Let me start with an analogy. You have a patch of wasteland. Through hard work, you turn the wasteland into a vegetable garden. What do you have now, a wasteland and a vegetable garden, or just a vegetable garden?
I see almost everyone around me think of learning as an additive process. "You complete a course or a school, you learn a new skill, you read a book, now you know more and became more!"
But then again, did you really retain the uneducated person that you were before? Can you still not know how to ride a bike, or look at written English and have no clue what it means? Do you really know, or even remember what primary school is like? Are you backward compatible with your old selves? Or did self-improvement and learning change you, from wasteland to vegetable garden?
Expressing this idea almost universally gets me replies like "yes, but this and that is better, being uneducated isn't worth anything to me I don't need it"
. But understand that even if you, or anyone would love the trade, it's still a trade. Even if you value what you become way more than what you were before, it's still a process of change in which something is lost, or morphed into something else. When people learn something, either by effort or through misery, they may judge that the benefit outweighs the cost. It's an overall profit, and profit happens to be the opposite of loss, so nothing was lost! This is pretty sweet, so soon the person might end up with an intuitive picture of self-improvement that suggest they can just learn and become better indefinitely. As they improve however, they keep losing their previous perspectives and notwithstanding all perceived growth, they remain just one human, and a different one at that. In many ways, they couldn't even pretend to be what they were in a convincing manner, hence why I said they deteriorate
. Think of humans as a system with a roughly fixed amount of complexity. You can shape them but they have their limits, and even if they are not shaped, the potential will
go into an exquisite wasteland.
While not immediately related, to further elaborate the point, let me show three different kinds of learning:
The first one is goal.
People keep learning until they become something, or achieve something. They learn a trade, they learn how to ride a bike, they get a degree in something, they beat an opponent. They want to learn neither too little nor too much; just the right amount to reach their goal; everything that's missing or excess is bad. Applied stuff, trades. "I do not want to know what a Lebesgue integral is, I'll never need it in life!"
The second one is direction,
or improvement. People set a general direction of improvement, a scale or way to measure which things are better or worse. There is no end-goal, no point where there scale ends, as there's always more to learn and do. Even if something doesn't seem interesting or useful now, it might help advance later on. Any detour is justified if it ultimately helps to progress, and progress is always good. The more, the better. Sciences belongs here. "I'm not sure what a Lebesgue integral is, and it hurts my brain to look at it, but I'll be smarter so let's do this!"
The third one is curiosity.
It's basically just like hunger, it never really goes away. Unlike the previous two, this one is indiscriminate; there's no goal, criteria or quality that could force it choose one thing over the other; except maybe the novelty of the subject. Curiosity will randomly learn anything, without a goal or regard to usefulness, taking blind shots in every direction. Eventually it will eat things that no sort of goal or progress would want to touch, ever; thus helping them out. Philosophy starts and ends here, sometimes taking a trip to the other two. Maths also makes an occasional visit, but it's more of a regular in the other two.