Much knowledge in the humanities is communicated verbally, in the form of lectures and talks. This may well not be optimal for many topics, and many people today think of themselves as "visual learners" rather than auditory ones. Despite the fact that it may have its limitations in communicating knowledge, it is in fact, just a technology of knowledge, that is, a way of packaging knowledge. It is good for some things, not so good for others, but it is pervasive, and so worth thinking about.


How do you deal with talk? How do you know what to take from it? What if the speaker doesn't use a Powerpoint presentation, with little bullet points? Or, what if you are at a conference, and have to figure out what a speaker is saying?


You might think that lectures are about communicating information, but that is only one of their functions. Many different things might be happening:

  1. A speaker might be trying to persuade you about something.
  2. A lecturer might be trying to get you to examine your assumptions, or draw conclusions from a particular position.
  3. He/she might be trying to "make the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar into the familiar."
  4. He/she might be trying to motivate you.
  5. He/she might be trying to explain something, that is, connect existing facts together in a way that makes sense.


The point is that lectures are more than just a means of communicating information. You have to figure out what the lecturer is trying to do.


For a more extended treatment on lectures, see my "How to Listen to a Lecture".