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Todd Suomela

The Art of Unlearning - 0 views

  • I see two main views of learning. The first is like stamp collecting. The person wants to collect more and more knowledge, mostly for the purposes of showing it off to people they want to impress. The knowledge here is largely inert and unimportant for their lives—it’s just a collecting hobby accruing more facts and ideas.

    There’s nothing wrong with stamp collecting. Knowing facts and ideas, even if they aren’t particularly useful or central to our lives, isn’t a bad thing. It’s probably a superior hobby to many other pursuits, since knowledge can, at least some of the time, spillover to more practical consequences.

    The other view of learning, however, is centered around unlearning. This is the view that what we think we know about the world is a veneer of sense-making atop a much deeper strangeness. The things we think we know, we often don’t. The ideas, philosophies and truths that guide our lives may be convenient approximations, but often the more accurate picture is a lot stranger and more interesting.

  • A good meta-belief to this whole unlearning endeavor is to be comfortable with the idea that everything you know is provisional, and that underneath what you know is likely a more complex and stranger picture.

    Human beings seem to be naturally afraid of this groundless view of things. I’m not quite sure why that is. It may be that this kind of epistemic flexibility might start to question societal norms and rules of conduct, and so people who think too much about things may have an amoral character. That’s certainly the perspective of many traditional religious viewpoints on things, which discourages open-ended inquiry in favor of professing allegiance to dogma.

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