Enlightened Conflict

an obsession for learning

May 9th, 2016

obsessed 1


“Sureness will always elude you.

The detective will always circle around what he wants, never seeing it whole. We do not go on despite this.

We go on because of it.”



Claire DeWitt




“All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.”obsessed 2



Virginia Woolf







I had not really thought much about obsession until I came across this Harry Potter gif.


He has a point.


A really good point.

planning my day learning

Far too often we seem to judge obsession in absolutes … as in absolutely unhealthy, bad or creepy.


Obsession is clearly one of those words which seems to be made up of a lot of bad perceptions.


But what if you have an obsession with learning … or reading … or some specific topic like science, math or woodworking … or any ‘increased knowledge-based’ aspect of Life.


That kind of seems like a good worthwhile obsession.

Well. At least it offers some sense of ‘reason’ that you can bolt on to the everyday survival aspect of Life.


But let’s take a moment on obsession with learning.


Life, and learning, and even curiosity in general … means most of us are trapped in an endless chase.


The real scam people try and sell you is that some milestone or some objective represents some end point. I imagine another part of the scam is something I tried to debunk back in 2010 … the whole concept of “well rounded” learning and people.


What we are taught about learning — how to learn, what to learn & what learning is important – is very different than what most of us feel & perceive when we encounter learning.

And the rules look even more out of whack if you are one of the ones who is obsessive about learning something.


Those of us who have encountered, and embraced, obsession recognize that the game is rigged. We know there is no perfection. We know there is actually no end. We know that our obsession is a means to an end and more often a favorite piece of clothing we will inevitably store away on the closet to be replaced by some other piece of clothing we will wear endlessly … until we become obsessed with another.


What this means is that anyone with a relatively healthy obsession will endlessly circle around whatever they want more of … and do so willingly because it was what he/she wants.


We visit the extremes seeking the extreme edge of something that is infinite and, yet, we find solace in the extremeness and not an unhealthy pursuit of something that will never actually be sated.

obsessed uninterested switch

A good obsession may actually mean you have the high unrealistic expectations and yet are able to mix and match them with the curiosity exploration of the day.


I was a young obsessive-topic  reader <which concerned my parents on a number of levels> … and to this day have aspects of obsessiveness in all learning and exploring opinions, truths and belief.


I tend to believe obsessive learning is effective for a variety of reasons.


It is self imposed.


It is defined by a chosen environment & topic rather than a dictated one.


Measurement is … well … unmeasurable in traditional terms where the measurement objective is an unquantifiable “enough when it is enough” <we dictate the ‘satedness’>.



At its root level obsession is all about “wanting more.” And with regard to learning … the ‘more’ is not some well-rounded evenly shaped smooth journey. And therein lies obsession biggest challenge in life. Unevenness makes people feel uncomfortable. They seek ‘well rounded’ and ‘planned exploration’ in terms of what is right. Therefore if you are obsessive on one topic or one task you are not … well … doing it right.


And that kind of seems silly to me.

I am sure that someone will point out that there truly is a ‘righter way’ to learn but in my pea like brain learning driven from the inside of someone is significantly more powerful than learning dictated by someone outside of me.




I tend to believe part of youth is learning about obsessions and constantly being obsessed with something and some things.

Unfortunately, adults confuse exploration with youth obsession.

Sure. Sometimes the exploration can verge on some unhealthiness but more often than not it is a pursuit of ‘more’ within something liked or desired. The pursuit itself becomes a means to a different end in that exploration means one encounters new things … which can encourage a diverting path and a new obsession.


That is partially what youth is.


It was in my day and it remains so today <although reading things online suggests many adults seem to think the young are more obsessive than ever – note: no research proving that>.


For some this obsession learning path provides a focus for adulthood.


For some this obsession becomes an unhealthy adult pattern.


For some this obsession becomes a healthy relentless pursuit of something ‘more’ in adulthood.



I would never suggest that an obsession with learning is easy mostly because … well … anything extreme runs the risk of edging a little toward madness <or at least maddening to the people around>. But I will suggest that an obsession with learning is one of those youth obsessions which translates fairly well into adulthood. I could even suggest that an obsession with learning, as long as you don’t get too full of yourself, means you maintain a certain youthfulness toward Life.







To be honest, I haven’t completely figured out how to resolve obsession I simply manage it and think I am always working on it.obsessions people


What I do know is that those of us who are obsessed with learning will always be dissatisfied with what we do not know.



I assume anyone who struggles with some obsession and even manages it has figured out a way of managing the overall dissatisfaction versus “satisfaction I have actually made some inroads with regard to my ‘more’ desire.”


