Macabe Kelly

Thoughts on learning

What does learning signify?

A chaotic process rooted in experience and exposure.

Something that is poorly modeled in the classrooms of standardized learning environments today. Yet the beauty and order that still emerges from the dated system is applaudable. A few good cookies make the rest of the batch okay enough to not do anything about its faults.

But the question is, can we do better?

In other words, can we account for the chaos and complexity in a way that is more personalized? Which seemingly all avenues of information consumption are becoming more and more capable of doing.

Fortunately, the internet allows us to model these things. An incredible potential and tool that is used for learning today. However, no system of development accounts for this ability. The attempts of accredited online learning have simply moved the standardized model online, and most of the time it sits behind a paywall. One path fits all, pay to get credit... there is little innovation, if any at all.

This is something that has been harped on for centuries. Yes, centuries!

Influences

It ought to be said that the thoughts above are largely influenced by the Cartesian school of thought.

René Descartes is understood as the father of modern philosophy. Aside from cartesian doubt practically birthing the scientific method, he wrote much about reasoning, the process of learning, acquiring knowledge, knowledge itself, and the respective roles they play in society. In Discourse on Method1, he details a relatable description of learning outside of an institution. Learning by oneself.

"As soon as I completed this entire course of study, at the end of which one is ordinarily received into the ranks of the learned, I changed my mind entirely. For I was embarrassed by so many doubts and errors, which appeared in no way to profit me in my attempt at learning, except the more and more I discovered my ignorance." - René Descartes, Part One, 5, Discourse on Method

The notion many can relate to comes from the doubts that occur during/after undergrad, or even high school for some. The doubts surrounding what was taught, what you have learned, and the practicality of it all. Business, engineering, hard sciences, liberal arts, or other degree types can all relate. Do the teachings still apply? Do the methods still apply? Should I have had a different focus? Regardless of the answer to these questions, the matter is that one has a share of doubts surrounding their education.

This is largely the reason Descartes sets out to discover knowledge on his own accord. The doubting of all things is where he begins the search for truth. This is where his famous quote of "I think, therefore I am" comes from. By doubting his own existence, he found his first truth, his own existence. In other words, the act of thinking about oneself, implies the existence of oneself.

However, he mentions that this is not something everybody is built to do.

"The single resolution to detach oneself from all beliefs one has once accepted as true is not an example that everyone ought to follow; and the world consists almost completely of but two kinds of people and for these two kinds it is not at all suitable: namely those who, believing themselves more capable than they really are, cannot help making premature judgements and do not have enough patience to conduct their thoughts in an orderly manner; thus, if they once take the liberty to doubt the principles they have accepted and to keep away from the common path, they could never keep to the path one must take in order to go in a more forward direction - they would remain lost all of their lives." - René Descartes, Part Two, 15, Discourse on Method

This speaks volumes today. The mob school of thought that requires the destruction of opposing beliefs all together is detrimental to society at large. The personal nature of learning is something we should value, and defend. The discovery of new beliefs, or the falsity of old ones is for an individual to journey, possibly with the help of friends or a community. Not through persecution, damnation, or sensationalization of ideas. It is not how truth is pursued in any sense.

Descartes gives a great analogy about this earlier in Part Two.

"It is true that one does not see people pulling down all the houses in a city simply to rebuild them some other way and to make the streets more attractive; but one does see that several people do tear down their own houses in order to rebuild them, and that even in some cases they are forced to do so when their houses are in danger of collapsing and the foundations are not very steadfast." René Descartes, Part Two, 13, Discourse on Method

Conclusion

Without turning this into a book report for Discourse on Method I wanted to highlight some key points that underpin the thoughts on learning above. Specifically, the personal nature that we do not account for, but has been understood for centuries.

Why we learn the same things, at the same time, in the same way, will always confuse me. We will do better because we now can.

Teachers are no longer limited to the classroom. The advancements in AI opens a whole new understanding of what a tutor can look like. The assumption I take when discussing these things is that there are curious people in this world. People want to learn more. Hopefully school has not squashed that, as that is the case for some. I believe people are innately curious, its like our superpower. That curiosity needs to be fostered, not removed. Going through the thoughts of great minds, from this century or centuries earlier, one thing rings true. Learning is personal. We are building around this truth at Calibir.

I thoroughly enjoy Descartes (besides his view on the education of women), particularly because of the time period in which his work came about. He lived at the beginning of the enlightenment, a time period which rhymes somewhat with today, as others do, but that is for another time. He provided a framework to pursue knowledge, which later came to be the scientific method. His wealth of knowledge for mathematics, optics (if you wear glasses you owe this man some respect), and natural science are all around us today. One could make the argument that if it was not for Descartes, Isaac Newton would not have Principia.

In other words, Descartes walked so Newton could run.

  1. Descartes. (1993). Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Cress, Trans.; 3rd ed.). (Original work published 1637)

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