Tag Archive: learning

Waking people from their dogmatic slumber

But this moral intellectualism of Socrates is a two-edged sword. It has its equalitarian and democratic aspect, which was later developed by Antisthenes. But it has also an aspect which may give rise to strongly anti-democratic tendencies. Its stress upon the need for enlightenment, for education, might easily be misinterpreted as a demand for authoritarianism. This is connected with a question which seems to have puzzled Socrates a great deal: that those who are not sufficiently educated, and thus not wise enough to know their deficiencies, are just those who are in the greatest need of education. Readiness to learn in itself proves the possession of wisdom, in fact all the wisdom claimed by Socrates for himself; for he who is ready to learn knows how little he knows. The uneducated seems thus to be in need of an authority to wake him up, since he cannot be expected to be self-critical. But this one element of authoritarianism was wonderfully balanced in Socrates’ teaching by the emphasis that the authority must not claim more than that. The true teacher can prove himself only by exhibiting that self-criticism which the uneducated lacks. ‘Whatever authority I may have rests solely upon my knowing how little I know’: this is the way in which Socrates might have justified his mission to stir up the people from their dogmatic slumber. This educational mission he believed to be also a political mission. He felt that the way to improve the political life of the city was to educate the citizens to self-criticism. In this sense he claimed to be ‘the only politician of his day’, in opposition to those others who flatter the people instead of furthering their true interests. [ch. 7, 141-2]

Operating with World 3 objects

[A]ll the important things we can say about an act of knowledge consist of pointing out the third-world objects of the act—a theory or proposition—and its relation to other third-world objects, such as the arguments bearing on the prob­lem as well as the objects known. [163]

Objective understanding

I have given here some reasons for the autonomous existence of an objective [World 3] because I hope to make a contribution to the theory of understanding (‘hermeneutics’), which has been much discussed by students of the humanities (‘Geisteswissenschaften’, ‘moral and mental sciences’). Here I will start from the assumption that it is the understanding of objects belonging to [World 3] which constitutes the central problem of the humanities. This, it appears, is a radical departure from the fundamental dogma accepted by almost all students of the humanities (as the term indicates), and especially by those who are interested in the problem of understanding. I mean of course the dogma that the objects of our understanding belong mainly to [World 2], or that they are at any rate to be ex­plained in psychological terms. [162]

The self as a product of World 3

But the human consciousness of self transcends, I suggest, all purely biological thought. I may put it like this: I have little doubt that animals are conscious, and especially that they feel pain and that a dog can be full of joy when his master returns. But I conjecture that only a human being capable of speech can reflect upon himself. I think that every organism has a programme. But I also think that only a human being can be conscious of parts of this programme, and revise them critically.

Most organisms, if not all, are programmed to explore their environment, taking risks in doing so. But they do not take these risks consciously. Though they have an instinct for self preservation, they are not aware of death. It is only man who may consciously face death in his search for knowledge.

A higher animal may have a character: it may have what we may call virtues or vices. A dog may be brave, affable, and loyal; or it may be vicious and treacherous. But I think that only a man can make an effort to become a better man: to master his fears, his laziness, his selfishness; to get over his lack of self control.

In all these matters it is the anchorage of the self in World 3 that makes the difference. The basis of it is human lan­guage which makes it possible for us to be not only subjects, centres of action, but also objects of our own critical thought, of our own critical judgement. This is made possible by the social character of language; by the fact that we can speak about other people, and that we can understand them when they speak about themselves.

The social character of language together with the fact that we owe our status as selves – our humanity, our rationality – to language, and thus to others, seems to me important. As selves, as human beings, we are all products of World 3 which, in its turn, is a product of countless human minds.

I have described World 3 as consisting of the products of the human mind. But human minds react, in their turn, to these products: there is a feedback. The mind of a painter, for example, or of an engineer, is greatly influenced by the very objects on which he is working. And he is also influenced by the work of others, predecessors as well as contem­poraries. This influence is both conscious and unconscious. It bears upon expectations, upon preferences, upon pro­grammes. In so far as we are the products of other minds, and of our own minds, we ourselves may be said to belong to World 3. [!!!]

The blockheadedness of IQ

It seems likely that there are innate differences of intelligence. But it seems almost impossible that a matter so many-sided and complex as human inborn knowledge and intelligence (quickness of grasp, depth of understanding, crea­tivity, clarity of expression, etc.) can be measured by a one-dimensional function like the “Intelligence Quotient” (I.Q.). As Peter Medawar … writes:

“One doesn’t have to be a physicist or even a gardener to realize that the quality of an entity as diverse and complex as soil depends upon … [a] large number of variables … [Yet] it is only in recent years that the hunt for single-value characterizations of soil properties has been virtually abandoned.”

The single-valued I.Q. is still far from being abandoned, even though this kind of criticism is leading, slowly and belatedly, to attempts to investigate such things as “creativity”. However, the success of thes attempts is very doubtful: creativity is also many-sided and complex.

We must be clear that it is perfectly possible that an intellectual giant like Einstein may have a comparatively low I.Q. and that among people with an unusually high I.Q. talents of the kind that lead to creative World 3 achievements may be quite rare, just as it may happen that an otherwise highly gifted child may suffer from dyslexia. (I have myself known an I.Q. genius who was a blockhead.) [123]

The task of being a person

Against this, I suggest that being a self is partly the result of inborn dispositions and partly the result of experience, especially social experience. The newborn child has many inborn ways of acting and of responding, and many inborn tendencies to develop new responses and new activities. Among these tendencies is a tendency to develop into a person conscious of himself. But in order to achieve this, much must happen. A human child growing up in social iso­lation will fail to attain a full consciousness of self.

Thus I suggest that not only perception and language have to be learned – actively – but even the task of being a person; and I further suggest that this involves not merely a close contact with the World 2 of other persons, but also a close contact with the World 3 of language and of theories such as a theory of time (or something equivalent). [111]

Learning to be a self

In this section my thesis is that we – that is to say our personalities, our selves – are anchored in all the three worlds, and especially in World 3.

It seems to me of considerable importance that we are not born as selves, but that we have to learn that we are selves; in fact we have to learn to be selves. This learning process is one in which we learn about World 1, World 2, and especially about World 3. [108-9]

Understanding is reconstruction

What I suggest is that we can grasp a theory only by trying to reinvent it or to reconstruct it, and by trying out, with the help of our imagination, all the consequences of the theory which seem to us to be interesting and important.

Understanding is an active process, not just a process of merely staring at a thing and waiting for enlightenment. One could say that the process of understanding and the process of the actual production or discovery of World 3 objects are very much alike. [461]

Einstein’s theory of objective knowledge

Was ist eigentlich „Denken“? Wenn beim Empfangen von Sinnes-Eindrücken Erinnerungsbilder auftauchen, so ist das noch nicht „Denken“. Wenn solche Bilder Serien bilden, deren jedes Glied ein anderes wachruft, so ist dies auch noch kein „Denken“. Wenn aber ein gewisses Bild in vielen solchen Reihen wiederkehrt, so wird es eben durch seine Wiederkehr zu einem ordnenden Element für solche Reihen, indem es an sich zusammenhangslose Reihen verknüpft. Ein solches Element wird zum Werkzeug, zum Begriff. Ich denke mir, dass der Uebergang vom freien Assoziieren oder „Träumen“ zum Denken characterisiert ist durch die mehr oder minder dominierende Rolle, die der „Begriff“ dabei spielt. Es ist an sich nicht nötig, dass ein Begriff mit einem sinnlich wahrnehmbaren und reproduzierbaren Zeichen (Wort) verknüft sei; ist er es aber so wird dadurch Denken mitteilbar. [6]

Repetition is not learning

There are few human skills where constant ‘practising’—that is, not only repetition but also more or less ‘mechanical’ repetition—is as important as in learning to play the piano. Yet we do not find anything new, such as a new fingering, through practising. Only after having discovered the new fingering by trial and error, that is, after comparing it with alternative solutions to the problem and rejecting less suitable solutions, can we begin to ‘practise’ it. Thus the function of mechanical repetition—of ‘practising’, or ‘learning by rote’—is not to discover something new, but to establish familiarity with something previously discovered. Its function is not to make us conscious of a new problem (as is the function of testing repeatedly some tentative solutions) but to eliminate as far as possible the element of consciousness from our performance. [42-3]

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