But I have learned that the pursuit of your obsession has to have meaning in order for it to be a healthy obsession.


And meaning can take form in a variety of ways … but it cannot be a simple milestone or objective but rather an embodiment of some growth or ‘moreness’ <not actual attainment of something>.




At least that is how I figured it out.





intellect & ignorance: learning & boundaries (or ‘enlightened ignorance’)

April 14th, 2010



“Sureness will always elude you.

The detective will always circle around what he wants, never seeing it whole. We do not go on despite this. We go on because of it.”


Claire DeWitt







Every once in awhile you find someone has articulated something you have been trying to say so clearly you just shake your head and say “I wish I had written that.”



Let me note that this happens more than every once in awhile with me … but different post for a different day.





Everyone pretty much knows that overcoming ignorance is my thing <I always hesitate to use the ‘soapbox’ word so it’s ‘thing’ here>.



In fact … I was tempted to call this post “enlightened Ignorance” <because I love contradictions>.



That said … I found a guy <Jim McGee on Future Tense blog> who has actually not only thought about learning & ignorance as much as I have but has created some nifty diagrams which better articulate the whole “learning and ignorance” dynamics thing <plus … the diagrams look like something I would have scribbled on a piece of paper so maybe that is another reason I like them>.


What Jim did was to articulate this idea of “boundaries of ignorance” and “circles of knowledge” in a really interesting way.


The foundational idea is that by expanding the circle of knowledge you are simultaneously expanding the boundaries of ignorance. In other words, the more things you learn, the more things you become aware you don’t know.


Now that, my friends, is an awesomely simple concept.



The thinking.


In the beginning of your knowledge gathering life <probably think mainly children> ignorance always outpaces knowledge and learning.



This is just one of the places where I believe people like you and I can make a difference <with this first diagram and young people>.



Let me be clear.


By ‘people like you and I’ I mean older people with more experience and a better understanding of how expansive true knowledge can be.


Why do I say this?


Because this circle diagram concept means that gaining knowledge can be frustrating.


Frustrating in that every time you learn something … ignorance still lies outside your existing knowledge base. And this translates into a state of being perpetually dissatisfied <or the glass is never completely full with knowledge> which obviously can be either encouraging or discouraging with a person’s attitude to continue learning.



This diagram also makes you think about the role of schools <and do they help or hinder or minimize or maximize>.


Schools fulfill their role in this process by focusing attention on the inside of the circle and keeping youth carefully inside the boundaries. What I mean by that is the credentialing system of education looks backward at what you are supposed to have learned in its testing and measurement of success.


I imagine the good news is that a good school environment helps keep you from falling off the edge into material you are unable to understand or appreciate <and in the process hopefully limiting a type of discouragement>.


In addition.


A huge purpose of schools is to introduce students <of any age> to appropriate vocabulary in a logical order … so you can progressively move on to additional learning.

For example … it’s difficult to skip to more complex physics until you have basic physics understanding. It is difficult to read Tolkein if you haven’t mastered Dr. Suess.



The danger, or maybe better said, the potential limitations of formal schooling <even when well done> is too much focus on what you already know.


In other words, if a person <or child> isn’t pushed out to the boundaries, opportunities become limited for significant new learning.

This thought gets compounded by the fact today’s schooling tends to overly protect students from failure and, therefore, from opportunities for deeper learning.



Therefore. Learning and attacking ignorance <and the boundaries of teaching and caringignorance> is a place where parents and outsiders <beyond teachers> can make a HUGE difference.



I do believe as we get older we come to appreciate, or at least understand, the importance of failure in real learning.

This is important learning beyond educational building blocks and assists in ongoing career development activity and personal intellectual growth.


We need to insure children don’t get discouraged with two things:



(1) slow paced learning as they learn necessary foundational elements <they get discouraged because their curiosity never gets sated>


(2) failure to learn everything <they get discouraged because by remaining in the ‘ignorance zone,’ despite having invested energy in knowledge gathering to actually get in that zone, they never feel a satisfaction of ‘something completed’>.



With that thought we get to Jim’s second diagram where the circle of knowledge has inconsistent edges/boundaries.LumpyCircleOfKnowledge-



When I saw this diagram I thought it perfectly reflected not only how people expand their learning knowledge outside a school construct but also my own personal challenge when it comes to increasing knowledge and ignorance.


The problem I have personally always had … is I run the risk of collecting information book by book and article by article and with each one my point of view slightly sways in the direction of what I read.


I imagine, upon reflection, over time I have gained a better understanding of my own learning flaws and I tend to treat each piece of new learning as simply a breakthrough in my ignorance and I start gathering information around that particular piece of learning to round out my thought and point of views instead of solely being invested in the ‘breakthrough thought.’




