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Why Can't We Unlearn Things?

On Education and Learning



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Has anyone even asked you, after you attended a seminar or class, "so what did you learn," only to have your mind go blank? If so, you just passed the test for being a "normal learner." We all forget most of what we try to learn, even when we can temporarily recall, and use, what was taught. So what makes this happen? This week, we explore, Why We Can't "Unlearn" Something, in our weekly ongoing series on education and learning.

The Four States of Learning

Chapter Five

Why Can't We "Unlearn" Something?

This week, I'm going to talk some more about how we learn. Specifically, I'm going to talk about how we cannot "unlearn" something. We can only lose access to it. What do I mean?

For weeks now, I've been introducing the idea that when we learn, we experience four possible learning states. The four states are:

  • Unknown (no access at all)
  • Known by Momentum (psychological access)
  • Known by Emergence (visual access)
  • Known by Extension (pre-visual access)

To be honest, there is a lot to say about these four states. Today, however, I'm going to limit my comments to one idea, the idea that once we learn something, we cannot unlearn it. Which begs the question, so how can we retain so little? The answer? We retain everything we ever experience, but we retain access only to what we visual experience. In other words, amazingly, we store and record every single thing we experience. However, we retain permanent, personal access only to those things to which our brains have created visual threads of similarity. No threads. No personal access.

This, in fact, is what emerges during emergent learning; visual threads of similarity. Which is simply a way to say, we visually connect one piece of learning to another. And again, no thread, no permanent personal access.

How to Tell These Four Things Apart

How then do you know the difference? Simple. Ask yourself this. Can you picture the beauty in what you think you have "learned," effortlessly, and with delight? Then you will retain permanent access to this learning. And what about if you can't picture what you think you have learned? Then at best, you have simply recorded this information psychologically. Thus, you'll have access to it only while in you're in the classroom in which you learned it.

So how do we sometimes access the things which have not yet emerged in us, the things we "think" we have learned but cannot picture?

How? Easy. Just notice the word I just used; "think." Psychological learning can remain accessible but only for as long as we remain in the momentum of the learning situation. Why? Because we have access this learning only while we are in the presence of the person in whom this learning first emerged.

What Determines What Teachers Can Teach?

Confused? Go slow then. This idea is a doozy to learn.

Let's start with this. Teachers can "teach" only what has personally emerged in them. We all know this already.

What I'm saying is, we cannot teach the things which have not emerged in us, in other words, the things we have learned only psychologically.

So what are teachers doing in the times wherein they attempt to teach this non emergent learning?

The answer? They are faking it, meaning, they are parroting their psychological learning. And what exactly does this look like? Let's see.

Say you are in a math class, and your teacher loves teaching math. In all likelihood, this will be the class you look forward to. And the one you learn the most from.

Now let's say someone asks this teacher a question about a topic other than math, perhaps what he feels about a current event? Let's further say this teacher does not follow the news. So what would you feel like if you were his student and if he then offered you an opinion?

In truth, you would feel empty. Why? Because the screen of his mind would be empty. Literally. Moreover, you would feel this emptiness even if what he said was logically correct and morally right. Why? Because we only connect to what has emerged in someone else. This, in fact, is why no one in the whole history of humanity has ever discovered something completely new. Why not? Because all learning requires that the student connect to a teacher, even if only for a single moment.

What Makes a Good Teacher?

So what does happen when a good teacher teaches something she has yet to have emerge in her? The answer? At worst, nothing. And at best, momentum.

Here, then, is what divides "what remains unknown" in us from "what we learn by momentum." What remains unknown for us will be we tried to learn in those times wherein the teacher taught us but we felt no connection to him or to her. And what we learn by momentum will be what we tried to learn in those times wherein we were connected to a teacher who was parroting information.

In a way then, we could say this "connecting during parroting" is the real meaning of the cliché, "a meeting of the minds." The minds of the teacher and student do meet. And they do connect. But only in and around the logical structure of whatever the teacher was parroting.

What does not happen here, of course, and what cannot happen is that this learning emerges. Why not? Because what emerges is the visual thread between the teacher and student, a thread which then becomes the carrier wave for the learned information. Know, however, that there is one more possibility; the possibility that the teacher and student will simultaneously discover the beauty in something together. In other words, there is always the possibility that the teacher and student will learn something in the same instant.

This, in fact, is what separates adequate teachers from great teachers. Adequate teachers know a lot and love sharing it with their students. Great teachers do this and also, they learn more and more about what they know each time they teach their students. How? They learn by extension. Which is to say, they simply have more and more threads emerge in them each time new students appear. More threads of  what? More threads of visual similarity between themselves and their new students.

This is why I call parroted learning, "momentum learning." We can consider it learned only while we remain in the presence of the parrot. Leave the parrot cage and you lose your access to the parrot's learning.

Is this a lot to take in? Feel provoked by what I've said? If so, give it time to bake. To be honest, I, myself, am just beginning to understand it, so I'm sure I have a lot more to learn myself about these ideas.

The good thing is, each time I write and connect to you all, more threads of visual similarity emerge in me. What means, I have more to teach you.

And what about the things you just read which will leave your head the minute you stop reading?

My best advice? Don't worry about it. You see, if you focus on connecting to your teachers, this learning will emerge all on its own. I'm not kidding. Which is why, I guess, I've learned so much from the long dead men and women who have been my heroes. I simply have connected to my teachers while they speak, whether in person, in words, or by extension to their lives.

What a good life it is.

Isn't learning wonderful <grin>.

Closing Comments

At the risk of offending some of you, and in other cases, at the risk of making coffee go up your noses, I wanted to warn you about next week's column. The topic? An introduction to what makes statistics a lie. The possibly offensive part? That I plan to write about this as honestly as I can. Translation. The topic will be How Statistics are Bulls~*t. No kidding. They are. But you already knew this.

So why write about all this bulls~*t then? Because this bulls~*t happens to stand in the way of our helping children to have better lives. How? By feeding the need in all of us for Layer 2 fodder. Mental anesthesia. And because this bullshit is the proof all parrots require in order for them to even consider something true. Arrrgh! What a load of number two mustard brown baby doodie.

Even so, I have to confess, even I can get impressed by some of this bullshit at times. Arrgh! Mustard brown. What a beautiful color <cheesy smile>.

So what can we do about all this cheesy bulls~*t?

(Yes, John, I'm sure you have a few choice ideas already.)

I think I need a week to think about it.

Until next week then. I hope you're all well,

Steven


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Learning and Education Series - Week 11Learning and Education Series - Week 12Learning and Education Series - Week 13Learning and Education Series - Week 14Learning and Education Series - Week 15Learning and Education Series - Week 16Learning and Education Series - Week 17Learning and Education Series - Week 18Learning and Education Series - Week 19Learning and Education Series - Week 20
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