Tag Archives: umberto-eco

Why We Make Lists

One of the current exhibitions being held in the Musée du Louvre, Paris has been curated by author and consistent top intellectual, Umberto Eco. The Infinity of Lists, as the exhibition is called, looks at the human fascination with lists and how they have progressed cultures.

What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

But why do we feel this need to comprehend and face infinity?

We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It’s a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don’t want to die.

Suggesting that Google is “a tragedy” for the young as they lack (or, more correctly, they are not taught) basic information literacy, Eco notes his obvious dislike of rote learning.

Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes. Of course, nowadays I can find this kind of information on the Internet in no time.

This interview with Der Spiegel ends with a quote I must try to remember:

If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you’re an idiot.

2005 Global Intellectuals Poll (100 Most Important Living Intellectuals )

The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll is a list of the 100 most important living public intellectuals […] compiled in November 2005 by Prospect Magazine and Foreign Policy on the basis of a reader’s ballot.

Top five:

  1. Noam Chomsky
  2. Umberto Eco
  3. Richard Dawkins
  4. Václav Havel
  5. Christopher Hitchens

Foreign Policy requires (free) registration to access the list. It’s available hassle-free at Wikipedia.