Thursday, January 3, 2008

On Learning

How do we know how to act? Where does society come from? What is the basis for civilization?

Before we can begin this essay we must take one axiom as a given: Man acts with purpose to bring about change which he deems necessary. We will discuss the implications of this axiom as they become necessary. All knowledge must be understood as derived by human action.

All functions of society, thru the division of labor and knowledge, only come about thru learning. Learning is a human action. Learning is the process of understanding the external world and how it functions in relation to acting man. Learning must be understood in its most general sense. It is not merely gaining an education thru an institution such as a school or university. Learning is a ceaseless process. Every signal we receive from the outside world contributes to our individual learning and hence to our understanding of how to act. Learning is a requirement of all action; learning without action is nothing more than theory.

Learning requires the processes of perception, observation, abstraction and application. Taken as a whole these functions are called learning. Each level from perception to application forms its own rational basis in the process of learning.

Process of Learning
Learning Process(es)Rational Basis
Perception, observationSensation
Perception, observation, abstractionGeneralization
Perception, observation, abstraction,

Perception alone is nothing more than that -- perception. Perception paired with observation is called sensation. Observation includes the subcategories of sensory action called: sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. We must recognize each new level in the process of learning requires the former process to function properly. Without perception observation is impossible. Perception is the process of receiving a signal. Observation is the process of "recording" the signal in the brain. It is possible to perceive a signal without observing it. We are unaware of many received signals. These signals can and do form in the unconscious mind; however, this topic is outside of the scope of this essay.

Abstraction is the next level of learning which must be paired with perception and observation. Abstraction is the ability to analyze, synthesize, or generalize immediate observations to the world around us. All of these rational processes taken together form a rational basis called generalization. The ability to apply these abstractions to specific action is called rationalization. Learning involves committing learning to memory to know how to behave in the future under the exact same circumstances or perhaps under circumstances analogous but not identical to the aforementioned situation. The later situation relies heavily on abstraction.

Discovery is a requirement of all action. Discovery, synonymous with learning, is the highest order of rationalization. Discovery is a necessity of action. How does one act correctly without first discovering how to act? To act and be in control of one's actions implies the notion of every process leading up to discovery. This does not mean, however, that one always acts with precise understanding of how to properly bring about a desired change or effect. It is entirely possible that at any particular level of rationalization something goes awry and leads to improper action. For example, we can imagine such a case where our perception might not be exact because of intoxication or perhaps because of an optical illusion.

Improper theory always implies a breakdown in the process of learning. However, when our actions do not result in a desired outcome this does not necessarily imply improper theory but may be attributed to improper technology or technique -- which required proper knowledge of theory to arrive at in the first place. As individuals our innate abilities differ which necessarily implies that one person may excel at one particular task where another fails. Thus it is not just proper theory that we require to act but also proper technique and technology -- or, taken collectively, skill.

It is the qualities of the individual and our innate abilities that lead us to the division of labor and knowledge. We can imagine that if all individuals had the same skill set and the same ability with this skill set we would still be living as animals. Imagine if all men excelled at scavenging for food but was unable to learn to hunt and kill his own food. It is sharing and exchange of knowledge and labor that allowed certain men to bring themselves out of this state and ultimately drove the advancement of society.

It is merely our ability to learn and pass down our learning from one generation to the next that has allowed civilization to prosper and advance. Technology allows us to record learning for our progeny to better pass down and revise old theory into better and more correct theory. For example, the Aristotelean view of the universe was replaced by Copernicus, which was replaced by Kepler, then Galileo, Newton, and finally Einstein and the modern quantum physicists. Understood this way, all learning is revisionist.

No comments: