Archive for the ‘Cultivation of the Intellect’ Category
A careful reading of his essay ‘Intellect’ supplies a clearer understanding of what made Emerson ‘tick’. He is better seen not as an essayist, poet, or philosopher, but as a sage. Yes, even in modern times the world supplies sages and bards – men and women able to communicate exceptional, even supernatural wisdom and insight. Emerson’s appeal is universal because what he wrote was inspired by a source higher than the logical mind. He was one of those rare individuals who not only heard and recognized the voice of his Muse or Genius, but was able to write down what it told him without censoring, editorializing, or distorting the message. Emerson’s essay on Intellect is especially valuable because here we have an inspired genius writing about inspiration and genius.
Much speculation has been raised about Emerson’s method of composition. One common view is that he recorded inspired thoughts that came to him more or less spontaneously – during walks, reading, or reflection – in his voluminous journals. When it came time to write an essay, he simply culled relevant passages from his journals. This often gives his essays the appearance of a series of disconnected but provocative sayings.
If so, then more so than with most authors, the essence of Emerson’s thought can be presented as individual aphorisms. Here are examples from ‘Intellect’.
Source: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Intellect (1841). In: The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Vol. 2. Essays: First Series. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903-1904. (pp. 324–347).
The first questions are always to be asked, and the wisest doctor is graveled by the inquisitiveness of a child.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:325)
In the fog of good and evil affections, it is hard for man to walk forward in a straight line.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:326)
What am I? What has my will done to make me that I am? Nothing. I have been floated into this thought, this hour, this connection of events, by secret currents of might and mind, and my ingenuity and wilfulness have not thwarted, have not aided to an appreciable degree.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:328)
Our spontaneous action is always the best. You cannot, with your best deliberation and heed, come so close to any question as your spontaneous glance shall bring you, whilst you rise from your bed, or walk abroad in the morning after meditating the matter before sleep on the previous night. Our thinking is a pious reception. Our truth of thought is therefore vitiated as much by too violent direction given by our will, as by too great negligence.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:328)
We do not determine what we will think. We only open our senses, clear away, as we can, all obstruction from the fact, and suffer the intellect to see. We have little control over our thoughts. We are the prisoners of ideas. They catch us up for moments into their heaven, and so fully engage us, that we take no thought for the morrow, gaze like children, without an effort to make them our own. By and by we fall out of that rapture, bethink us where we have been, what we have seen, and repeat, as truly as we can, what we have beheld. As far as we can recall these ecstasies, we carry away in the ineffaceable memory the result, and all men and all the ages confirm it. It is called Truth. But the moment we cease to report, and attempt to correct and contrive, it is not truth.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:328–9)
Logic is the procession or proportionate unfolding of the intuition; but its virtue is as silent method; the moment it would appear as propositions, and have a separate value, it is worthless.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:329)
All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason. It is vain to hurry it. By trusting it to the end, it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:330)
The differences between men in natural endowment are insignificant in comparison with their common wealth. Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you? Every body knows as much as the savant.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:330)
All men have some access to primary truth.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:336)
In common hours, we have the same facts as in the uncommon or inspired, but they do not sit for their portrait.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:336)
The intellect is a whole, and demands integrity in every work. This is resisted equally by a man’s devotion to a single thought, and by his ambition to combine too many.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:338–9)
Truth is our element of life, yet if a man fasten his attention on a single aspect of truth, and apply himself to that alone for a long time, the truth becomes distorted and not itself, but falsehood.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:339)
The world refuses to be analyzed by addition and subtraction.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:339)
Neither by detachment, neither by aggregation, is the integrity of the intellect transmitted to its works, but by a vigilance which brings the intellect in its greatness and best state to operate every moment.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:340)
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please, — you can never have both. Between these, as a pendulum, man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, — most likely his father’s. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation; but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism, and recognize all the opposite negations, between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion, but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:341–2)
Happy is the hearing man; unhappy the speaking man. As long as I hear truth, I am bathed by a beautiful element, and am not conscious of any limits to my nature. The suggestions are thousandfold that I hear and see. The waters of the great deep have ingress and egress to the soul. But if I speak, I define, I confine, and am less.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:342)
One soul is a counterpoise of all souls, as a capillary column of water is a balance for the sea.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:344)
If Aeschylus be that man he is taken for, he has not yet done his office, when he has educated the learned of Europe for a thousand years. He is now to approve himself a master of delight to me also
.~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:344)
The Bacon, the Spinoza, the Hume, Schelling, Kant, or whosoever propounds to you a philosophy of the mind, is only a more or less awkward translator of things in your consciousness, which you have also your way of seeing, perhaps of denominating. Say, then, instead of too timidly poring into his obscure sense, that he has not succeeded in rendering back to you your consciousness.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Intellect (CW 1:344–5)
“THE mind of Emerson may best be studied from the standpoint of Platonism. If one examines the chief centers of his teaching to be found in his conception of nature, soul, love and beauty, art, and mythology, he will find that Emerson in his most characteristic utterances is indebted to Plato and the Platonists. In those great intellectual teachers Emerson found a body of thought which he so thoroughly appropriated that to understand the character of his mind it is necessary to watch it consciously forming itself in keeping with the main trend of Platonic speculation.”
