April 27, 2006 - kenshinjeff

The socratic method of learning

A close friend of mine once told me, “I feel you are smart because you ask alot of questions”. In my defense, I am generally quite intelligent[1] regardless of whether I ask questions. What my friend doesn’t realise is that, it is because I am NOT knowledeable, that’s why I’m asking so many questions.

Well, in the later part of my academic life, and my late night suppers with Raymond, I was introduced to Socrates and his socratic method. In a nutshell, Socrates was forced to take poison because he was asking too many questions. Basically he pissed alot of influencial people off by asking too many irritating questions.

I thought to myself as was reading about Socrates: “Ah I am kind of similar to this person, but being put to death by taking poision is not the way I’m going to go”. Of course, I do not deem myself smarter than Socrates, but I do find it interesting that I have been unknowingly applying the Socratic method.

So what exactly is the Socratic method, and what’s the use of knowing something that a dead philosopher has to offer? My understanding of it, is kind of like lawyers debating over an issue, which might or might not be true, something like arguing & questioning over points that are bought up.

I’m not very good at regurgitating as some of you might have realised by now. That’s not what I do when I read, I try to make sense of the whole thing, and apply it to something else, without trying to memorise why it is so in the first place.

Something like, I know how cell phones work even if you move from one location to another. We know for a fact that:

  • There must be some kind of link which enables data transfer, and it’s not visible like the normal telephone line
  • Therefore cell phones use some kind of invisible signal, like radio/tv/wifi
  • If your phone has roaming, when it goes to another country, you know which telco you are using, because it shows on your phone
  • By moving around, these signals can be blocked
  • Therefore there must be some kind of thing emitting the signal
  • It will not be cost effective for the signal transmitter to look for new phones all the time. It would also mean that all stations would need to be constantly looking all over the place for the same phone, not really a sensible solution
  • Therefore, it is highly possible that it is the cell phone which initiates the contact to the transmitting station
  • Since we know that phones can be used as you move from one place to another, and the phone initiates contact, it is only logical to assume that, when phones switch stations because it has a stronger signal.
  • All stations must be interconnected, someway, for data to flow to and fro.

For the points listed, it is only logical to assume that cell phones work this way, and it seems that I am quite accurate, though this doesn’t really prove anything inductively, it simply proves that you do not need to know every single detail to understand everything, but it helps. And that is what I’m learning when I’m learning.

The above example of cell phones is not an accurate illustration of the socratic method, but I would think it is more close to the socratic reasoning, minus all the other dialog which I left out. ( The remaining dialogs rules out invalid points )

All in all, to me, the socratic method is just a way of labelling a certain path of logical questions which may lead to an answer. It won’t make a difference to me even if it was called the kenshinjeff method, nor the bush method, or the Mozart method for that all it’s worth.

Neither am I saying that I am learned in the way of Socretes, it is the very fact that the way I learn, that makes it impossible for me to learn more about Socretes than I already meagerly know.
[1] Intelligent as in smarter than the average bear intelligence, but not as smart as a genius of course, it’s all relative if you’ld ask me. Everyone else, save a genius, would be an idiot in front of a genius.

logic & ideology

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