Founded in antiquity the seven liberal arts forms a foundation of knowledge upon which I have learned how to learn. By continually training myself to think correctly, I will be able to communicate clearly and effectively.
I don't have to live my life over to enjoy the benefits of the seven liberal arts of a classical education. In fact, having been educated before has helped to relearn how to learn.
Through a modern education I was instructed to memorize facts in order to take tests. This memorization of facts is called learning by rote. While effective for a short time, I inevitably become aware that without continual use, facts I have spent countless hours to memorize will simply disappeared.
The seven liberal arts is a method of learning that continuously utilizes knowledge throughout the process of learning. Instead of memorizing facts to pass a test, I am repeatedly gathering and validating knowledge as I expand my understanding.
Trivium means the threefold way, and I have learned it is the essence of human intelligence. The Trivium is the confluence of three abilities or operations; Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. My brain is an information processing system, and using the computer as metaphor: I can reframe these three Trivium operations as a process model for my brain; Input, Processing and Output.
I have observed that when I communicate with others, we take turns flip-flopping between the roles of: listener/speaker, reader/writer, encoder/decoder. No matter which side of the role I've assumed the Trivium is present, and always in the same order: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric; that is Input, Processing and Output.
When I communicate to another, I have something like a vast ocean of imagination to compress into a 1-dimensional stream of symbols. This would be words, of course. I gather knowledge from my memory, this is the Grammar step of the process. I ensure it is consistent and free of error, this is Logic step of the process. I encode it into language, this is the Rhetoric step of the process.
The other needs to receive my rhetoric as a process of gathering knowledge. Again, this is the Grammar step of the process. Ensuring that my rhetoric is consistent and free of error. Again, this is the Logic step of the process. Reconciling it with their own conceptions and incorporating — or re-communicating — it into their memory, is once again the Rhetoric step of the process. The process repeats — back and forth, back and forth — always it is in this order: Input, Processing, Output.
In my society knowledge is often recorded and shared through documents. Documents are written in a language. Languages contain symbols for letters that compose into complex symbols called words. Words compose into sentences and sentences follow a grammatical structure. Sentences represent ideas. These symbols have a rich etymology of meaning. These ideas have a history of experiences shared in different ways amongst individuals. Their meanings are by no means static as language expands and contracts over time and not in absolute synchronicity with the individuals of my society.
As I read or listen to words, the symbolic structure encoded in the communication is deciphered by my faculties for language. These symbols are correlated and matched with existing symbolic structure in my memory or new structure is created. If I understand this structure and if I can assimilate specialized vocabularies I can read anything. If I can read anything, then I can gather knowledge.
Trivium grammar is about gathering knowledge. Impartially gathering knowledge from as many sources as possible. Decoding words. Their definitions, combined with their etymology yields greater meaning. The process of gathering knowledge is a process of identification. I am identifying objects by naming them, their relationships and storing that symbolic structure in my memory.
I have heard of the questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. These are just the same question asked in six different ways. What is the identity of the persons or subjects? What is the identity of the objects? What is the identity of the places? What is the identity of the time periods? What is the identity of the reasons? What is the identity of the processes?
Through the utilization of Trivium grammar I am equipped to read anything, to hear anyone. Whether I am gathering knowledge from my own memory, or I am gathering knowledge from books, the internet, video, lectures, speakers, always I am asking "What is the identity".
The discipline of logic is used to validate truth. It is grounded in axioms and rules for comparing symbols conveyed through grammatical expression. Logic is the processing step of the Trivium. It is mechanical or algorithmic. Whomever begins with the same algorithms and follows the same rules arrives at the same conclusions. I gather knowledge — a signal, and I separate signal from noise, fact from fiction, order from chaos. I validate the signal and cause it to be free of error, contradiction, paradox, and other potentially fallacious states. Logic is a virus scanner for my memory, preventing me from storing knowledge that is not true — preventing me from communicating knowledge that is not true to others.
Rhetoric is a word rooted in the greek rhetor which means orator. It is the art of persuasive communication. Persuasive because it is logical in form. Consider that Rhetoric comes last in the process of applying the Trivium. It is the process of communicating knowledge. Everyone in my society has the responsibility to communicate truth. Yet many are not equipped with the skills and abilities to protect themselves from falsehood or even others from fallacies of their own making. The Trivium is the original and ultimate critical thinking.
There is another language. The language of number. The Quadrivium is the four fold way of using symbols to construe and manipulate the operations of number to arrive at certainty. Our reality has the amazing property of being quantifiable. Through quantification you can describe our reality and play with it. Or you can create new realities, and play with those.
It is a knowledge of natural numbers, integers, rationals and reals, their representations as numerals and their operations. The concept of addition inexorably leads to its opposite, subtraction. The repeated application of these operations lead to a shorthand, multiplication and division. An analysis of the structure of numbers and their operations leads to algebra.
The knowledge of points, lines, surfaces, solids, higher dimensional structures and their algebraic relationships to describe space in the language of number. An analysis of these structures leads to the concept of coordinate spaces. Geometry is described eloquently by the mathematician E. T. Bell in Geometry Revisited (Coxeter and Greitzer 1967, p. 1): “With a literature much vaster than those of algebra and arithmetic combined … geometry is a richer treasure house of more interesting and half-forgotten things, which a hurried generation has no leisure to enjoy, than any other division of mathematics.”
In addition to musical theory, listening and performance; the combination of arithmetic and geometry yields the capacity to describe time in the language of number. The analysis of structures in time leads to the discovery of new structures such as waves and information.
Quadrivium arithmetic, geometry and music blend the notions of algebra, space and time and yield a new study. The calculus, and with it the concept of space-time. The doors are now open to the study of everything.