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Great Ideas

  1. Aug 4, 2004 #1
    During the Depression the New Deal government created various programs designed to provide worthwhile jobs for the unemployed. A program was developed under the guidance of Mortimer Adler that led to what is now called the Great Books.

    Adler’s efforts started with the development of the ‘great ideas’, which then led to the Great Books. Adler and his fellow scholars concluded that there were 102 ‘great ideas’. Adler describes how they settled on 102 ideas that were judged to be great. http://www.thegreatideas.org/. This effort eventually led to the Great Books Foundation.

    “The Great Books Foundation is an independent, nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to provide people of all ages with the opportunity to read, discuss, and learn from outstanding works of literature. Founded in 1947 by Robert Maynard Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago, and philosopher and scholar Mortimer J. Adler, the Foundation was established to encourage lifelong learning for all citizens. As part of a grass-roots movement to promote continuing education beyond the classroom, the Foundation aimed to provide opportunities for all Americans to participate in a "Great Conversation" of some of the world's best writing.” http://www.greatbooks.org/
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  3. Aug 7, 2004 #2
    Sweet, very sweet!

    I posses the entire set (the Syntopicon is in my hand as I type this) by virtue of having won them as a prize for something I wrote many years ago :approve: (that is all the clue you'll ever get, btw). It is very good to see the Great Books being mentioned in this forum, and though I never became involved in the organization, I have used a quote or two in the past from both Hutchins and Adler.
  4. Aug 8, 2004 #3
    I suspect these Internet forums could use a push in the direction of quality reading. Perhaps you might want to post some of your thoughts regarding any experience you may have had in this vane. It seems to me that most of the forums I surf are dedicated, just as is TV, to the young viewer who is interested in a less substantial intellectual diet. I think we, who have had some contact with quality reading, are too reluctant to offer alternatives to the young viewer.
  5. Sep 18, 2004 #4
    I'm currently reading Adler's GREAT IDEAS OF THE WESTERN WORLD (1990's version) and I really like the idea of being able to 'listen in' on the GREAT CONVERSATION as it occurs throughout the great books. Adler's dialectic approach is one thing that would be useful for young people to experience and learn how to use. Maybe some type of dramatization such as was done a few years ago with actors playing famous people would be of interest. Often I've encountered the kind of right/wrong attitude that Edward De Bono discusses in his writing and Isaac Asimov mentions in THE RELATIVITY OF WRONG.
    I've seen the original 1952 GREAT BOOKS set on the shelves at my University and even mentioned them to someone in the early 1990's but I don't think volumes of the set are ever signed out much. In my own case I only found out about them by browsing. It may be that Adler's syntopicon is more geared to the computer era and an electronic version would be useful.
    For a young person, however, I don't know how relevant they would regard THE GREAT BOOKS and THE GREAT IDEAS OF THE WESTERN WORLD. The GREAT BOOKS are classics of the past and being only of the Western World, they are incomplete in a global sense. Trying to read some of them is like trying to read Shakespeare in old english rather than watching a modern version of the play. I certainly can't see many young people reading THE GREAT IDEAS from ANGEL to WORLD. In my own case, I'm only at ASTRONOMY and thinking it was not a good idea to read about the GREAT IDEAS in alphabetical order.
    I never heard of the GREAT IDEAS Television series until just now and I really think it should be available online for free to everyone in the same way that Bucky Fuller's "EVERYTHING I KNOW" series is available online. It would be part of something like H.G. Wells' idea of a universally available education.
    I would certainly be interested in any ideas regarding how to improve the level of discussion in forums and get others involved in THE GREAT CONVERSATION regarding THE GREAT IDEAS.
  6. Sep 19, 2004 #5


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    The Great Books used to be much more studied than they are now. Libraries had long running reading groups of them (I wonder if they ever did the Almagest?) and there were two colleges that did the Great Books as their undergraduate program. One was St. John's in Annapolis Md., and the other one was iin the west, Oregon, I believe. I can't remember its name. The University of Chicago did a dialectical undergraduate study that was similar to, but deeper than, the Great Books. Indeed the G.B. was billed as a popularization of the Chicago program.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2004
  7. Sep 19, 2004 #6


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    Off topic, but Mao's 'Little Red Book' came close to being required reading in China at least until Mao died. Does anyone know how today's average Chinese citizen views that book? (I don't know.)
  8. Oct 30, 2004 #7
    I'm currently reading M.J. Adler's book "HOW TO READ A BOOK" (1940) and it's very good! It's the kind of thing I need and have been looking for. A lot of what Adler said in 1940 is just as true today. People, including myself don't know how to read a book let alone how to discuss it. This certainly is a core skill to learn.(a more recent version of "How to READ A BOOK" also exists)
    I found when reading THE GREAT IDEAS that there were so many references to other authors and writings that I felt overwhelmed. It was a lot like entering one of Edmund Burke's dense information webs and trying to find the way back to where one began.I think I'm going to read THE GREAT IDEAS again, but in related groups or in a random order a bit at a time as James Trefil recommends for reading "1001 things everyone should know about Science".
    I don't know much about what one might learn about physics or science by going through the SYNTOPICON , GREAT IDEAS, or THE GREAT BOOKS, but when I was in highschool, I loved the articles in James Newman's "THE WORLD OF MATHEMATICS" and I know there is now a "WORLD OF PHYSICS" version. However, I've found it very hard to get some kind of discussion going about physics classics of any length from essays by Dr. Einstein to books like Poincare's "Science and Hypothesis", Mach's "The SCIENCE of Mechanics" or even Brian Greene's "Elegant Universe".
  9. Oct 31, 2004 #8


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    Reading is a subjective skill, like most perceptive skills. Take any two people, give them the same book and ask for a review. In some cases you would be hard pressed to conclude they read the same book. I think it is a cue thing. People gloss or floss depending upon their knowledge and comfort level with topics. Your penicillin might be my version of bacterial flatulence. You find it enlightening and revelatory, I find it faintly disgusting.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2004
  10. Nov 1, 2004 #9
    so chronos recommend a good book then ???

    I found Ian Lawton -Genesis Unveiled to be quite provocative, illuminating and challenging

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