The Education of a Philosopher King
WARNING: This is a graphic tale comparing education in the search for knowledge with education in the pursuit of power. The end of the story is a tad gruesome, and is not recommended for the squeamish. Our two players are a nameless peasant student and a powerful philosopher king.
Enter The Student
He had to add. That's all the student knew. He had to add. The reams of paper on the desk held addition tables, word problems, and puzzles. He had to add.
The student looked around the room. Twenty-four other students hunched over their desks performing the same rote tasks. He had to add.
There were no other thoughts. The place that once stored the student's name was gone. The student's sole purpose was to add, and he added with fervor.
In the first assignment he filled in addition tables. In later assignments he created a Pascal's triangle. Some of the exercises simply gave long lists of numbers to add. There were cross sum puzzles, and more. He had to add. Wrong answers resulted in pain. Slowing down resulted in torment. Adding fast gave pleasure. Soon he was able to simply add by hearing the numbers. He had to add. He was an adding machine.
The twenty-five students stood before the headmaster and added.
The entire universe was fractions. The student had to know ratios. They came in lists, puzzles and tests. He multiplied, divided and reduced fractions. He unraveled fractions within fractions. He converted fractions to percents. The place in his mind with parents and friends was gone. He had to know fractions.
Twenty-four students stood before the teacher. They recited their knowledge of fractions. The student lived for the fractions, and could resolve fractions from the ether.
The headmaster called twenty-four students to the front of the class, and they resolved fractions.
The student felt a great pain. The world could not be expressed in fractions alone. It was a frightening realization that shattered his universe and since of rational justice.
There were numbers that could not be expressed with a numerator and denominator. These were called irrational numbers.
The student learned how to display such numbers with infinite non-repeating strings. There was so much to know about these new and wonderful numbers. The place in his mind that stored childhood memories was gone. The student lived for his irrational numbers. They were the manifestation of beauty. The student lived to know all there was to know about these unending strings of numbers.
Twenty-three students stood before the teacher...
Geometry and lines. There is so much harmony and perfection in the simple line. The great geometry of Euclid seemed to avoid the disharmony and paradoxes of numbers.
The student felt the grace of theorems. He solved difficult challenges with ease. Oh, there were tricks alright. Some of the tricks were elegant, all of the solutions clever. The student lived for geometry. Nothing existed in the mind except for the combination of these beautiful geometric forms.
The geometric forms that existed on a flat piece of paper suddenly jumped from from the page in a third and fourth dimension. By extending the axioms of two-dimensional space, the student could create an n-dimensional space. The student's mind tried to imbibed all that it could from this wonderful discipline of geometry. He learned tricks for projecting three dimensional spaces on to two dimensional spaces. With visual perspective, he could create realistic representations of objects on a paper. The student had reached a catharsis.
Twenty-two students stood before the teacher...
"...and if you represent the intersections of the lines on the grids with numbers, you can combine geometry with number theory."
Analytic geometry rushed into the student's head. "Of course, of course, of course!!!!" This all makes sense. He felt as though he should have seen it himself. It seemed so obvious.
Numbers and geometry seemed to have many of the same logical foundations...and here they are together. They work together. Analytic geometry was more powerful than geometry or number theory in isolation.
The student could describe geometrical figures with numbers. He could create graphs that quickly represented his ideas. He could look at graphs and quickly understand their meaning. Everything fit together with such harmony and perfection. The student needed to know nothing more than the simple mathematical harmony of the universe for fulfillment.
The twenty one students stood before the headmaster and drew graphs on the board...
The student jolted from his desk, his mouth agape. He stared at his fellow students. Many stood as well. Who were these people? Did they understand what just happened? Tears formed in his eyes as he sat back down to work on his papers.
You can replace the numbers with symbols and solve problems by working with the symbols! The student's fingers trembled as he began to work through the proofs. Algebra deserved this magical name--a name that was different from all other words in the English language. It was something beyond any thought ever formulated before. The student worked through the problems harder than ever.
Twenty students stood before the headmaster...
Reducing logical arguments to symbols makes sense. It's as easy as P implies Q. So much of mathematics is just plain simple common sense. Math is not some deep hidden world available only to the elite few. Prepositional and Prepositional logic flowed effortlessly across the pages. The student could uncover logical fallacies just by looking at the structure of the arguments. There was a hope for a rational universe. Could all the world be reduced to these simple logical structures?
Logic took an unexpected turn. The works of George Boole created a new logic with on and off switches--true and false. The student's mind leapt at the possibilities. This logic was logically equivalent to all the math studied before. You could create an entire universe from these on and off switches. With imagination, you could even represent text.
The headmaster counted the nineteen students remaining in the room.
The student could feel the pit of his stomach when the teacher mentioned the word "Calculus." The ultimate source of all math anxiety. The word itself evoked terror.
