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The Benefits of a Classical Education

As some of you may know, I got my undergraduate degree in Greek and Latin Classics. So when Forbes asked me to do an interview on the subject of how my Classical education had affected my business career, I agreed. The result, part of a special report called Power, Ambition, Glory, used only a small part of the interview I provided, so I decided to publish the entire interview here. Questions in bold were provided by Forbes in an email interview:

1. Tell us about a time when lessons learned from the ancients contributed to your success.

I love this question. As John Cowper Powys noted in The Meaning of Culture, culture (vs. mere education) is how you put what you’ve learned to work in your own life, seeing the world around you more deeply because of the historical, literary, artistic and philosophical resonances that current experiences evoke. Classical stories come often to my mind, and provide guides to action (much as Plutarch intended his histories of famous men to be guides to morality and action). The classics are part of my mental toolset, the context I think with. So rather than giving you a single example, let me give you a potpourri.

  • The unconscious often knows more than the conscious mind. I believe this is behind what Socrates referred to as his inner “daimon” or guiding spirit. He had developed the skill of listening to that inner spirit. I have tried to develop that same skill. It often means not getting stuck in your fixed ideas, but recognizing when you need more information, and putting yourself into a receptive mode so that you can see the world afresh.

    This skill has helped me to reframe big ideas in the computer industry, including creating the first advertising on the world wide web, bringing the group together that gave open source software its name, and framing the idea that “Web 2.0″ or the “internet as platform” is really about building systems that harness collective intelligence, and get better the more people use them. Socrates is my constant companions (along with others, from Lao Tzu to Alfred Korzybski to George Simon, who taught me how to listen to my inner daimon.)

    I believe that I’ve consistently been able to spot emerging trends because I don’t think with what psychologist Eugene Gendlin called “received knowledge,” but in a process that begins with a raw data stream that over time tells me its own story.

    I wrote about this idea in my Classics honors thesis at Harvard. The ostensible subject was mysticism vs logic in the work of Plato, but the real subject was how we mistake the nature of thought. As Korzybski pointed out in the 1930s, “the map is not the territory,” yet so many of us walk around with our eyes glued to the map, and never notice when the underlying territory doesn’t match, or has changed. Socrates was one of my teachers in learning how not to get stuck following someone else’s map.

  • When Alexander the Great came to see Diogenes in his barrel, he was so impressed by the philosopher that he offered him money. Diogenes scornfully pointed out that he had no need of money, to which Alexander replied, “Have you no friends?” I’ve always thought that Alexander had the better of this encounter. His awareness that even when your own needs have been met you can work for the betterment of others has helped me to understand that being a successful businessman can be a powerful way to contribute to society. In building a business, it’s important to remember that you aren’t just acquiring wealth for yourself, but creating value for your employees, your customers, and others whom you may never even meet. This is the principle behind one of the mottos we use at O’Reilly: “Create more value than you capture.”

    Of course, the lessons for this one aren’t just from the Classics but from all of literature. I’m mindful of a wonderful passage in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables about the good that Jean Valjean does as a businessman (operating under the pseudonym of Father Madeleine). Through his industry and vision, he makes an entire region prosperous, so that “there was no pocket so obscure that it had not a little money in it; no dwelling so lowly that there was not some little joy within it.” And the key point:

    “Father Madeleine made his fortune; but a singular thing in a simple man of business, it did not seem as though that were his chief care. He appeared to be thinking much of others, and little of himself.”

  • I’ve been deeply influenced by Aristotle’s idea that virtue is a habit, something you practice and get better at, rather than something that comes naturally. “The control of the appetites by right reason,” is how he defined it. My brother James once brilliantly reframed this as “Virtue is knowing what you really want,” and then building the intellectual and moral muscle to go after it.

  • There are many topics, from open source software to web 2.0, where I’ve had to spend years trying to persuade others to a point of view that was at first foreign, then popular, then misunderstood and bastardized by those seeking to profit from the term without really understanding it. In telling the same story over and over again in different ways, I’m following in the footsteps of the Greek orator (alas, I forget his name) who said “The difference between a man and a sheep is that a sheep just bleats, but a man keeps saying the same thing in different ways until he gets what he wants.”) Look at a series of essays like Hardware, Software, and Infoware, The Open Source Paradigm Shift, and What is Web 2.0? and you’ll see me pursuing the same ideas, refining, clarifying, and advocating till I get what I want.

