Plato at the Googleplex

From a book review of Rebecca Goldstein's "Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away" in The Atlantic:

Goldstein’s Plato, like Socrates before him, is less interested in teaching those with whom he converses than he is in helping them see that they don’t know what they think they know. In sending Plato to Google, Goldstein deftly exposes the conceptual presumption at the heart of what looks like the latest high-tech methodology. On his visit with the new masters of gathering human knowledge, Plato considers a (fictional) algorithm they have developed called the Ethical Answers Search Engine, or EASE, which does just what its name suggests: it crowdsources answers to ethical problems, the same way businesses now employ crowdsourcing to predict political outcomes and stock-market fluctuations, or to select marketing strategies. But ethical solutions are not as, well, easy as the search engine might have its users believe....

Plato certainly did not think the crowd was a reliable source of ethical insight. It was the crowd, after all, who put Socrates to death.

Goldstein's purpose in having Plato pay a visit to the Googleplex is, among other things, to demonstrate that knowledge is much more than information, a "conceptual presumption" about connection that today has inspired a new generation of makers and tinkerers to prosecute an analog rebellion, and phrases like "digital detox," which has become nearly synonymous with burnout. On the relative privilege we accord the sciences and its objective findings, the reviewer elsewhere approvingly quotes Søren Kierkegaard, who writes that "no generation has learned from another to love." Goldstein's Plato still sees shadows.

So to that still-here category of philosophy, I might add the arts, the humanities, the world's historic faiths, an exquisite meal and that charged, out-of-body electricity you felt one everlasting moment before your first kiss.

Your arms, you learned quickly, held tight.

Stay curious.


Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Tilemahos Efthimiadis