Learning curve in humans

Ego, self-knowledge and Learning

What is learning?

Learning involves three things:
1. Knowing the extent or boundary of our knowledge;
2. Understanding the sphere of our ignorance;
3. Transcending the above two when actually receiving the knowledge.
The last part is tricky and that is the reason as to why some people have sharper learning curve than others. Here we are going to deal with this aspect a little more.

Hindrance by ego or self perception:

Learning curve is closely associated with ego and self-knowledge. What is ego? Is it not a label given by psychologists? Actually it is worse than that. Ego is our perception of ourselves. We call a person egotist if that person has a very high opinion about him/herself. Narcissus is the name for even more egotists. But what is this perception of self? Is this the self-knowledge or something different?

While living we accumulate experiences. With these experiences we draw conclusions and in those conclusions we have images of ourselves as well as those we come in contact with, physically or otherwise. Human mind is primitive in nature. It’s long-term memory is pictorial. To retain any conclusion, the mind is forced to use its pictorial memory. Any information retained for long-term use is therefore stored in the form of an image.

Do we really need so much long-term memory for learning?

The answer is partially yes. We need it for very basic knowledge about dangers or physical skills like location of keys on keyboard etc.  For most part, long-term memory is useless if not a hurdle in acquiring new knowledge.
The image creating habit often results in mass hypnosis. For example, the terrorist problem. A false picture of ‘divine purpose’ created in the minds of thousands is struck. A person converted to do anything for a cause can not understand anything which does not fit or match with the picture or image or ideology in his/her mind.
This image making process is at work in each of us. In fact we take pride in associating with images. Image of nationality, religion, group or a circle. We proudly identify ourselves with any of these larger images. The larger groups helps us expand our picture and suddenly we are larger and more powerful than those not associated with ‘our image’. Ego is nothing but another name for the self-image which is least reflective of self-knowledge
Interesting thing is that even when we see that all these images are false and start doubting the whole process e.g. by disowning the religion, God, Guru or Democracy; we end up creating another image or ideology. We forsake the church or temple or guru but we create another picture of ourselves in which we become our own God, Guru, Priest, Pope or President.

Who are we?

There was an earlier article on the subject “Who am I?” The question is hounding. Are we just a bundle of ill processed but accumulated memories expressing through our habits? Or is it anything more? May be or may be not. But to understand the mind and body is to understand the self. That is real self-knowledge. There can be no knowledge about something which hidden or wrapped in pictures or images.

Hurdle in process of learning

But this processing of images is a very big hurdle in learning as it is in living. As the age progresses, experiences in the form of ideologies accumulate and there is hardly any scope for new. Even if we are confronted with something new, we try to match it with the existing memories and utterly fail to understand.
Technology is moving too fast. Most people who were born prior to 80’s have tremendous problem handling computers, washing machines, cars and above all phones. Why?
The problem lies in the manner of understanding. If a person does not discard his/her knowledge of how things were done in the past, it is not easy to understand the new technologies.

Learning is partially unlearning:

When exposed to new knowledge, the real learning is to unlearn the way things were done in past. For example, if we have to do internet banking, we have to completely forget how things were done when we used to visit bank in person. If we mix up and ask ‘Where is my cheque or token for payment or where is teller?’; it is not going to help.

Learn from the scratch.

Every time we have to learn we must start from the scratch or absolute basic. It may be a repetition of some things we already know but it is important to know how cog of our existing knowledge is going to fit in ever-changing wheel of knowledge.

An example of learning difficulty:

A friend of mine wants to know and optimize her static web site exhibiting the products with SEO. She is still using yahoo mail and does not use Google. She has android phone but does not know the terms like POP3/IMAP or pushmail or google drive or dropbox. Many times mail does not reach her or do not reach destination. Many people have duped her money in the name of optimization of website for SEO but she is in no mood to understand anything. She has experience of a successful business in which she had learnt everything from the scratch. But that was long time ago, when money was in short supply. Not any more.
Actually she has become incapable of learning because of the problems narrated above.

It appears learning is a swing door process in which something can come in only if something goes out of the door. Garbage in garbage out. Will we throw something out today?

A confession: Some the thoughts here are deeply influenced by a book of J. Krishnamurti called ‘Learning is not Confirming.’ That book is focused on the subject how to understand what Krishnamurti is talking about but it appears the analogy can be applied to every other learning or understanding. In my personal experience, often I read things or help about technical things and do not understand a thing for days but suddenly, existing garbage gives way and a new understanding develops. Some of the next articles are going to be a few things I recently learned.

About Sandeep Bhalla

A lawyer, thinker, author, Linux/Ubuntu power user and sometime an economist or gardener or philosopher or cook or photographer depending upon the current thought and environment. View all posts by Sandeep Bhalla

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