Mar 042012

For some reason the word “autodidact” has repeatedly popped up in my reading recently. Enough that I’ve been thinking about the nature of being “self-taught.” The idea of achieving a skill or other knowledge on ones own is certainly something I’ve claimed. But really, I’m not sure it’s possible.

I’ve been on both sides of formal education and training; written resumes that documented degrees, and touted independent, self-taught skills. Yet looking at my collection of learned abilities, it seems to me that I could not have, no one could have learned all alone.

Yes, there is a wonderful human ability to gain skills by both arduous trial and error, and those incredible flashes of insight. At least for me though, I recognize that those sparks of insight are triggered by something that already exists. Something I’ve seen, heard, felt, even smelled moves into my brain–and then shifts into something new. That new idea then is a twist on something that exists. Certainly this has been documented throughout history. Newton’s apple, da Vinci’s translation of the dragonfly to a flying machine, Fibonacci’s sequence plainly visible in every sunflower–all notions that were progress from an observance.

Of course when we trace back to our origins, there was a hominid who first drew on the cave wall, transforming forever a stick into a drawing tool, and the stone wall into an art surface. Whoever he or she was, the designation of autodidact obviously applies. I would love to know, to understand and experience what spurred that first artistic action eons ago. I believe then, that since that first artwork, we’ve been learning from each other.

Perhaps this is something to celebrate and cherish. In a time when formal education is becoming more and more rigidly determined by rising costs, and tightened entrance acceptances, it might be a good time to find ways for each of us to share what we know. We all have a wealth of knowledge to share, we all have a vibrant curiosity for what we don’t know. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all opened our brains, and our hearts and learned from each other.

  One Response to “The Art of Learning”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I like to use the term “life taught” instead of self-taught. Self-taught has a ring of hubris to it because it is not really possible.

    Remember 2001: A Space Odyssey? According to Clarke’s and Kubrick’s vision, we should not even assume that the first hominid was self-taught.

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