Thursday, April 14, 2011

Raw Resources of the Mind

We intuitively know there is something entirely different between memorizing vocab words and researching a persuasive essay. But does it make sense to vaguely refer to both of these processes as "learning"?

As I've wrestled to answer this question I came up with the following analogy to better understand the holistic role of learning in the human experience:
  • Knowledge is the sum total of raw resources that exist in the system. Much of it is growing on the surface, or rushing through the rivers, even more is buried under the mountainsides.
  • Comprehending is the gathering, excavation, and mining of the raw resources - the process of perception and acquisition of the raw resources by an individual.
  • Learning is a discovery process of the resource's properties, it's relationship to other resources, and imagining its potential. It is the refinement, processing, and synthesis of the raw resource towards being something more useful.
  • Wisdom is attained as a result of the repeated mining and refining processes; the finished product is a relevant and useful contribution to the system.
As I developed this analogy I found it extremely valuable to distinguish between comprehending and learning as two different processes. Previously, my own common usage of the word "learning" lumped the two processes indistinguishably together. But defining processes clearly allows us to talk about and understand them better; it allows us to be more precise and purposeful in our actions.

Let's get back to the example in my introduction. I Initially found myself wanting to describe memorizing vocab words as a "lower form of learning", while researching a persuasive essay is a "higher form of learning". I find this to be unsatisfying at best and severely misleading at worst - it implies that eventually one does, or should graduate from the lower level to the higher level of learning. However, that does not accurately understand the human experience.

One needs the perception and acquisition process of comprehending as much as one needs the refining and synthesising process of learning. They are cyclical, if not simultaneous, processes that requires attention to both.
Are the terms I used in the analogy correct? I'm definitely not confident enough to call it perfect.

For what it's worth, here are some explanations, opinions, and apprehensions I have with the analogy...

On my epistemological assumption concerning Knowledge:

Before I go any further, you should know I barely even know how to pronounce the word epistemological, but I've been dieing for a chance to use it. Now, back to the point...

I'm defining knowledge as being something that someone has (it's internal) or does not have (it's external); concerning truth, information, experiences, and concepts. The sum total of knowledge exists whether one has it or not - it is something to be perceived and acquired.

On the many synonyms of Comprehension:

The verbs comprehending, knowing, and understanding all seem very synonymous. So my choice of comprehending was based largely on what "feels" right, not on well researched logic.
To reiterate the point, the process of knowing/comprehending/understanding through sensory perception is the internalizing of the knowledge that exists externally (or in the analogy, "the acquisition of the raw resources"). I chose comprehension out of those three simply because I thought it sounds best.

"Knowing knowledge" is clunky.

Understanding seems too "blah".

Purely artistic liberty.

On the generic usage of the word Learning:

I'd be open to an argument that the general process (from knowledge to wisdom) is learning. If you want me to agree, you will have to provide me with an equally satisfying word to replace "learning" in the 3rd bullet point.

On Wisdom:

I'll be honest, I think I nailed the 4th bullet. I haven't even touched the phrasing since I first brainstormed the analogy last week.

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