In this article, Ong speaks of the nature of knowledge as it relates to human existence.  Ong starts by pointing out the unique ability of humans to accumulate and transmit individual experience (and, as a result, produce cultures).  Over time, the techniques for accumulating experience have become better and accumulation of experience has increased.  However, the use of mechanical devices to store and process knowledge causes a problem as these devices work only on the level of information, a level that culture and personal experience cannot be reduced to.

According to Ong, knowledge can only exist in individual persons.  Humans are driven to get what it all means, to achieve wholeness, but information cannot fulfill this need.  Instead, shared human experience is needed to help achieve the desired wholeness as it goes beyond information and touches the mystery of humanity.  This is where study of the humanities is important.

The humanities represent an accumulation of knowledge as it is developed through and echoes the passage of time.  As time passes, humans discover more about themselves.  This discovery of past things helps humans learn who they are, where they are, and where they will be.  The present is the fulcrum or balancing point of the past and the future, and the present has become the focus of study in the humanities.  Technological aids have made this shift in focus possible as vast accumulation of information about the present can be compared to the past.

Finally, Ong addresses some of the resulting problems of the preceding.  In general, Ong claims that there are specific things that can be done to enhance study and education in the present.  Two main themes have emerged:  first, the study of the past must be maintained in all areas as it will lend new dimensions to human experience, and second, technology should be used to make this process easier.

Mark E. Johnson
University of Dayton

Return to Listings