What And How To Learn

The Lifetime Pursuit Of Knowledge

In the article, The Only Path To Success And Happiness I explained why knowledge and work are the two fundamentals of human success and happiness. The pursuit of knowledge is a lifetime pursuit and this article will suggest what kind of knowledge one ought to seek and suggest the best methods of pursuing that knowledge.

What To Learn

All true knowledge has value, but not everything learned is true knowledge and some knowledge is of little value, especially if it interferes with learning what is truly of value. Here are three categories of knowledge that will help you determine where to spend your learning effort.

  1. Substantive knowledge

    Substantive knowledge is knowledge that is foundational to all other knowledge. It is knowledge necessary to understanding the relationships between all aspects of the world from the physical to the intellectual, from how machines work to how societies work. These are the subjects to include in your pursuit of knowledge.

    Your own language, since most of your learning and thinking will be done in your own language knowing how to use your language correctly is required for the most effective learning and thinking. Knowing your own language will also give you self-assurance when dealing with others because you will be confident in your ability to communicate. Learning your own language means developing as large a vocabulary as possible, having a thorough command of its grammar and syntax, understanding its best usage, being familiar with its idioms, and a command of its rhetoric.

    All learning and thinking is by means of language and both how much and how well you can learn or think is determined by how well you use your language.

    Other languages, especially with roots other than your own. It is not necessary, but advantageous to have some familiarity with Latin, Greek, any of the Romance languages, and English.

    All of the hard sciences: physics, chemistry, biology and all their sub-categories. You should have a minimum understanding of the basic principles in each of these as a minimum to what is considered "high-school" level (not something called, "general science,"). The more you learn in any of these sciences the better.

    Some sub-categories of sciences you ought to have some familiarity with include, mechanics, dynamics, electricity, the periodic table, organic chemistry, genetics, taxonomy, anatomy, and medicine.

    Geography: both physical and cultural geography are necessary to understanding the world you live in. Almost no news today is possible to comprehend without knowing where in the world every country is and its relationships to every other country. Understanding where the countries of the world are, what their natural resources are, what their culture and language is like, how they relate to other countries historically, culturally, and economically are necessary for understanding the world one lives in and even for one's enjoyment of it.

    Technologies: including mechanics, electrical engineering, electronics, digital electronics, analog and digital transmission, information technology, chemical technologies, electro-chemical technologies, medical technologies, pharmacy, and many more applications of the sciences to everything from research to industry. One should have at least a general knowledge of as many technologies as possible.

    Mathematics: from arithmetic to algebra and trigonometry, as well as plane and solid geometry. If you have the aptitude and interest for it, go as far as you can in the Calculus. Theoretical math, number theory, and "pure" mathematics can very interesting, but are not very useful and math theory is fraught with nonsense.

    History: especially a general understanding of the history of one's own country, then of the world from pre-history to the present. Almost everything else you will learn will be influenced by history and be related to it. History, like geography, will expand your entire view of life and reality.

    Literature: of all kinds is valuable. (See Reading below) Here it is literature in the artistic sense that is meant, like fiction, plays, and poetry.

    Graphic Arts: while some so-called art appreciation subjects may be of value, it is the nature of graphic arts themselves that are most important. How are they created, what is the nature of color, shapes, perspective, shadows and light. What are the mediums from drawings to paintings to digital graphics. Such knowledge provides an enormously enlightening understanding of how and why the world and things look as they do and increases your capacity for enjoying the beauty of existence.

    Performance Arts: music, dance, theater, opera, radio, movie, and television performance are things one should have some knowledge of because they are so much a part of modern life, as well as history, and one's own understanding of those aspects of the world.

    Practical Knowledge: is knowledge that is most useful. All knowledge is useful for thinking and expanding one's scope of understanding. Practical knowledge is the kind of knowledge one uses every day for making decisions and performing life's chores. One may study electricity and understand the basic principles of current, voltage, resistance, inductance, and capacitance, which are necessary to understanding how fuses and circuit breakers work and how a house is wired. To use that knowledge one needs to be familiar with the color code of AC wiring, how to change a fuse or reset a circuit breaker, how to connect a ceiling light or fan, as well as knowing how to use the materials and tools used in AC wiring, such as electrical wire and cable, switches, plugs, connectors, electrical boxes, wire connectors, wire cutters, and wire strippers.

    These are a minimum of the kinds of practical knowledge one might have: plumbing, cooking, sewing and clothing repair, cleaning (everything), basic carpentry and building repair and maintenance (painting, window repair), gardening, basic finance (balancing a checkbook), basic auto and machine (lawn mowers, snow blowers, generators) repair and upkeep, how to use a computer, touch typing, reading and understanding maps, schematics, and blue-prints, foraging, writing (letters, reports, proposals), public speaking, and knowing what all the tools are required for all of these and how to use them. The list is intentionally broad and only a suggestion of the many practical kinds of knowledge that increase one's competence to deal with any of life's situations.

