The library

It is quite difficult for me to single out moments that are more relevant than others in our classroom experience. When I look back at the week gone what I see are flashes that are all interconnected and that form a great web of meanings. However, there was a particular activity this week I found extremely enjoyable. As we started looking at the cognitive aspect of learning, we were asked to think of a metaphor for the brain. People came up with different images.

For one of may colleagues, the brain is a galaxy. Very interesting metaphor, in my opinion, as it denotes a very holistic way of thinking and the underlying concept is something I entirely agree with.Other argued that the brain is a crown. She constructed very careful parallels between both and even used a piece of literature to justify her choice; but I remain skeptical. For me, it was a good display of rhetoric and argumentative powers but I fundamentally disagree with the principles that undergird this. First of all, a crown comes to you ready, the process of design and shaping take place outside the self who is going to wear it. It is inherited as it is and this idea crashes frontally with my idea of development of the brain that occurs in the self after it is born and throughout our whole existence. Secondly, it doesn’t matter how many other tiny jewels you can add to a crown, the scope for addition and change in the design are extremely limited to match the plasticity of the brain. For another classmate, the brain is a computer. Quite frequent metaphor in out tech times, but it has its validity since computers were actually conceived using the brain as a model. Yet, another described it is a landscape, full of trees, clouds, rain, grass, spider webs and sunshine. Another organic metaphor that really appeals to me. Other colleague sees it is a spider web. Interesting metaphor if you think in terms of connections, fragility and strength.

My own metaphor couldn’t be more bookish. When I received my tutor’s email I thought, ‘well, let’s think of something different.’ The first thing that came up to my mind was the library in Eco’s The Name of the Rose. In the book, the library has an octagonal shape in the centre and each room that takes the sides of the octagon is also eight-shaped. There are several floors repeating the same pattern and all the rooms and floors are somehow interconnected. There are so many rooms covered from floor to ceiling with shelves full of books that it would be impossible to read all of them in a normal person’s lifespan. There are rooms that are frequently visited, others where people go sometimes, others that are almost never visited and some that are even hidden behind secret walls and passages. And there is always a little corner for some extra book. The books themselves are as varied as the human knowledge acquired through the centuries of reading and writing in all parts of the world – from Chinese rolls to Greek originals to contemporary writing.

I quite liked my metaphor, but I recognise its limitation too. I struck me when someone said that my library contained a dangerous book. In Eco’s novel the lost Aristotle book on the Comedy is poisoned and becomes the cause of all deaths. However, in my opinion this is a completely mislead interpretation. It is not the book that is dangerous – this was also the belief of the murderer.  Conversely, it is what the character did with the book that transformed it in a weapon. The same think happens to knowledge, in my point of view. Knowledge is not dangerous in itself; the uses we make of it might be.

The metaphor also made me realise that I do think of knowledge in terms of language; otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen the printed word as its representation. As for the creativity of my metaphor, when I was going to the session I realised that my brain had played a prank on me. There is nothing original at all about it. Actually, I was tricked into constructing it. For Aristotle the mind was a beehive. Beehives are octagonal in shape, and so is the library in The Name of the Rose. Besides that the centre of all the mystery is the lost Aristotle’s book. The old philosopher and Eco had bookishly shaped my response.