Scientists are thinking in time when we conceive of our task as the invention of genuinely novel ideas to describe newly discovered phenomena, and novel mathematical structures to express them. If we think outside of time, we believe these ideas somehow “existed” before we invented them. If we think in time we see no reason to presume that.

The contrast between thinking in time and thinking outside of time can be seen in many domains of human thought and action. We are thinking outside of time when, faced with a technological or social problem to solve, we assume the possible approaches are already determined by a set of absolute pre-existing categories. We are thinking in time when we understand that progress in technology, society and science happens by the invention of genuinely novel ideas, strategies, and novel forms of social organization. See:A “scientific concept” may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or “in a phrase”) but has broad application to understanding the world.

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