Thursday, April 14, 2011

Oral vs Written:Without writing there is no logic, or philosophy or mathematics

I am presently reading The Information by James Gleick . It is an astounding series of revelations about the nature of information and the significance of how it is available for what its meaning and how it is thought about. This is obviously of significance for the distinction of Oral and Written Torah. It perhaps also answers the question of why the gemora was not written in the form of the Mishna Torah. etc etc

chapter 2

"Logic might be imagined to exist independent of writing - syllogisms can be spoken as well as written - but it did not. Speech is too fleeting to allow for analysis. Logic descended from the written word, in Greece as well as India and China, where it developed independently. Logic turns the act of abstraction into a tool for determining what is true and what is false: truth can be discovered in words alone, apart from conceret experience. Logic takes its form in chains: sequences whose members connect one to another. Conclusions follow from premises. These require a degree of constancy. They have no power unless people can examine and evaluate them. In contrasst an oral narrative proceeds by accretion, the words passing y in a line of parde past the viewing stand, briefly present and then gone, interacting with one another via memory and association...".


  1. Both the Mishna and Gemora were not written for until much later, as they are both the Oral Law, and even there writing was a concession as a necessary evil that ideally should not have been put to writing.

  2. I agree with the Englishman's implication that this assertion is wrong. I am interested to know if he backs it up with evidence. I'll give you counter-evidence...

    I like playing with logic. Probably what led me to becoming a programmer when I (relatively speaking) grew up. So, I torture my kids with logic puzzles. I have given each of my kids the Epimenides Paradox and every one picked up on the underlying syllogism as well as its problem before the child was literate.

    And aside from Shuby, who has Downs, I don't think this result is startling. I would be most kids would be developmentally ready to get it by age 5 or so.

    (The Epimenides Paradox: Epimenides, who was from Knossos, Crete, declared "Anything you are told by anyone from Crete is a lie.")


  3. I agree with the blog author here. Noam Chomsky's theory categorized language into 4 classes. See

    The Gemara is closer to an unrestricted grammar, Type 0. This encompasses everything that can be described in words.

    Mishneh Torah is closer to Type 1 (context-sensitive), not exactly a programming language like Type 2 (context-free), but not unrestricted like the Gemara.

    I wouldn't be surprised if Chomsky was inspired by this observation to come up with his theory.

  4. This is all faith based speculaton about the the history of the Oral Law.
    Rambam, in his introduction to the commentary on the MIshna, makes a startling admission. He says it is impossible to memorize the entire talmud. Is it possible to transmit a body of knowledge as large as the Talmud or oral law, purely by oral repetition? He then goes on to say that the Sages actually kept written records of the Mishna and halachot.
    So the entire claim of oral transmission is questionable, based on rambam's statement.


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