~ John Smith Harrison
“Out of Plato come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought.”
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:39)
People today have often heard that Ralph Waldo Emerson, the eminent 19th century American Transcendentalist, was influenced by Indian (Vedantic) religion. Less well known, though, is that he was even more influenced by Platonism. Emerson was an avid reader of Plato all his life. In Emerson’s Collected Works [CW] Plato or Platonism are mentioned over 300 times. His personal journals [J] contain over 250 references. And he refers almost as often to later Platonists like Plutarch, Plotinus and Proclus.
Understanding Emerson’s deep debt to Platonism, one he readily admitted, is important for a full appreciation of Emerson’s message and its relevance for today’s troubled world. One of the unfortunate trends of higher education in recent decades has been a systematic denigration of the Western Tradition. We are told that the Western Tradition is the source of all the evils of society: capitalism, slavery, war, repression of natural instincts, imperialism, patriarchy, etc. – the list goes on. But this view is founded on ignorance and prejudice. An impartial study of the Western Tradition shows that it is founded on the perennial philosophy and the ancient religious beliefs of humankind common to humanity. Plato, for example, drew heavily from more ancient religious sources – Pythagoreanism, Orphism, Egyptian religion, etc. A great deal of his philosophy, in fact, is expressed in myth, not logical arguments.
For too long people have looked at Emerson and Transcendentalism and merely taken it for granted that it constitutes a rejection of the Western Tradition, and a decisive turn to the East. This is a modern revisionist view, and simply does not correspond with the facts.
We can identify at least three distinct themes of Platonism reflected in Emerson and other American Transcendentalists:
1. A view of man. The essence of the Platonist view of man is that we, as human beings, have a two-fold nature. We are, of course, material creatures, living in a temporal, material world. But at the same time we have an eternal nature, which exists outside of time. We must, first of all, reject the modern materialistic view that sees man only as a collection of atoms, a machine. But we must not reject our material nature altogether or try live as world-denying ascetics. What we seek is to live an integrated life. having, so to speak, a foot on both realms – material and eternal, earth and heaven. We are as a Sacred Tree, a Cosmic Priest, uniting heaven and earth.
2. A view of Nature. The material world as it appears is, in a sense, a reflection of deeper spiritual realities, eternal Forms in a Platonic Ideal realm. Nature has spiritual meaning. Nature is constantly teaching us spiritual things.
3. Self-cultivation. From Platonism, Transcendentalism derives its emphasis on the individual responsibility for self-cultivation, especially cultivation of ones moral and intellectual life. Distinctly Platonic is the emphasis on building the strength of the intellect in the service of spiritual growth. Well is the story told that engraved on the door of Plato’s Academy a sign read, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter here.”
Emerson and Transcendentalism offer a great deal in themselves for modern readers. But Transcendentalist writings may also serve to increase interest in Platonism, the Western Tradition, and the perennial philosophy. If more people read Plato today we would have fewer arguments about religion. Plato is a common element of Christianity and paganism, orthodoxy and esotericism. He unites East with West. He harmonizes moralism and naturalism.
While a definitive treatment of Emerson’s Platonism has yet to be written and would be valuable, that is not the goal here. (If I am unable to write a longer piece soon, perhaps I can add to this article incrementally as the opportunity presents itself.) For now at least, let these few remarks, along with a few quotes by Emerson, and a Bibliography, suffice to get this idea out on the web.