  • I live with a constant consciousness of the decline and fall of the Roman Republic, and the alarming parallels to 20th and 21st century America. Today’s venal partisan politics, driven by self-interested lobbyists, who all too often put personal gain ahead of the real interests of the nation, is eerily reminiscent of the way Rome fell from its high ideals. Heck, we’re even replacing our military with mercenaries, one of the things that had disastrous consequences for Rome. Fortunately, we’re still early in the process, and there is an opportunity to turn it around.

    There are of course also other parallels – many of which have been noted by the classically trained among our politicians. Robert Byrd’s masterful retelling of the disastrous Athenian invasion of Syracuse (which ultimately led to their defeat in the Pelopponesian wars) highlighted the parallels with the US invasion of Iraq, and made clear that, as Mark Twain said, “While history doesn’t repeat itself, it does rhyme.”

2. If you could invite one classical figure to dinner, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Socrates, if only to know if he was indeed, as Plato said, “the noblest and best man ever to have lived” or rough clay refined by Plato’s own imagination. I like to think he’d be a great guy to have around to ask the right questions of those in power today. We’d probably imprison him too, though!

3. Who is the most powerful person in your life?

My wife Christina. She’s got a deep moral compass and a kind of intuitive sense of what matters. In our early years together, she had worries about me getting sucked too far into the competitive world of business, perhaps forgetting what is important. In so many ways, the kind of business I’ve built, which focuses on creating value for society and not just for the shareholders, is a reflection of my desire to build something she’d be proud of. I’m glad that I seem to have succeeded.

4. What is your secret ambition?

I’d love to have the time to learn to sing opera properly rather than bellowing half-formed fragments of melody in exuberant moments.

5. At what price glory?

While the willingness of the ancient Greeks to sacrifice their lives for glory brings tears to my eyes, I cannot ultimately condone the choice of Achilles. A short, glorious life in service of a greater good – say the life of the Spartans at Thermopylae, or the pilots in the Battle of Britain, of whom Winston Churchill said “Never have so many owed so much to so few,” – that is worth praising. But for glory alone? I think not.

6. Greeks or Romans?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning explained why you can’t make this choice:

“What I do and what I dream include thee,

As the wine must taste of its own grapes.”

Both Greeks and Romans are part of my roots – part of all our roots. I can, however, admit to partiality to individual works: Homer over Virgil (and The Odyssey over The Iliad), but Horace over Theocritus, and much as I love classical Greek statuary, my deepest love is for Roman busts, those detailed portraits of real people, time travelers from an age so like our own.

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  • http://www.arkansawyer.com/wordpress John A Arkansawyer

    But nothing from Marcus Aurelius? I’m finding him a great guide through life these days.

  • http://www.sustaincom.org Don Carli

    Keep channeling the classics Tim!

  • http://kochinke.us ck

    Agreed! Mixing Greek and Latin with sciences etc. gives balance and the ability to switch easily between coding software, practicing law, learning languages, analyzing business, considering politics, flying aerobatics or settling conflicts. Not that I always enjoyed the subjects in school but the rewards are obvious. All the rewards flow from the mindset Tim states in 1. above.

  • http://maheshcr.com/self Mahesh CR

    Tim – Another reason why you seem to stand head and shoulders above those all too common technologists. A study of classics provides a perspective that is rarely afforded to those pursuing the latest meme or the results of the next quarter.

    I too have gained immeasurably from the classics you quote. Joseph Campbell has been another inspiration, drawing out the common themes of our humanity with this study of world mythologies. There is much in the non-secular literature that dwells on our humanness but perhaps out of favor in these times.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

    John,

    I thought about writing about both Epicureans and Stoics (who, contrary to popular opinion, are very close in their recommendations of how to live.)

    I do like Marcus Aurelius, and he does offer lessons for our time, the all powerful emperor who yet chose to live simply and dedicate his life to the hard work of building a better life for his people. The Meditations are one of the great works of classical literature that provide clarity and wisdom today.

    But I have to confess that despite the fact that their recommendations for living are remarkably similar, I find myself more drawn to Epicurus than to Zeno and his followers (including Marcus Aurelius).

    Zeno preached endurance. His was the philosophy of acceptance, perhaps the perfect philosophy for a tyrannical state, or for slaves who could not affect their own lot. I’ve always thought that Milton’s awesome lines from Paradise Lost

    The mind is its own place, and in itself.
    Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

    sum up the underlying message of stoicism. And it’s a good message. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which tries to use “right reason” (to borrow Aristotle’s phrase) to correct the emotions, may be a modern descendant.

