Friday, October 28, 2011

Confirmation of Platonic Recollection?

A recent New York Times article finds that people with no formal training in geometry can answer questions about geometry. The psychologist who performed the study does not attempt to explain why this is the case.

But Plato does. In the Meno dialogue he has Socrates perform a similar experiment, and suggests that all learning is really recollection of what we knew in our disembodied state before birth.

These findings do seem to suggest that we have innate ideas, and the Platonic idea of recollection would certainly explain them. Is this the best explanation? If not, what would be a better one?


Charles Knight said...

One such alternative explanation could be that this intuition is gained from experiencing the natural world. Even if those in the study hadn't had formal training in geometry, they had presumably experienced shapes and objects. Humans are very reliant on visual senses, and geometry is very visual and intuitive. Thus, knowledge from "before birth" seems a little absurd.

R.j.m said...

Another alternative is that the people in the study simply accepted the axioms of geometry as a given, as the best tool for the job of geometry, and went on from there to solve geometry problems.