Vedic Reciters/Wisconsin Card Sorting Test

Birgit Kellner birgit.kellner at UNIVIE.AC.AT
Tue May 23 09:20:50 UTC 2000

Steve Farmer wrote:

> Stephen Hodge writes (re the mental deficits possibly found in
> virtuoso reciters):
> > Was this not also one of the earlier criticisms on the "memory place"
> > technique even by Ricci's day ?  It often led to the acquisition of
> > many facts without true understanding.
> Now that you jolt my memory -- making me temporarily forget my plans
> to quit this thread -- it was. It's interesting that great reciters in
> premodern societies were *often* portrayed as fools lost in their
> facts and 'authorities.' In the Platonic dialogue entitled the _Ion_,
> the reciter of the same name is portrayed as a fool who knows his
> Homer verbatim but is incapable of independent thought.

It seems to me that two different things are run together here that should for
analytical purposes better be kept apart:
(1) depth of understanding, (2) capacity of independent thought. It is certainly
possible for a reciter of Vedic literature to have deep understanding of the
"texts" he recites, but to still be incapable of formulating independent ideas in
other areas or even to explain the meaning of the memorized texts in a vocabulary
other than the one they use. Or else, one should be clearer about what
constitutes "deep" understanding and what constitutes "independent" ideas

Furthermore, even though it may be possible by means of psychological tests to
detect a physiological basis for mental deficits in virtuoso reciters, I wonder
what this would actually help to establish. I think the more interesting
questions are what societal, cultural and/or political features condition the
high esteem certain cultures have for virtuoso reciters, and in what specific
situations precisely what forms of criticism of such "recitation machines" arise,
perhaps, but not necessarily related to the emergence of writing or other
competing "preservation technologies". Regarding these issues, pointing to de
facto mental deficits might be interesting to know (if that can indeed be
established), but would have little, if any, explanatory value - unless one is
satisfied with claims such as "the emphasis on authority in Vedic traditions is
caused by collective frontal-lobe deficiencies", which I seriously hope noone is.

Birgit Kellner
Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies
Vienna University

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