    Accordingly, Zeno preached moderation and acceptance of circumstances beyond our control.

    But how cool is it that someone who believes that pleasure is the ultimate end of life could come to the same conclusion?

    My favorite story about Epicurus concerns the afterlife. Should we be afraid of death? he was asked.

    No. Either there is no life after death, in which case, we won’t even know that life has ended. Or there is life after death, in which case we have something really interesting to look forward to.

    In either case, the rules for living are the same: happiness comes through moderation, through doing “right.”

    And of course that’s why I talked about Aristotle, because his idea of virtue is in fact a summation of the goals of all ancient philosophy: it was the quest to use reason to help us determine how best to live.

    Though they explored different dimensions, Aristotelians, Stoics, and Epicureans were all fellow travelers in this, and their guides to living well are all remarkably similar.

    (I know I’m glossing over a huge number of differences as well, but Powys’ injunction was that culture is what remains when the details of education have been forgotten. :-)

    BTW, for Aristotle, I highly recommend John Wild’s Introduction to Realistic Philosophy, which was my high school textbook.

  • http://meyerweb.com/ Eric Meyer

    Nice “Die Hard” reference, too.

  • http://fluidinfo.com/terry Terry Jones (@terrycojones)

    Hi Tim

    This is great to read, very interesting/revealing. If you want to get to know someone, look at their bookshelves, if any.

    I have similar guiding principle which falls under “the map is not the territory”. It’s a bit too involved to go into in any detail, but the gist is as follows.

    Much of how I think is influenced by evolutionary biology. The vaunted abilities of the human mind – reasoning, rationality, consciousness etc., – are very late inventions. As we endeavor to make sense of the world, we are all too eager to cede responsibility for real thought to the surface claims of the Johnny-come-lately rational mind, which assures us that it has everything figured out. Sometimes that’s right, but in many cases I think it’s far from the truth. Couple this with our tendencies to look for pat and reassuring explanations for things and the pressing need to communicate in short and simple terms, and you’ve got all the ingredients needed to spend your days not enquiring into the nature of things.

    That’s putting it very simplistically. Of course we must use our minds to reason, you can’t avoid that. To put it another way: the modern tools that evolution has given us are the map, not the territory. Society, our need to communicate, and our psychology all contribute to our tendency to take the map (what our high-level minds tell us) seriously, and to largely ignore the territory (millions of years of evolutionary history). This kind of (non-) thinking is almost ubiquitous. I am constantly amazed that more people do not look at things this way. Apart from being more work, I guess it’s still uncomfortable – just as it was to Wallace when, having co-articulated the process of evolution he could not stomach the idea that the principles might apply to humans. You say Socrates is your constant companion. Mine is Darwin. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on the fact that we’re all primates, and with some amazingly distorted map-driven beliefs and a huge blind spot for the territory.

    While you may not be able to discern the territory, being aware that the map on offer is both seductive and potentially distorting can guide you – in the sense of being a daimon.

    Being aware that the map is not the territory, is, I think, a very healthy stance – one which helps some people to think things through from first (or early) principles. Maybe that helps explain why you “get” what we’re trying to build at Fluidinfo. It’s hard to not think in terms of the prevailing paradigms, to not just go with the flow of “received knowledge”.

    It’s nice to read about your frame of reference for pulling this trick off. Now you have mine :-)

  • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

    Fantastic perspective, Terry. Now I know why you were able to come up with something as fresh as fluidinfo!

  • http://friendfeed.com/terrycojones Terry Jones

    BTW, here’s another similar/related guiding principle, re. map (modern overconfidence) vs territory (what history tells us). Another useful prop when considering whether to think things through for yourself.