They learned the Cauchy method, and mastered the use of limits. Even the slightest slip in the logic would throw the student into the abyss of paradox, yet as they solved derivatives and integrals, the student saw that the results of the work was quite simple and elegant. Limits appeared as a very difficult way to learn a very simple, yet powerful subject.
Memorizing integral equations seemed easier than solving them. The student familiarized himself with integral charts. If he ever needed this knowledge, he would be able to look it up from the tables. The really valuable knowledge was knowing the fundamental theorem of the Calculus, and to know the relation of between slope and area--acceleration, velocity, and distance covered.
Eighteen students stood before the headmaster.
Probability and statistics did a better job than any other subject in explaining the underlying patterns of human life. So much seems to be up to chance, but chance itself follows its own rules. The student learned the characteristics of different distributions. He learned to describe margins of error, and knew now about means, averages and standard deviations.
The seventeen students who learned this wonder stood before the headmaster.
Trigonometry was like a world unto itself. The idea at the base of the theory was extraordinarily clever. You simply think in terms of circles and angles, instead of location on a grid. Elementary trigonometry appears to be a matter of learning tricks. The theory became more interesting as the student learned to plot in polar coordinates. The strange but wonderful equations from Trig had periods. You could use them to describe many real world problems.
The student felt a great deal of affection for his diminishing crowd of companions. Sixteen students bowed before the head master.
Mathematics is not simply about living in an abstract world. The most exciting branches of the subject provide insight into this world--the place that we live. Some professors dismiss applied mathematics as tools for the common man, but applied mathematics gives us the deepest insight into our own lives.
The student felt different than he had in any of his days of study. They were now working with Fourier analysis. Each iteration of the equations brought a climax of joy. The student felt the values of e in the depths of his soul. The student understood how this mathematics worked like the changing of the seasons, or the slow revolutions of the planets.
He stood with his fifteen classmates before the class, but this day, the professor took his hand, and led the student from the room. The headmaster gave the him a small cup of blue elixir to drink. Somehow, the knowledge of Fourier analysis was clearer in his mind than anything he had ever thought before.
Fourier Analysis was the subject he mastered. He felt a great joy in his knowledge.
The headmaster gently strapped the student's wrist in the restraints. It seemed natural to lie down and place his neck in the small half circle carved into the wooden block. He felt a strange comfort as the pads tightened around his body.
The student stared into the basket. The name Angela popped into his thoughts, as he heard the blade begin to slide. Yes, that's it! my mother's name was Angela...
The basket became larger and overtook his entire field of vision.
Enter The Philosopher King
"I don't want to do my math!" whined the prince.
The king patted the prince on the head. "Knowledge is power my son." he recited, "When the rabble had knowledge, the state had to bend to their will. It was chaos. Only, when the rulers retook the knowledge, could they restore the proper order of things. You are a prince, knowledge is power...take the knowledge and you will take power."
"Plato's Philosopher King!" the son beamed. Plato's Republic and Machiavelli's The Prince were the only books the young prince has read on his own. The hidden knowledge within these great works were too great to risk even in the hands of the loyalist headmaster.
He could see how the new Aristocracy was a revitalization of Platonic dreams of millennia past. It took over three thousand years to realize Plato's dream of the Republic.
He thought in horror of the days when the servants would get out of line and try to assume power. Everyone in the kingdom knew the horrors of America...the land that rebelled and was ruled for a thousand years by the peasantry. The young prince knew the importance of maintaining social order. Still, the prince hated the trips to school.
Yes, the education was necessary for his career in court. The classes themselves rarely took more than a half hour. There was no rational reason for complaint. Still, it was school and the prince hated school. He felt that he gave up some inner part of his precious self each time he learned. It was the sacrifice that he would make for his kingdom, but he would rather play.
The headmaster appeared before the king, and took the prince by the hand. Solemnly, the headmaster led the prince into the dark granite chambers of the school.
To the headmaster, knowledge transfer was as much a religious rite as civic duty.
The headmaster led the prince to the room of operation. Twenty five heads were mounted on pedestals surrounding a central throne. The prince threw off his cape and sighed as he sank into the cushioned chair.
"Be quick" he ordered the teachers that gathered around the throne.
The assembled staff busily checked meters. A nurse opened a small cranial door dug just behind the young prince's left ear. The door gave access to the neural stimulators that performed the magic of mind conditioning.
The nurse plugged a small black USB cable into the unit. This cable would transfer the knowledge of the students into the prince.
The prince drummed his impatience. Like all petty workers, the teachers were slow about their business. They made a great show of the sacrifice and effort they put into their labors.
The throne was situated so that it faced the central bio processing unit. Although the unit was partially hidden by a curtain, the prince could see the palace servants hauling the discarded bodies of the donors into the bio processors.
"How Sloppy", the prince thought. At times it seemed that the castle's workers wanted to remind him of the lives lost for his benefit. Such were the petty thoughts that ruled the peasantry.
