So far so Bletchley Park

John Ray

  • Deciphering the Indus Script by Asko Parpola
    Cambridge, 374 pp, £60.00, September 1994, ISBN 0 521 43079 8
  • The World on Paper by David Olson
    Cambridge, 318 pp, £17.95, May 1994, ISBN 0 521 44311 3

In Phaedrus, Plato quotes a story in which the god of writing appears to an early Pharaoh holding his new invention, the hieroglyphic script. The king tells the god to take it away, because it would ruin his subjects’ powers of memory and concentration, and fill them with the delusion that they knew things when they did not. The Pharaoh may have had a point, but Plato was not above being perverse, especially when it came to popular culture. It is also clear that he intended the anecdote as an anecdote, not as a programme of reform.

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