    http://blog.fluidinfo.com/2008/04/11/everything-you-think-you-know-is-wrong/

    Terry

  • jean paul jacquel

    First of all I must apologize because my english isn’t that good.
    I’ve been amazed by your interview because it’s something I’m debating with some of my students. I can now quote somebody who’s not exactly a traditionalist, a believer of that good-old-time faith. But my true problem is that I lightly disagree.
    I’ve got the feelings that, in our time of deep change, the classicals are a burden limiting our capacity to create something new. You can’t forgot that Socrates, Hadrian and the Stoics, Epicurus, Zeno and their mate were living in a slavery society, slightly misogynist and without our consideration regarding the living – remember what was happening to the children rejected by their father. This is not in their philosophy, i agree but this is their society. And you can see the worst of it in Plato’s Republic were wisdom and reason are birthing totalitarian power.
    In another part their ideas about human were standing on a quite erroneous knowledge. Thinking human being is something so special that you have to find the reasons of their bad or good behaviors in some strange place like soul or spirit when we know understand that this is just our primate’s side.
    Like you I can’t avoid thinking to the Fall of the Roman Empire when I read my newspaper on the morning. But the analogy is a lie. In the contrary you can search for a long time in the Greeks to find something like global warming threat or even something global… Their world was flat as our but a bit smaller.
    But the knowing of the past is a lesson for the understanding of the present, isn’t it. But a lot of people wealthy of classical culture were in all those totalitarian movement of the last century. By example our french excellent writer Robert Brasillach was a Nazi and the author of a really good Greek Poetry Anthology.
    I completely agree to your idea about culture and I think the more with know the more are our thinking are fair and human but it’s not enough and the youth needs a more living culture and some more efficient way to think. We must know of the classics but not with that excess of reverence.

  • http://friendfeed.com/hatchethead Jason Miller

    Thanks for this Q&A, @timoreilly. As a strong believer in the liberal arts, I’m often put in the position (by a student or parent) of having to explain its benefits. A liberal arts degree isn’t preparation for a career punctuated with you saying, “Do you want fries with that?” A liberal arts degree, whether it be focused on English or Classics or Mathematics or German, prepares you for all the decisions you will make in your life, and (hopefully) motivates you to keep learning so you can be a better citizen, better decision maker, better person.

  • http://snowcrashing.com Antonella

    Your Web 2.0 definition always reminded me of Plato’s deuteron ploun. Now I know why :)

    Great Post!

  • http://ryanholiday.net Ryan Holiday

    Hi Tim,

    You might also like Pierre Hadot’s book Philosophy as a Way of Life which is sort of a synthesis of the Stoics and Epicureans into “spiritual exercises.” That is, like you were saying, practical applications to our actual lives rather than classroom posturing.

  • http://www.hamagudi.com Tathagata Chakraborty

    Thanks for the great post/interview. I never met a businessman who can proudly say anything like this – “the kind of business I’ve built, which focuses on creating value for society and not just for the shareholders”. I hope that you inspire a new generation of businessmen.

  • http://friendfeed.com/vyom Deepak Jois

    The exact quote from Aristotle regarding virtue as found on many online sources is : “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

  • Demetrios Stavrinos

    Thank you, Tim.
    My whole family (Canada) and I were greatly stimulated by your post.
    Like true Greeks, we do not agree with everything in your text or the follow up comments but we did discuss everything at length.
    Thank you again because we all have benefited from this.
    With your permission, I’d like to attempt a translation to modern Greek for my family and friends in Greece.

  • http://finnern.com Mark Finnern

    Hi Tim,
    I grew up in Germany where at 7th grade you decided whether to take Latin or do more Math and Physics. I am dyslexic, therefore always struggled with learning other languages and therefore chose the non Latin track.
    Looking back I still think that 4-5 years of 4-5 hours of Latin (in other schools even Greek on top) would have been better spend learning a living language: Italien, Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, … and using that knowledge to bring our living cultures closer together. There is an opportunity cost that people don’t take into account.

    You haven’t said anything about that, just wondering what your opinion is on that aspect of the classical education.

    Best, Mark.

  • http://tim.oreilly.com/ Tim O'Reilly

    Good question, Mark.

    In an odd way that I didn’t think to mention for the Forbes interview, the act of studying Latin and Greek in the original did play a great role in my success. Ultimately, parsing a dead language is very different than learning one that is still spoken.

    In doing so, I learned crucial “pattern recognition” skills.

    I thought often of this in my early years learning about computers. The obscure documentation I was working from in many cases was as difficult for me to parse as a Latin or Greek text, and many of the same skills were called for.

    I also find that knowledge of Latin and Greek provide a great boost for vocabulary. Knowing the origins of words helps you to see the layers of meaning. And in addition, I find I can often make out written inscriptions (say in museums) in any of the Romance languages.

    That being said, I would dearly have liked to have learned some modern languages as well, as my Latin and Greek are rusty from disuse, and I would love to be able to converse with my fellow Californians who speak Spanish, for example. I can get the gist of much written Spanish, but I’ve never taken the time to learn to speak or to hear it.

    One of the many projects that awaits!

    P.S. Remember the Perl slogan: “There’s more than one way to do it.”

