When learning something new, the first step we all go through is to figure out how this new thing relates to something we already know.
For example, if you’re learning a new language as an adult, you learn the parts of speech and words in relation to a language you already know. If you’re learning a programming language, you learn how the language is similar to one you know. If you don’t already know a programming language, you’re taught programming in terms of human language.
People are genetically programmed to look for patterns. We see faces on Mars, objects in clouds, sacred images on pieces of toast, personality traits in unique people that we assume are the same as traits exhibited by other people, and so on.
When learning new skills, our incredible pattern-recognition skills can save us time, or they can forever prevent us from actually understanding something. They become hang-ups.
But, if you could go through life treating every experience and new thing as completely different from everything else, you’d likely be overwhelmed and confused. At the same time, if you don’t allow for the possibility that everything is new and unique, you’ll likely only ever understand very few things.
Is it possible to really break out of our genetic programming that obsessively tries to figure out how this person is just like that person, or that a new place we visit is just like an old place we know, or that something “tastes like chicken”? Do we benefit from being able to describe new knowledge in terms of itself, rather than in terms of other things we know? Is that even possible?
Malcolm Forbes said that “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” The question many of our adult students struggle with is how to become educated on something new when their heads are so full of old patterns and information. To put it in terms of half-baked equations:
childhood education = empty mind + new information
adult education = old patterns + new information
Can you recognize the patterns stuck in your mind that may be holding you back from learning new things?