Quotes of Emerson
The unity of Asia and the detail of Europe; the infinitude of the Asiatic soul and the defining, result-loving, machine-making, surface-seeking, opera-going Europe,—Plato came to join, and, by contact, to enhance the energy of each. The excellence of Europe and Asia are in his brain…In short, a balanced soul was born, perceptive of the two elements…. A man who could see two sides of a thing was born.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:53-54)
AMONG secular books, Plato only is entitled to Omar’s fanatical compliment to the Koran, when he said, “Burn the libraries; for their value is in this book.” These sentences contain the culture of nations; these are the corner-stone of schools; these are the fountain-head of literatures. A discipline it is in logic, arithmetic, taste, symmetry, poetry, language, rhetoric, ontology, morals or practical wisdom. There was never such range of speculation.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:39)
Plato is philosophy, and philosophy, Plato,—at once the glory and the shame of mankind, since neither Saxon nor Roman have availed to add any idea to his categories. No wife, no children had he, and the thinkers of all civilized nations are his posterity and are tinged with his mind. How many great men Nature is incessantly sending up out of night, to be his men,—Platonists! the Alexandrians, a constellation of genius; the Elizabethans, not less; Sir Thomas More, Henry More, John Hales, John Smith, Lord Bacon, Jeremy Taylor, Ralph Cudworth, Sydenham, Thomas Taylor; Marcilius Ficinus and Picus Mirandola.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:40)
Society is glad to forget the innumerable laborers who ministered to this architect, and reserves all its gratitude for him.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:42)
Plato absorbed the learning of his times,—Philolaus, Timaeus, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and what else; then his master, Socrates; and finding himself still capable of a larger synthesis,—beyond all example then or since,—he travelled into Italy, to gain what Pythagoras had for him; then into Egypt, and perhaps still farther East, to import the other element, which Europe wanted, into the European mind.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:42)
Plato is clothed with the powers of a poet, stands upon the highest place of the poet, and (though I doubt he wanted the decisive gift of lyric expression), mainly is not a poet because he chose to use the poetic gift to an ulterior purpose.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:43)
We are to account for the supreme elevation of this man in the intellectual history of our race,—how it happens that in proportion to the culture of men they become his scholars; that, as our Jewish Bible has implanted itself in the table-talk and household life of every man and woman in the European and American nations, so the writings of Plato have preoccupied every school of learning, every lover of thought, every church, every poet,—making it impossible to think, on certain levels, except through him. He stands between the truth and every man’s mind, and has almost impressed language and the primary forms of thought with his name and seal.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:44-45)
At last comes Plato….; he is the arrival of accuracy and intelligence. “He shall be as a god to me, who can rightly divide and define.” This defining is philosophy. Philosophy is the account which the human mind gives to itself of the constitution of the world.
~ Emerson, Representative Men, ‘Plato; or, the Philosopher’ (CW 4:47)
We have two needs. Being and Organization. See how much pains we take here in Plato’s dialogues to set in order the One Fact in two or three or four steps, and renew as oft as we can the pleasure, the eternal surprise of coming at the last fact, as children run up steps to jump down, or up a hill to coast down on sleds, or run far for one slide, or as we get fishing-tackle and go many miles to a watering-place to catch fish, and having caught one and learned the whole mystery, we still repeat the process for the same result, though perhaps the fish are thrown overboard at the last. The merchant plays the same game on ‘Change, the card-lover at whist, — and what else does the scholar? He knows how the poetry, he knows how the novel or the demonstration will affect him, — no new result but the oldest of all, yet he still craves a new book and bathes himself anew with the plunge at the last. The young men here, this morning, who have tried all the six or seven things to be done, namely, the sail, the bowlingalley, the ride to Hull and to Cohasset, the bath, and the spyglass, they are in a rage just now to do something: these itching fingers, this short activity, these nerves, this plasticity or creativeness accompanies forever and ever the Profound Being.
~ Emerson, J 6.5- 6 (1841)
[John] Locke is as surely the influx of decomposition and of prose, as Bacon and the Platonists of growth. The Platonic is the poetic tendency; the so-called scientific is the negative and poisonous. ‘T is quite certain that Spenser, Burns, Byron and Wordsworth will be Platonists, and that the dull men will be Lockists. Then politics and commerce will absorb from the educated class men of talents without genius, precisely because such have no resistance.