  • http://www.alexandertolley.com Alex Tolley

    Tim, interesting commentary. I believe we all frame the world through the lens of out culture, experiences and education. As my education was in the sciences, I tend to see the world rather differently, but it interesting to see where the differences lie.

    For example, you have the story of Alexander and Diogenes as one foundation for your meme – create value and wealth for the ecosystem. I agree, but see it as an evolutionary more robust structure. We overlap in that we might both draw on historical parallels concerning the relationship between economic stability and wealth distribution.

    Another example is the parallel between the Roman Empire and modern America. I tend to see the framework as economic, as convincingly laid out by historian Paul Kennedy in “The Rise and fall of the Great Powers”. You may see it somewhat differently through examples that map well to our modern experience, such as the engagement in unnecessary wars, the self interest of the senate, etc.

    I’d be interested in a longer blog expounding in more detail how exactly your training led you to a particular insight, highlighting where the classics explicitly offered an approach or map and why other approaches, were not useful to you.

  • Dave

    Not sure your Syracuse/Iraq analogy is holding up. While there are certainly some parallels, we have not suffered the colossal defeat the Athenians suffered. Where the parallels do hold up, it is more along the lines of vicious backstabbing politics on the home front.

  • Art Titzel

    I love this post because you show how the past can instruct our lives today. I appreciate the classics, but my true passion is learning about and teaching American history. The lessons from both the classical time period and the more recent past are more important than ever to study today due to the ever encompassing technology in our lives. With more information being available than ever before we need to teach kids not just how to sift through the good and bad info, but how to truly think. I’m not sure how to do that without having students have a foundation of historical understanding. Thanks for sharing these questions and your responses with us!

  • Sue Bianchi

    Encouraging to read your essay on a day when I am trying to reconstruct an undocumented spread sheet to assemble 18 months of health care utilization data. I studied Latin in high school for 4 years (as well as 6 years of French). Our teacher also taught Spanish, so the parallels with Romance languages were often pointed out. We also wrote papers on topics of our choice, within a very broad definition of the classical mind. One of my papers was a study of birth of the hero stories in world cultures, including Christianity, classical Greek/Roman and orthodox psychoanalysis (e.g. Otto Rank. This was in the 11th grade, while translating Virgil. Not to blow my own horn, but I suspect few very average suburban high schools (like the one I attended) today offer this kind of foundation for critical thinking, pattern recognition and general systems thinking. Knowing Latin helped me learn German later as well as pick up enough modern Italian on my own to do preliminary translations of pharmaceutical clinical trial reports to determine if we needed to put them on the fast track to get a full translation. Knowing classical myths and terminology makes reading and explaining about new coccepts a much richer experience. I very much agree with your point about the value of having multiple ways to explain or promote an idea or process. I do also agree with the commenter who suggested we should keep in mind the flaws in classical society (slavery, devaluing women & children). But that doesn’t prevent us from effectively using these still revolutionary ideas to support the kinds of community values that we believe in.

  • Bernie S

    Sue Bianchi mentions her classical education in high school. I was very fortunate to have the same experience, attending a small pre-seminary high school. It was pretty language-intensive: four years of Latin, four years of German, two years of classical Greek. Indeed, the most challenging years in my educational career were the four years I spent in high school. Even more challenging than my doctoral studies.

    I don’t think I’ve seen any comments about this so far, but studying classical Greek was an invaluable experience. Learning to read a language in non-Roman characters at a tender young age seems to re-wire one’s brain a bit. At first I just transliterated, but later on I found myself reading the Greek without having to transliterate the Greek characters into their equivalent Roman characters. I think this helped to reinforce a natural tendency I had to see things differently, and to think differently. This has proven to be an invaluable tool throughout the course of my life.

  • Chuck Davis

    This is a quote I collected somewhere that was attributed to Russell Green – “The advantage of a classical education is that it enables you to despise the wealth that it prevents you from achieving.”

  • Bernie S

    Chuck Davis quotes Russell Green as saying: “The advantage of a classical education is that it enables you to despise the wealth that it prevents you from achieving.”

    While that’s humorous on a superficial level, I’m not sure it rings true, at least not for me. I don’t despise wealth…if someone made me a millionaire tomorrow, I wouldn’t complain. Rather, I think my classical education enabled me not to be envious of wealth, and helped me learn that it’s possible to lead a happy life without monetary wealth.