All that said.


Assuming I could actually create a diagram without help from someone who knows how to build diagrams, my personal third diagram would probably be the rounding out of some of the points above.

In other words, the spike is the initial breakthrough which inevitably leads to a curiosity driven rounding out of fuller understanding and knowledge.



Beyond that rounding out I would imagine there is an inevitable new ‘spike’ somewhere else assuming I had read or heard something that piqued my curiosity. Therefore, and I believe this is the neatest thought, this is a perpetual process with spikes and rounding out but in the end the circle just keeps getting bigger and bigger.



Jim makes a great point in his blog … you become more expert and informed on certain topics at the expense of others. The well rounded circle that might have characterized the end of classic education system will be replaced with the profile of an expert (or increased passion on a topic) in some particular domain and therefore you will never end up with a perfect circle but rather an ellipse or some wacky trapezoid (or something).

I would also suggest that, say at the end of high school, a teen will have the first diagram and one spike out (I am making a generalization but you get my thought). Most kids have some passion that they become comfortable with and expand their knowledge to a point that they are pushing the ignorance boundary out on that topic.



Before I leave that thought.


I believe every kid is passionate about something. And I believe it is up to us adults to find it <not the kid>.



Once again I do believe we more experienced <older> people have a responsibility here.


It is a tricky challenge … but we should be encouraging other “spikes” in the boundary <note: I hesitate to call it rounding out because if you believe this diagram – as I do – we are seeking to look to create the sharp salient effect on the circle and then round out the salient>.


As noted earlier we adults are in a balancing act role of encouraging and managing inevitable discouragement <because of the never ending aspect of curiosity>.

We need to think about this. Really think about this.

While it is a fascinating thought process that if we do not take time to think about we are likely to mismanage.



better than yesterdayIn the end? We need to recognize that our smallest actions can make a big impact.

And that is a responsibility.





Do I believe there should be tools, techniques and specific tactics to take advantage of this “boundary of ignorance” and guide ongoing learning?

Shit. I don’t know. I am not an education expert.


I am sure someone can come up with some voodoo technique that gets people to enhance their knowledge base.



For me the success lies within the understanding of the process.


For when people understand these diagrams and this thought process I believe we are on our way to success. For, as I noted with the first diagram, the issue sometimes comes down to discouragement/encouragement. In our current world people are very focused on “attaining a goal” and what this “boundary of ignorance” suggests is you can never attain the goal.


The cheese gets moved every time you get close to getting it.


Maybe the trick is to make learning become visible so you recognize the next step is to further cluster more learning around something that interested you <and encouraging that gathering/clustering>. But. I am not sure how to do that.





Here is what I do know <or believe> from this:


–          School systems are built to create a rounded foundational learning and accumulate enough knowledge to “attack” ignorance as you get older.

That is good. And it probably pays for parents and influential people in kid’s lives to understand this. And encourage kids because there is a high risk they will sometimes get frustrated with the basics and want more.



–          In general … learning is discouraging <that is a big thought we need to wrap our heads around>. Until maybe you attain Albert Einstein status on quantum physics you can never reach your goal. Or maybe better said you are always reaching for something and finding out there is something more to reach for. In people’s formative thinking/learning years it is helpful to remember this.



–          Personal understanding is important.

I recognized pretty early on my learning challenge. Each book contained a thought that could drive my newest “thinking” or point of view. I discovered a way to deal with it. Do I still fall into the trap?


Who doesn’t fall in love with a well articulated logical idea on occasion?

Am I trapped for long? Nope.


I know now to seek out additional learning on thoughts to round off the spikes.



–          Single topic pushing out versus multiple topics pushing out.

There is no formula.

I know for a fact my own parents were scared shitless that when I picked up a science fiction book, and then another, and then another, that all I was going to read and learn about was that.

But then I would find something else and then that would be my new eternal focus.



Eternal until the next interesting factoid smacked me in the head.


Other people push out on multiple topics at the same time.

The only thing I know for sure? Encouragement.


I don’t like the way my own parents encouraged my curiosity <it was a negative approach … “you shouldn’t just read about this .. you know there are other interesting things in the world”> … but, regardless, the intent was good.

Go get more.


More is good.question everything






Maybe that’s the bottom line to this thought.


More is good.


More learning begets more enlightened ignorance.

Question everything. Even your own knowledge.





In this case, oddly enough, maybe I am suggesting ignorance is good.

Good in that the more you don’t know makes you want to know more.





Maybe it’s the more you know makes you want to know more.



I say “Up with ignorance!”

Enlightened Conflict