Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on the Infiniteness of Learning

It is often said that to learn something is to find illumination in that particular area. It is also commonly observed that the only thing one can conclude from a great deal of learning is how little we can eventually learn, retain and apply. The area of the unknown shall always and forever be greater than the known areas. This applies with greater force to an individual as opposed to a society which tends to retain an institutional memory, though it must be admitted that it might not be very accurate or even understandable. Myths are demonstrative of this, but perhaps this as humans we tend to be literal and obvious creatures first and metaphorical ones once we reach a certain intellectual and spiritual plane. We forget that our human illuminations are personal and therefore tend to be singular and that the illumination we train upon an area lights it up as much as it shows how much of the area around it remains in a formidable darkness. These I take as trite propositions in life though I welcome anyone who can demonstrate the contrary evidentially instead of by mere argument, like Xeno's paradoxes. 

I am beginning to realize too that there is an infiniteness to any area of study if we really wished to know any and everything about something. Let's take something as simple as a paperclip. Do we know enough if we know how a paperclip is made? It is made from galvanized steel wire and twisted to an meaningful shape to hold a few sheets of paper together. Let's even say we know what kind of machine makes it. Do we know enough of it if we know what it is used for? It is used to hold paper together, but it can be stretched out and used to poke small holes (resetting your phone or PDA) or it can be used to in other creative ways. Do we know enough if we delve into its history, how it came about, the developments and patents that resulted in most of the standard paperclips around today? Do we know enough if we then know what steel is made of on an atomic level? Should we also not know how they interact at that level as well? And sometimes we also notice that these paperclips turn rusty - so should we also not know something about oxidization? Then if we know of the paperclips impact in terms productivity, economically, spiritually (hey, ya never know!) and in literature, can we be said to know everything about paperclips? 

But all these are a great deal of things to know about just a mere paperclip which we often do not give much thought of. I am starting to think that there is no end to it; that we can never know everything of even one thing. We as humans are ultimately creatures of great practicality - we need not understand everything about something before we are able to use it, even effectively and efficiently. I am certain many people that drive cars don't even know the science of what makes it move - but what does it matter if they know how to manipulate the vehicle to do as they intend? What added benefit or advantage does a person who knows exactly how a car works as opposed to someone who doesn't though we assume for examples sake they are both equally competent drivers with similar skill levels? 

The added benefit is not just in terms of a richer experience when one is undertaking the driving experience, but also the former driver knows how better to modify the vehicle such that his car would be better than that owned by latter driver. It may also perhaps make him a better driver because he knows the exact limitations and advantages of his car. 

What does all this amount to then? That we are born into ignorance. That we shall always be partially ignorant. The lesser one is ignorant of something, the greater the possibility of obtaining a competitive or some sort of advantage over someone more ignorant. To be ignorant is a temporary bliss paid in the long run with significant inferiority. But then to be knowledgeable these days also means a greater chance of being obsolete.

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