  • Mark

    Huh. So that explains why your books are so much more text-oriented than your competitors’, eschewing (for the most part) the confusion of type styles, boxes and marginalia that obfuscate the presentation of ideas. That’s good. As a software engineer via electrical engineering via Jesuit secondary school, I’m obsessed with grammar and style. Further, as A.E. Houseman put it:

    “It is easy say, and to fancy that you think, what you really do not think, and even what, if you seriously tried to think it, you would find to be unthinkable.”

    Which is a cleverer way than I can devise of pointing out that if you can’t state something clearly in words, you don’t really understand it. So I buy the books with lots of words…

  • John Slimick

    WRT to Mark’s comment: at the end of Wittgenstein’s
    Tractatus TheoPoliticus (well, you know what I mean)
    in German is the sentence usually translated into English as:
    “Of that of which we speak, we should speak
    clearly;
    if we cannot speak clearly, we should not speak
    at all.”

    This was part of the original ALGOL definition. I haven’t seen a similar quote on any definition since.

    john slimick
    university of pittsburgh at bradford

  • S. (Sam) Kritikos

    Although I have been an O’Reilly reader since the time of “The Whole Internet” was unaware of Tim’s background. Encouraged by this would like to put forwards a few thoughts on ancient culture that reflect what I feel are current preoccupations.

    The ancient Greeks continued practices that controlled access to information, for example they also had “mysteries” with initiation. Eleusinian mysteries were a local variation of a cultural form widely practiced in civilazations before and some would say since. So in that respect ancient Greeks follow the line.

    What makes the difference imo is that they make innovations liberalizing access to information, media and knowledge management. Three contributions in particular:

    (1) Democracy can be seen as a knowldedge management tool if we see it as a way to challendge dominant culture and ideology. Of course this is easier said than done.

    Feedback systems are based on quality information being available. In a way we can see democracy as a large scale feedback system so access to information is crucial. Democracy alone may not be enough so additional tools are needed.

    (2) Theater: thousands of years ago someone noticed that people can be captivated when listening to a story. Perhaps it was a grandmother
    trying to calm her grandchildren. The next innovation came when someone turned story telling into a 3D performance. It was not long before people in power realized that narrative and performace was a good mechanism to teach ideas and spread ideology so they incorporated them into initiation. All this before the ancient Greeks.

    The ancient Greek contribution is that they took a closed cultural form and opened it up. Now it was possible for anyone to write a play and present his or her ideas that may not agree with the views of those above. So theater is a media liberalization move.

    (3) Proof: the problem with Pythagors was that he tried to control the idea of proof through his brotherhood. By the time we get to Euclid though we have moved to a vastly different attitude towards knowledge. While before people could talk about mystical dimensions, and divine geometry and architecture, now geometry became accessible
    by the community and proof could be verified by everybody. In that sense we can say Euclid was really an early free software activist. Access to the code falls right in with access to
    mathematical knowledge.

    Seeing the three ideas together they make sense as a substantial advance in knowledge management. Of course we can not live by theory alone. What the Romans brought into the picture is a superb ability to manage large systems, they simply understood the problem of scaling better that anyone before them and arguably many since then. So in answer to the question “Greeks or Romans”, I agree with Tim: both.

    What happens with the evolution of WWW, Web 2.0 etc take that ancient move to liberalize media and improve access to information, to a new level. Northern California seems an ancient Greek kind of place :)

  • http://blog.mrseb.co.uk Sebastian

    As but an up-and-coming youth of 25, I am glad someone as successful and seemingly well-balanced as yourself has put fitting words around the thoughts that run through my head on a daily basis.

    I don’t, unfortunately, have a classical education, but I do find myself reading books like Rubicon and spending hour upon hour researching the growth, majesty and eventual downfall of the Roman (and Byzantine) empires.

    Funny, I’ve been well aware of your existence for years — I have a lot to thank for my llama-adorned Perl book that first taught me to code at the ripe old age of 11 — but I had no idea you also wrote another language quite so well. I speak, of course, of English :)

    Cheers!

  • http://sites.google.com/site/robotdoctornyc Robot Doctor

    Late to the party, but I thought I would come by and say thanks for this post Tim. I studied Latin in HS, Hindi in undergrad, and have loved philosophy since I was 16. I pursued a liberal arts degree in my undergrad, but have been an IT nerd since I was a kid now working in administration and support now. I mainly run into people that don’t care or respect the classics, but its nice to know others are out there. Everyone should read Herodotus, either abridged down like in the recent ‘snakes with wings and gold digging ants’ edition put out. I also have to agree with your answer about opera singing. I have never had such a spiritual and physical reaction to music until I met a girl who would practice her scales in the morning. I am lucky in some ways.