~ Emerson, English Traits, ‘Literature’ (CW 5.239-240)
Of Plato I hesitate to speak, lest there should be no end. You find in him that which you have already found in Homer, now ripened to thought,—the poet converted to a philosopher, with loftier strains of musical wisdom than Homer reached; as if Homer were the youth and Plato the finished man; yet with no less security of bold and perfect song, when he cares to use it, and with some harp-strings fetched from a higher heaven. He contains the future, as he came out of the past. In Plato you explore modern Europe in its causes and seed,—all that in thought, which the history of Europe embodies or has yet to embody. The well-informed man finds himself anticipated. Plato is up with him too. Nothing has escaped him. Every new crop in the fertile harvest of reform, every fresh suggestion of modern humanity, is there. If the student wish to see both sides, and justice done to the man of the world, pitiless exposure of pedants, and the supremacy of truth and the religious sentiment, he shall be contented also. Why should not young men be educated on this book? It would suffice for the tuition of the race.
~ Emerson, Society and Solitude, ‘Books’ (CW 7:198-199)
We cannot prove our faith by syllogisms. The argument refuses to form in the mind. A conclusion, an inference, a grand augury, is ever hovering, but attempt to ground it, and the reasons are all vanishing and inadequate. You cannot make a written theory or demonstration of this as you can an orrery of the Copernican astronomy. It must be sacredly treated. Speak of the mount in the mount. Not by literature or theology, but only by rare integrity, by a man permeated and perfumed with airs of heaven, — with manliest or womanliest enduring love, — can the vision be clear to a use the most sublime. And hence the fact that in the minds of men the testimony of a few inspired souls has had such weight and penetration. You shall not say, “O my bishop, O my pastor, is there any resurrection? What do you think? Did Dr Channing believe that we should know each other? did Wesley? did Butler? did Fénelon?” What questions are these! Go read Milton, Shakspeare or any truly ideal poet. Read Plato, or any seer of the interior realities. Read St Augustine, Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant. Let any master simply recite to you the substantial laws of the intellect, and in the presence of the laws themselves you will never ask such primary-school questions.
~ Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, ‘Immortality’ (CW 8: 346-347)
The savans are chatty and vain, but hold them hard to principle and definition, and they become mute and near-sighted. What is motion? what is beauty? what is matter? what is life? what is force? Push them hard and they will not be loquacious. They will come to Plato, Proclus and Swedenborg. The invisible and imponderable is the sole fact.
~ Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, ‘Poetry and Imagination’ (CW 8:18)
For Plato, it would be pedantry to catalogue his philosophy; the secret of constructing pyramids and cathedrals is lost, and not less of Platonic philosophies.
~ Emerson, J 7.62 (1845)
It seems as if the day was not wholly profane in which we have given heed to some natural object. The fall of snowflakes in a still air, preserving to each crystal its perfect form; the blowing of sleet over a wide sheet of water, and over plains; the waving rye-field; the mimic waving of acres of houstonia, whose innumerable florets whiten and ripple before the eye; the reflections of trees and flowers in glassy lakes; the musical, steaming, odorous south wind, which converts all trees to wind-harps; the crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames, or of pine logs, which yield glory to the walls and faces in the sitting-room,—these are the music and pictures of the most ancient religion.
~ Emerson, Essays, 2d series, ‘Nature’ (CW 3:172)
I cannot recite, even thus rudely, laws of the intellect, without remembering that lofty and sequestered class who have been its prophets and oracles, the high-priesthood of the pure reason, the Trismegisti, the expounders of the principles of thought from age to age. When at long intervals we turn over their abstruse pages, wonderful seems the calm and grand air of these few, these great spiritual lords who have walked in the world,—these of the old religion,—dwelling in a worship which makes the sanctities of Christianity look parvenues and popular; for “persuasion is in soul, but necessity is in intellect.” This band of grandees, Hermes, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Plato, Plotinus, Olympiodorus, Proclus, Synesius and the rest, have somewhat so vast in their logic, so primary in their thinking, that it seems antecedent to all the ordinary distinctions of rhetoric and literature, and to be at once poetry and music and dancing and astronomy and mathematics. I am present at the sowing of the seed of the world. With a geometry of sunbeams the soul lays the foundations of nature.
