Learning Classics is a bit like putting on a magic pair of 3-D glasses. Once you start delving into the language and the culture, you'll start to see it all around you. This blog is a record of the club's journey through the worlds and language of ancient Rome and Greece... and through modern times, too, searching for the influence of classics all around us. You'll also be able to find vocab, home tasks, links and generally enlightening info here, too.

30 May 2016

Lesson 23 - Marvellous mosaics

I've come to four inescapable conclusions about mosaic-making, each confirmed again by today's session:

(1) It's almost impossible to make a mosaic without breaking into song. Jaszmine's grouting-themed lyrics were quite something.

(2) There's always someone who tries to eat a tessera (mosaic tile), thinking that they look like sweets/breakfast cereal.

(3) There's always one perfectionist in every mosaic class.

(4) For some reason, I can't remember the term 'tile cutters', and always end up calling them 'snippety-snips'.

Here is a selection of the amazing creations:

Earth and sun (Taiwo, I think)

Hannah's unicorn

Delina's Shrek

'A' for Ashantae

Shantay's owl 
Smiley (Ketsia)

Hassan's silver & gold pattern

'D' from Adrian

Rebecca's pattern

Lesson 22 - Gnothi seauton

We started today's class with language work that mixed the present and the imperfect tenses, culminating in creating our own 'sed nunc' ('but now') sentences. This was followed by some more work on the imperfect tense, including putting present tense Latin sentences into the imperfect.

Then on to matters more weighty in the shape of Aristotle. Here's a useful flying overview of the man and his work:

We then discussed the concept of 'gnothi seauton', or self-knowledge, which is a concept of fundamental importance to Aristotle's philosophy. Seneca (a Roman philosopher) claims, "Other men's sins are before our own eyes; our own are behind our backs" - a statement that the class confessed was true. So in the spirit of Aristotelean self-knowledge, we explored the idea of cognitive bias (i.e. irrational thinking), a notion mentioned by Ken Taylor in last week's lesson, and which we discussed in the context of Milgram's 'electric shock' obedience experiments.

We took part in a quiz that sneakily demonstrated the following biases from which humans unknowingly tend to suffer:
Attribution bias (science test question)
Using internal personality characteristics to explain others’ actions, but to ascribe our own failure to external factors only. It was interesting to see how many of you didn't succumb to this bias, but instead showed insightful (maybe overly-harsh!) levels of self-criticism.

Overconfidence bias (Jakarta question)
The mistake of being more confident in your actions than experience or logic would dictate to be appropriate. A useful bias, which helps us get out of bed in the mornings and face a day packed with problems.
Ingroup bias (debating team question)
The tendency to favour or think better of members of one’s own perceived social groupings. The root of much prejudicial thinking, but also a bias that helps us form strong social bonds.
Primacy/recency bias (list question)
The tendency to remember the first and last things in a list/narrative. Unless you have a photographic memory!

Aristotle advocates understanding our weaknesses and excesses in order to correct them: fortunately, the last century has seen an explosion in psychological research to provide evidence of these. If you're interested in this kind of thing, you can read more about them here.

13 May 2016

Lesson 21 - What's wrong with democracy?

We spent a whole lesson today contemplating human imperfection. In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato explores the idea that people are flawed creatures, with a complicated relationship with 'truth' and 'goodness'. As a result of this human frailty, in Plato's ranking of government systems, democracy (i.e. 'rule by the people') is only one step up from anarchy (i.e. 'no rule at all'). We discussed the Platonic notions of oligarchy, timocracy and aristocracy (which, don't forget, means 'rule by the best': it could be argued that the word is mis-applied in its modern context!). We also explored some of the possible pitfalls in Plato's ideas. As many in the class protested, saying that people are too stupid to govern themselves in a democratic system can be argued as highly disrespectful.  Yet it is possible to reconcile the idea of human irrationality with a workable version of democracy, thanks to Ken Taylor of Stanford University and the application of the modern science of psychology:

We then spent the rest of the lesson discussing the idea of cognitive bias, the ways in which science has identified pervasive 'wrong thinking' in humans. This led to a very interesting debate about the following (controversial) experiment on why people can justify seemingly inhumane actions:

We'll explore this notion of human imperfection and cognitive bias more next week as we encounter Aristotle's important idea of 'γνῶθι σεαυτόν' ('gnothi seauton') or self-knowledge. 

07 May 2016

Lesson 20 - an imperfect world

used to walk the dog ever day
Today, after recapping the third declension, we tackled a new tense. The imperfect tense is used to describe past actions that are in some way unfinished or ongoing: so the ending on a Latin verb not only tells us who's doing it, but also when the action happened. We did a few quick-fire matching exercises on the board, then we tackled a worksheet, matching imperfect verbs to their English translations, and then turning present tense verbs into the imperfect.

Democracy: not Plato's first choice
Next week we'll be exploring a different kind of imperfection: the human kind.
In the last couple of weeks, we've seen how Plato postulates that humans are more complicated than we may at first seem on the surface: the reasons why we do 'the right thing' are debatable, as we saw in the tale of Gyges. In The Republic, Plato goes on to consider methods of rule and which one is the best. Next week, we'll consider the five systems analysed by Plato, and debating on whether we agree with his (some say controversial) ranking of them. In the run-up to next week's lesson (which has changed to P2, AF04 for Week 2), get busy Googling and see if you can identify the methods of government that Plato subjects to scrutiny. In the meantime, have a look at the brilliant Ken Taylor below, and hear his modern take on Plato's opinions.