Perhaps there should be some serious floggings in the school before the next lesson.
The knowledge transfer itself was quite simple. The prince held a remote control. Pressing the clicker would regulate the ingestion of the subject.
Each time the prince pressed the button, the green light under one of the heads would begin flashing. The face would illuminate, then gradually dim.
It was a tiring half hour for the prince. Once a minute he pressed the button. Although he couldn't actually feel the transfer of knowledge, each injection of knowledge seemed to be accompanied by a pleasant sense of power. From that moment forth, he could draw upon the donor's knowledge.
Twenty five times he pressed the button. Each push layered a deeper understanding of mathematics in his brain.
Math was always perceived as the most difficult subject to transfer. Other subjects simply involved memorization, and classification of data. Mathematics involved logic and knowledge of the nature of knowledge. The highest level of math involved meta thinking...the art of kings.
From a biological perspective, the neural networks of math students often formed the most interesting patterns and the math lesson was always watched carefully by the technicians of the school.
Twenty five clicks took place in a half hour, and the prince gained an understanding of math that exceeded the PhDs of yesteryear.
"Your physics lessons are proceeding excellently my young prince," the headmaster spoke as he moved lifeless heads of the students from their pedestals.
"We would like you to take a rest for the afternoon and let these neural patterns solidify. Tomorrow, we can measure your base neural patterns and begin the preparations for your physics lessons."
The prince yawned with regal ennui. "Yes, yes, it will be a delight to see how well knowledge of physics will affect my fencing. I understand that with physics I will be unable to throw a cannon ball into the sky, and have it land upon my enemy's head."
"With physics, you will know much more than that. You will know the nature of light and time..."
"Yes, yes" drummed the prince, "the thing I want to know most is the arts of biology and medicine..."
The headmaster smiled. "Yes, we know well our young highness's preferences." But the schedule is for math today and physics tomorrow. You are young, you will still have time for your doctorate in medicine."
The headmaster nudged the prince toward the school's window. A crowd of peasants were naked, bound and weeping courtyard. "We are preparing special lessons in medicine. We are preparing 250 donors for the classes."
The prince looked at the terrified faces of his subjects. "Be sure to skip the part about the Hippocratic oath, I would hate for you to spoil the fun." the young Lord laughed in jest. "When will they be ready?"
"We will begin cleaning their minds this afternoon. They should be pedestals within the month."
"Human anatomy, that will be the first lesson that I will truly enjoy."
"You must learn to appreciate the difficulty in arranging the details of your education, my boy," the headmaster grimaced. "Please, don't forget the great sacrifice the people make to educate their ruler...Here, here, take these books. Remember, you must study mathematics tonight to cement in the knowledge you gained this morning. I expect every question answered. If I hear you were lax in your studies...Well, perhaps your head will be upon the pedestal in the Empress's lessons in humility."
The young prince hated doing homework. It would take almost two hours to complete the assignment. Not only did he have to give up his entire morning to get his master's in mathematics, he now had to spend his night working through mundane math problems. It was irritating, but he knew that neither his father nor the headmaster would look kindly on skipping this chore. He only had to do it once. The knowledge would be his for life.
The prince began working through the problems. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, he laughed thinking that anyone would have to spend time learning such trivial truths. He had to stop and double check his answers once or twice on the algebra questions, but Calculus was a breeze. Yes, finding an integral was difficult. But you can simply memorize the most important equations and get by.
Now, here was something interesting. Fourier Analysis would help him understand patterns of speech. Knowledge may be power, but occasionally the prince would begin to feel a bit of joy in knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
He looked at the charts before his regal eyes and thought for a brief happy moment of Angela. He saw her care worn face reaching down to give him a kiss...
"Blast-it!" the young prince cursed. "Why don't they do a better job of cleaning the student's minds! Every time he thought of Shakespeare, he would see an image of a young girl receiving a puppy for Christmas from some lost father. Now, every time he tried to perform Fourier's analysis, he would think of some old peasant hag with her child.
Maybe when he became a doctor, he could teach the headmasters how to do their jobs correctly.
Yes, the young prince mused, some day the headmaster's brain would be on a pedestal emptying into his.
The prince was, after all, the next philosopher king. He was destined to be the beneficent ruler with the minds of a thousand men.
writings -- rational thinking -- protophoto -- shop online
Record of Revision
10/12/2002: Added description of NPT to the side bar. Corrected errors, and stregthened content warning.
3/8/2002: Edited and expanded.
5/12/2003: added rate link, and a general re edit. I realize that the processing of the discarded hulks into fertilizer was a waste of resources. So they are now used to feed the palace's pets.
11/25/2015: Updated for HTML5 with a responsive DIV. Removed rating link.
© 2001, 2002, 2003 by Kevin Delaney