~ Emerson, Essays. 1st Series, ‘Intellect’ (CW 2:345-346)
In what I call the cyclus of orphic words, which I find in Bacon, in Cudworth, in Plutarch, in Plato, in that which the new Church would indicate when it speaks of the truths possessed by the primeval church broken up into fragments and floating hither and thither in the corrupt church, I perceive myself addressed thoroughly. They do touch the intellect and cause a gush of emotion which we call the moral
sublime; they pervade also the moral nature. Now the universal man, when he comes, must so speak. He must not be one-toned. He must recognize by addressing the whole nature.
~ Emerson, J 4.154 (1836)
You shall not read newspapers, nor politics, nor novels, nor Montaigne, nor the newest French book. You may read Plutarch, Plato, Plotinus, Hindoo mythology and ethics.
~ Emerson, Letters and Social Aims, ‘Inspiration’ (CW 8:295)
And as man is the object of Nature, what we study in Nature is man…. For Nature is only a mirror in which man is reflected colossally. Swedenborg or Behman or Plato tried to decipher this hieroglyphic, and explain what rock, what sand, what wood, what fire signified in regard to man.
~ Emerson, Natural History of Intellect, and Other Papers, ‘Country Life’ (CW 12: 164-165)
The purple light of Plato which shines yet into all ages, and is a test of the sublimest intellects.
~ Emerson, J 3.419 (1834)
~ Emerson, J 3.489 (1835)
I read the Timaeus in these days, but am never sufficiently in a sacred and holiday health for the task. The man must be equal to the book. A man does not know how fine a morning he wants until he goes to read Plato and Proclus.
~ Emerson, J 6.213 (1842)
Bregman, Jay. “The Neoplatonic Revival in North America.” Hermathena, No. 149 (Special Issue: The Heritage of Platonism), Winter 1990, pp. 99–119.
Brown, Stuart Gerry. Emerson’s Platonism. The New England Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Sep., 1945), pp. 325–345.
Cameron, Kenneth Walter. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Reading. Haskell House, 1941 (rev. 1962).
Dombrowski, Daniel A. Thoreau the Platonist. Peter Lang, 1986.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Edward Waldo Emerson. 12 vols. Centenary Edition. Houghton Mifflin, 1903–4. [Cited as CW, followed by volume no. and page(s)]
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ed. Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes. 10 vols. Houghton Mifflin, 1909–14. [Cited as J, followed by volume no. and page(s)]
Flanagan, G. Borden. “Emerson’s Democratic Platonism in Representative Men.” In: Alan Levine and Daniel S. Malachuk (eds.), A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson, University of Kentucky, 2011, pp. 415–449.
Harrison, John Smith. The Teachers of Emerson. New York: Sturgis & Walton, 1910.
Howe, Daniel Walker. Making the American Self. Ch. 7, The Platonic Quest in New England, pp. 189–211. Oxford University Press, 2009 (orig. 1997). (An earlier version appeared as: Daniel Walker Howe, The Cambridge Platonists of Old England and the Cambridge Platonists of New England, Church History Vol. 57, No. 4 (Dec., 1988), pp. 470–485.)
Pollock, Robert C. A Reappraisal of Emerson. Thought, Volume 32, Issue 1, Spring 1957, pp. 86–132. Reprinted in: Harold C. Gardiner (editor), American Classics Reconsidered: A Christian Appraisal, New York: Scribner, 1958 (pp. 15–58) and in Arthur S. Lothstein, Michael Brodrick (eds.), New Morning: Emerson in the Twenty-First Century, SUNY Press, 2008 (pp. 9–48).
Richardson, Robert D. Jr. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. University of California, 1995. (See especially. pp. 65f.)
Van Anglen, K. P. “Greek and Roman Classics.” In Joel Myerson and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism, Oxford University, 2010, pp. 3–8.
Woelfel, James. The Beautiful Necessity: Emerson and the Stoic Tradition. American Journal of Theology & Philosophy, Vol. 32, No. 2 (May 2011), pp. 122–138.
Lately I’ve been reading an essay by the Christian Transcendentalist and anti-war writer, Caleb Sprague Henry, titled, The Importance of Elevating the Intellectual Spirit of the Nation (1837).
It’s an excellent essay, and supports my growing conviction that people were more literate and intellectually sophisticated in the 19th century than they are today, and that those of us who are interested in elevating culture should spend more time reading 19th century works like this one.
