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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Serendipity, revisited-

Some time back I thought about and wrote about a thing I called Serendipity Scholarship. I used it to describe and somewhat justify my free flowing and undisciplined approach to learning. There are merits to serendipity, some of which are noted in the linked article. However, more and more I have reexamined my disdain for formal learning.

The difficulty I have had with formal learning has not been the structure itself, nor the formality. It is my own sense of my mortality and a selfish longing for ever more knowledge. Time devoted to deep and formal study of one subject or one set of subjects takes time away from all of the other things that might be learned.

Over time I have also come to recognize some characteristics of my intellectual self that preclude success in formal learning environments. I don't retain information well, at least in detail. I retain what I am currently calling "notions." In this case a notion is a set of feelings and vague intuitive associations related to an idea or subject. I can see or sense relationships between notions, but regarding specifics of what that notion relates to I must constantly refresh my mind by looking things up.

In essence, I better understand the relationships between ideas than the ideas themselves. I don't know if any other brains work like this, but I do know that institutional learning is not presented for this kind of thinking. School is a constant struggle for me. After all, testing tends to be regarding specific content and not the relationships between ideas, and the rule by which learning is measured is the results of such testing.

Granted, with discipline most human brains can be taught something with the standard teaching methods. Additionally, tailored teaching is just not practical for teaching the masses. The existing system gave me valuable tools and I have actually learned a few things along the way.

The mortality issue applies to serendipity scholarship as well as any other way of learning. I shall live only a limited time. As diligent as I might be at study, I can only learn so much. Serendipity can provide for a broad experience of learning, but at the cost of depth.

What I realize I miss most with my solo wandering through the world of wonders is shared learning. Having a guide and peers is helpful, because real discussions and debates can take place. Such interchange sharpens ideas and grinds away falsehoods. It also provides more than one perspective on any matter being studied and discussed.

I have to suspect that most readers, if you have even read this far, won't really understand what I am talking about. The current modes of learning are sufficient for them. That is good. However, some of you will understand because the existing modes of teaching and learning don't fit your own experiences.

My mind is constantly filled with questions. These questions often beget more questions rather than an equal number of answers. Without the mortality issue, this would not be a bad thing. However, there is a time limit. I had a professor who once noted that I was good at framing the right kind of questions. That is probably due to the fact that the larger content of my mind is questions on all sorts of things.

The concept of life after death, of eternal life, is comforting. It offers something beyond the time limit, a place where answers may be sought and time enough is available to seek them. The belief system I adopted long ago allows for that. The bit of comfort is a good thing.

Of course, eternal life and life after death is a concept related to a whole lot of questions. A great many questions.

It would probably take forever to answer them. : )

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