“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.”
<note: this thought piece skews toward learning & teaching our youth but is relevant to all ages & how we learn>
So. Everyone who knows me 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 & overcoming ignorance as much as I have but has also created some interesting diagrams which better articulate the dynamic between “learning and ignorance” then I ever could <plus … the diagrams look like something I would have scribbled on a piece of paper>.
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 is an awesome incredibly simple concept.
The thinking behind this concept? In the beginning of your knowledge gathering life <probably think mainly children> ignorance always outpaces knowledge and learning <side note:this is just one of the places where I believe people like you and I can make a difference – think about in viewing 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 if you think about this circle diagram concept it means that gaining knowledge can be frustrating.
Frustrating? Frustrating in that every time you learn something ignorance still lies outside your existing knowledge base. 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>.
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 <this is the same in business>. For example, it’s difficult to skip to more complex physics until you have basic physics understanding. Or. It is difficult to read Tolkein if you haven’t mastered Dr. Suess.
Yet. 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.
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. Yeah. It is uneven. 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.’ In some variation I imagine most people are like this. This would also mean … uhm … there is no such thing as a well-rounded person.
So. 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. In my mind <and personal motto> … this suggests ‘seek truth’ just expands the mind with no end destination ever truly landed upon.
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 theoretically characterized the end of classic education system but reality suggests it should be replaced with the profile of an expert (or increased passion on a topic) in some particular domain. 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 at the end of high school a teen will have the first diagram and just 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 <note: as do more experienced manager in a business organization>.
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.
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.
So. 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 “tunnel vision learning” trap? Sure. 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. Ok. 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.
Okay. Maybe that’s the bottom line to this thought.
More is good.
More learning begets more enlightened ignorance. Question everything. Even your own knowledge.
So. 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. Ok. Maybe it’s the more you know makes you want to know more.
Anyway. In the end … despite the fact I abhor ignorance & fight ignorance everyday from my little corner of the world … after writing this … well … maybe I should say “Up with ignorance!” because it fosters more learning. Go figure.