I’ll devote another post to a general discussion of his essay. At present the important point is his suggestion that (1) the work of scholars is vitally important in preserving culture, and, (2) inasmuch as scholars seldom receive sufficient support from the public at large or governments, we need to help each other — building up a Brotherhood of Scholars, to use his phrase.
In view of this, the goal of this post is for me to share with other modern scholars some of the technological tools that I’ve found most helpful. By ‘scholars’, of course, I don’t mean people who do research for selfish reasons — money, glory, or academic tenure. But rather for those true scholars who feel genuinely called to this work for moral and spiritual reasons: for God’s glory, and to help humanity. (If to write such a thing as the last sentence seems incredibly ‘old school’ by today’s standards, that is indicative of the very problem we face today: a disconnection of society from spiritual values.)
Nevertheless, anyone is more than welcome to benefit from the suggestions offered here.
In rough order of descending value, here are my favorite technological tools for scholarship:
When I learn of a new book of possible interest, the first thing I do is check Google Books to see if it is previewable there. If it is an older book, and I’m only interested in a chapter, I click the gear icon on the upper right to see if full text is available. If so, I cut and paste the plain text into a Word document (unfortunately this can only be done a few pages at a time) so I have my own file. I highlight when I read, so simply reading in the Google Books preview window isn’t a good option.
If the book is new, then you can’t view plain text, and can only preview page images. In this case I use the next tool.
This is very simple tool that (1) takes a snapshot of any area of your computer screen, and (2) applies optical character recognition (OCR) to convert any text in the image to editable text. So, for example, I preview a page of a book in Google Books, press a hotkey to invoke Screenshot Reader, capture and translate the text, and paste it into a Microsoft Word document for later reading. I might do this for several pages or even an entire chapter, if that’s available for previewing.
Back to older books. If I want to download an older book in pdf format, I usually don’t do this from Google Books. The reason is that Google Books pdf files are not editable. So instead I use the next website.
Many older books I want have been scanned and uploaded to archive.org, where they can be downloaded. Books are available in several formats, including epub and pdf. Unlike Google Books, these pdf files are usually editable (which means that you can highlight and copy passages from them).
If it’s a newer book I want, then I may need to buy it. Often I buy used versions. A handy feature of Amazon is that it includes a link to used copies of a given title. I pick a used version that looks promising (good price, not beat-up, reliable vendor), and Amazon centralizes the ordering and billing.
This is my nearest university library. While I have my issues with the CalState University System generally, I’m not one to ‘bite the hand that feeds me.’ As a member of the community (i.e., non-student and non-faculty), I’m allowed to read books in the library — and, importantly, to use the computers for scanning books. This is a very generous policy, and not all universities, not even all public universities, are so considerate.
Sometimes I bring in a book I’ve bought, or sometimes take a book off the shelves there — and use the large-bed scanners and OCR software to produce an editable pdf version. By this point it might be apparent to readers that I do not read paper books anymore. For me, anything worth reading is worth excerpting from — and that’s much easier to do with a pdf file.
I can also use the library computers to download reprints from JSTOR.
The Great Courses is a great idea. They offer university-level courses on video or mp3 files. The mp3 versions especially are a real bargain. I’ve previously listed what I consider to be some of their better courses here.
Want to play an mp3 lecture in your car, but don’t have a port built into the car’s audio system? No problem. Buy one of these babies, plug it into your cigarette lighter, and you’re good to go. It has a built-in transmitter that sends a signal to your car radio. You supply the mp3 file(s) via a an SD card or USB memory stick that plugs into the unit.
These are great. The only problem is that the quality varies. Some put out a weak signal, which produces a lot of static when listening. To be honest, I buy cheapo imports two or three at a time, and just use the one that works best.
Sometimes I end up with a pdf file that is not editable (e.g., from Google Books.) In that case I process the file with ABBY PDF Transformer. This performs OCR and produces an editable pdf file (or MS Word document if you prefer). However, if you have a new version of Adobe Acrobat, that will do the same thing.
For a while I experimented with text-to-speech software to convert scanned books and typed documents into synthesized speech. (I could then, e.g., listen to a book in my car.) This was an interesting experiment, though eventually I found even the best speech synthesis (the technology is quite amazing) kind of boring to listen to. It’s probably better for technical material than literature. Nevertheless, I wanted to mention this as an option.
Of course, no list would be complete without YouTube. There’s a ton of educational and edifying material at YouTube. Just search for “documentaries” to get started.