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Unlearn More -- Writer's Poke #212

When you learn something, you stop thinking. And that's a problem.

Take this rather innocuous example: Your 3rd grade teacher tells you that you cannot start a sentence with "And." And from that point on, you might never start a sentence with "and" for the rest of your life. You have "learned" that it's wrong to start a sentence with "and," and you simply never question it. Why should you? After all, you learned it, right?

I use this silly example to illustrate a much greater point. Throughout our lives, we "learn" things all the time, and what we learn affects everything else that we might think we know. But consider this: if you're working on a math problem, it's important that you are using the correct formula. You'll never obtain the correct "answer" without an equation that's probably developed. And yet, many people go through life working under faulty assumptions.

Even more dangerous: some of us even recognize that what we've learned isn't correct. But rather than unlearn and start over, we force ourselves to believe that we're right. We ignore all evidence to the contrary, shut down our minds, and will ourselves into blindness.

Take something you've learned about politics, religion, or any subject that interests you. How do your fundamental beliefs in this area affect how you approach other areas of your life? Take one of the basic things you have learned and analyze it critically. What areas in your life do you need to "unlearn"?

"Minds are like parachutes - they only function when open.” - Thomas Dewar


  1. I am sure we all learned sometime in elementary school or sooner, that one cannot subtract a number from a smaller number. Most of us then had to "unlearn" that if only when we had a balance of $15 in the bank and wrote a check for $20. The bank notified us that we owned them $5. So much for not subtracting a number from a smaller number. Most of us also learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. That is true on a plane surface. It is not true on a sphere or something approximating a sphere, such as the earth. Thus we learn about great circle routes as the shortest distance we can (normally) travel on the surface of the earth, or a few thousand feet above it, as in from New York to Tokyo.

    There are things learned in the field of economics that have to be unlearned periodically when people make the same old mistakes.


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