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Learn to love learning! : Why knowledge is the best drug on the market

Updated on October 3, 2012
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Learning is often associated with the imperious and dogmatic ravings of schoolteachers (I’m allowed to say that – I was one). This does, of course, make sense as the majority of time dedicated solely to learning happens during this formative experience. What I want to share my speculations about, however, is learning for learning’s sake. Many people have a god-awful time at school and as a result miss out on the amazing journey that independent learning can take us on.

People who do not seek out new knowledge are missing out on a massive trick though! One of life’s greatest pleasures, is learning. I don’t care if your teachers at school breathed fire and you were forced to write your homework in your own blood! That is no excuse for not doing your homework!!… Ahem… What I meant to say was that not enjoying school is no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of gaining new knowledge and understanding.

The act of learning (admittedly, generally only when it is done by choice) is a divinely addictive experience. That moment when the light bulb goes PING and a new bit of knowledge anchor’s itself inside your head… well there are few pleasures that come close! It is one of what J.S. Mill termed, the ‘Higher’ pleasures. These are differentiated from, say, the pleasures of eating a particularly sinful slice of chocolate cake, by how it stays with us and how it affects future experiences. I’m not saying that your memory of the cake won’t impact on your next experience of a chocolaty nature… however the impact will be small and rather trivial. Compare that to a learning experience. For instance, perhaps one day in a moment of historical curiosity you read something/watch a documentary on ancient Roman buildings. In this time you discover that Romans used concrete in their building. Concrete – which is often thought of as an exclusively modern material! Learning this rearranges your understanding and the next time you see a concrete pillar that knowledge re-appears in the forefront of your mind. Suddenly you are struck with a dizzying sense of historical perspective which adjusts (if only slightly) your understanding of your place in the world around you and the path that has been taken in the history of humanity to bring you to this point where you are standing staring vacantly at a concrete pillar in an underground car-park like a stoned idiot. Good times.

Example of Roman architecture made with brick and... yes you guessed it, concrete! - Just in case you didn't believe it was true.
Example of Roman architecture made with brick and... yes you guessed it, concrete! - Just in case you didn't believe it was true. | Source
If you fancy frying your brain - try this guys writing. Serious mind mangling stuff.
If you fancy frying your brain - try this guys writing. Serious mind mangling stuff. | Source

Seriously though – those moments of readjustment are moments that I crave. There is a definite buzz, or high that comes from a moment of perspective change, or revelation; the bigger the concept or idea, the bigger the buzz. The biggest ‘intellectual high’ I ever experienced was (after several hours of lectures on the topic) when I finally grasped the key concept that Heidegger was banging on about in one of his shorter and more accessible transcribed lectures What is Metaphysics?. The experience of that ‘light bulb moment’ was, and I remember describing it in these words to a friend at the time, like having my brain completely rewired. What a rush! I believe the less admirable phrase ‘complete head-f**k’ was also used concurrently but if you think less of me for it, try reading something by Heidegger!

Other big hits for the knowledge junkie in me have been subjects like Psychology, Sociology, Quantum Physics, Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics. I have to qualify the previous statement (before people start thinking that I’m trying to make out that I’m a genius of some kind) by saying that in the areas of Quantum Physics, Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics my learning has been via the very accessible mediums of popularist science books and BBC documentaries. As for Psychology and Sociology… well, they kinda tied in with my Philosophy degree, and I had modules on both (though I have furthered my understanding through my own private studies).

A saying that my grandfather used to come out with regularly, strikes me as very relevant to the topic of this hub. He used to have a fascination for the history and culture of both China and India having been intrigued by them when his work in the merchant navy had taken him there in the war. As a result, we (the family) would buy him books on the subject for birthdays on occasion. On receiving them he could be relied on to impart the following wisdom: The more you know about a thing, the more interesting it gets. I think that that tenet holds true in virtually all situations.

Other than the buzz of new concepts grasped, this idea of ‘interest’ is one of the other main attractions of learning new things. Often I talk to people about things that we are mutually interested in because, lets face it, that is one of my favourite things to do. On some occasions however I find that I know (despite similar educations) more about the topic than they have yet found out. Why is this? I can tell from their enthusiasm for it that the topic interests them just as much as me… so why haven’t they fed their interest with the tidbits of information it craves and deserves?

If you are unsure about my arguments concerning the everyday rampant misuse of time, don't just take it from me! Ask Seneca!
If you are unsure about my arguments concerning the everyday rampant misuse of time, don't just take it from me! Ask Seneca! | Source

Time is often the given answer, but this is only true in part. It is not true that you don’t have time to feed your interests. It is true that you fill your time with other things. Things like spreading inane commentary on twitter, or playing angry birds on whatever mobile piece of technology is attached to you at the time. I would like to point out that this is analogous to the cake vs learning comparison I made earlier. Many people miss out on the life-improving, personal-growth-nurturing experiences of learning for learning’s sake because instead of watching a documentary on something they are genuinely interested in… they watched Deal or No Deal instead.

Another benefit to reading up on things that you want to know about, is what I call ‘knowing what you’re talking about’. This marvellous, yet lesser seen, trait enables conversations to actually go somewhere. I have to impress on you that I do not think a conversation in which I know more than the other person is a good one. Learning from the motive of wanting to look clever is not an admirable habit. I want conversations where both myself and the person with whom I’m talking, have an equally well informed, but if possible, slightly different understanding of the topic at hand. These conversations actually move the understanding of both participants forwards.

The final benefit (though I’m sure there are more, and more obvious ones too) which I want to bring up, is tolerance. Here is something which the world lacks so much of and do you know what? Understanding other people, other cultures, religions, philosophies etc has this miraculous effect! It turns ‘them’ into ‘us’. How much bigotry could be avoided if people really got to understand the differences that, in their ignorance, they attach negative, socially learned views, to?

To Conclude

In conclusion then, I will propose the bold view that if people were to start learning for learning’s sake, they would be happier, more fulfilled, and more tolerant of their fellow man. So, with those goals in mind – I charge you to go forth and follow your interests! Watch documentaries! Read books! Browse the plethora of informative sites on the internet with a discerning eye! Do all or any of these things, but above all… learn something new!

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    • Dan Barfield profile image
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      Dan Barfield 4 years ago from Gloucestershire, England, UK

      Learning for a reason is an admirable occupation, alancaster149... and I think on reflection my use of the phrase 'learning for the sake of learning' is perhaps unintentionally deceiving. In the end, what I wanted to say was that, in learning anything the pure gain in knowledge is only one of a plethora of benefits that comes from the experience.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I'd have thought I'd be some way down a queue, commenting on this! Not 'learning for the sake of learning', but 'learning for a reason' is my own mantra.

      Most of what I know I picked up along with a lot of scuffs and bruises in the playground and later on at work. I used to get 'Noggin the Nog' dished up when I mentioned the Vikings at one of my workplaces in Fleet Street. Maybe my timing was out, but I was researching back in the 80's (bit before your time, I think) for a saga I wrote and then abandoned. I didn't fancy having to rewrite all that stuff, and on thinking back it was a bit 'naff' anyway. Then laptops came along, lo and behold! The knowledge grew and I shifted the accent of my story from aggressors to defenders, from outsiders to insiders and the name changed from 'LANDRAVAGER' to 'RAVENFEAST'. There you have the progress through learning/research of not one, but a series of books. Learning can have its own rewards, but I'm a Yorkshireman: 'waste not, want not'.