Monday, 9 July 2012

Memorizing and Learning

There is a lot of confusion as to what learning is, and different people and agencies define it differently at different times, so the word becomes ambiguous, but we still all think we know what it means, so we don't question it.
It is sometimes defined as the memorization of facts. This is fraught with difficulty, since what is a fact in the first place. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that there are, hard, immutable facts. They can be considered as cerebral points. All you have to do to 'know' them is remember where you left them – simple recall – worms can do it, i.e., it is not a high intellectual skill, but it is what passes for education.
Sometimes 'learning' is defined as recall of a process, which can be considered as remembering how the aforementioned points are joined up. Here, we're looking at higher order skills, in the sense that causal chains are involved, but is specific only to that process. Again, however, it is simple recall and is habitual.
My definition of learning is when we see the commonality between processes that are quite disparate in nature, but all of which, when viewed through the lens of this intellectual paradigm are identical. One might call this intellectual paradigm, reason, but there are many different forms of reason and logic – all you have to do is to look at how other cultures go about the same social phenomena to see that. Furthermore, and more importantly, an intellectual paradigm is a web of reason whose nodal points are not the hard, immutable facts mentioned above, but change with the phenomenon under investigation. In this sense, it is like a template that you put onto the data and a conclusion presents itself. The template will ignore some data as irrelevant, but an assumption checker is part of the paradigm, and if the ignored data turns out to be relevant, then the paradigm evolves. Therein genius resides, I think. There seems to be a commonality between the processes that historically have led to intellectual events that have caused global paradigm shifts and it is very simple. They all seem to be syllogisms of two intellectual paradigms, e.g., General Relativity links the four dimensional geometry of Riemann Space with three dimensional Euclidean Geometry and time.
One doesn't learn facts, one learns intellectual paradigms, i.e. one learns to think and it is what state schools in England have failed to do, since the abolition of state grammar schools.
There is also individual resistance to this form of learning, because sometimes the conclusions presented are uncomfortable and go against individuals' emotional biases and therefore a more comfortable world view. Learning, as defined here takes care of that, since it implies a striving for the truth and the detachment from bias. In this sense, discovering that one has been in error, is a matter of joy, since one is then no longer in error. Here, we have the difficulty that society puts on admitting error, and some societies, I've noticed are worse than others. Without it, however, we are stuck in a web of fallacy; true fallacies are those things that we accept as true simply because they are often repeated. This is why advertising works, politicians get elected and newspapers sell.

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