    Philosophy: Philosophy is the most important of all knowledge because it is the foundation on which all knowledge is based. Unfortunately, almost all that is called philosophy today belongs to the category of, "false knowledge," discussed below. Nevertheless, one must be familiar with what philosophy is.

    The field of philosophy consists of seven categories: metaphysics, ontology, philosophical psychology, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality and existence, ontology, a sub-category of metaphysics, is the study of the nature of material existence, philosophical psychology is the study of the nature of human consciousness, i.e. the mind, epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge, ethics is the study of those principles on which right human choice and action must be based, politics is the study of ethical relationships between individuals in society, and aesthetics is the study of the nature of beauty.

    Any philosophy studied in an academic setting will mostly be the "history of philosophy," or the philosophy of some individual or a particular, "school," of philosophy, which is almost universally mistaken. Nevertheless, it is good to have some knowledge of that history and those wrong ideas in philosophy because they influence so much that is wrong in all areas of modern life. It is not necessary to take any philosophy courses to gain that knowledge however, because there are some excellent books and online sources.

    The Moral Individual provides several articles and a book dealing with most of the categories of philosophy—true philosophy—with the added advantage that they are free and you may ask questions and get clarifications directly from the author.

    Semi-science and Pseudo-science: There are many subjects which are called science because they use some of the methods of the physical sciences and much of the same language. I call them semi-science. It doesn't matter what they are called but they do not have the same kind of certainty as the principles of the physical sciences and are not as useful. Most of these are observational disciplines, like astronomy, taxonomy, geology, oceanography, archaeology, paleontology, and meteorology. There are two semi-sciences which are studies of origins: evolution and cosmology, which are both hypothetical or conjectural. These are all legitimate disciplines providing some real knowledge, except for the last two which one ought to know about, but not necessarily accept.

    Phenology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, economics, and environmentalism, are pseudo-sciences which means they are not sciences at all. It is good to know about them even though almost everything in any of those fields is either untrue or useless.

  2. Transitory, and Trivial knowledge

    Transitory knowledge is knowledge of that which changes and is temporary. News, daily weather reports, stock prices, latest fads and fashions, politics, sports, or celebrity (or what they say or do) are all transitory. Most are only of immediate interest, if any, and none have any lasting importance except for some historical significance.

    Trivial knowledge is often real knowledge with little relation to any other knowledge or importance except to some special or isolated events or cases. Trivial knowledge is not without value, however. Though it is often about obscure people, events, or things like art and literature, it often has points of irony, humor, wonder, or surprise which are interesting and entertaining. Such knowledge can be useful especially for creators, such as writers.

  3. False knowledge

    False knowledge is knowledge of what is not true. It is not really knowledge but superstition, credulity, gullibility, or faith because it is not based on evidence and reason. All superstitions, religions, mysticism, spiritualism, pseudo-science, quackery (in medicine, psychology, and sociology) are false knowledge. The real problem with false knowledge is whatever false knowledge one has about any subject, so long as they hold on to those beliefs, it makes true knowledge about that same subject impossible.

How To Learn

First, be prepared to work and work very hard. No really important or useful knowledge is obtained easily, quickly, or without sustained effort. For the most important knowledge, it may take several hours a day and sometimes years to master. Like everything else, you will only gain from your study the equivalent of the effort you expend.

  1. First Read everything to begin with. There is almost no subject one might want to learn that cannot be found in books, printed or in some electronic form. Reading all kinds of literature is both a source of knowledge and pleasure. It does not matter what kind of literature you read, it does matter that you read as many different kinds of literature as possible by as many different authors as possible. You never have to read anything you just cannot enjoy or you find of no value, but reading some things you do not think you will like is important because you will often find some new subject or class of literature that is enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, and enriching you would otherwise have never discovered.

  2. Experience, is the second most important source of knowledge. It is not experience which happens to an individual, but the experience of doing, of action and performance. The most important experience is work, because work provides so many real life experiences working with other individuals, learning to use whatever tools and machines are required, learning about all the materials and processes are required as well as developing skills necessary to the performance of one's job.

  3. Individual Courses, especially the almost endless free courses available on the Internet, are sources for learning almost anything there is to learn. Some caution is required here, because there are many scams promoting so-called classes which are of little or no value. See, "There Are No Shortcuts."

  4. Other Individuals can also be an endless source of knowledge. Many individuals who have spent their lives in some particular field will be eager to share the things they have learned and are delighted to help others interested in that knowledge. This does not have to be formal at all, but a way to learn that is pleasurable for both teacher and student.

  5. Memorization and practice are very important techniques in the learning process. Repetition makes many aspects of knowledge almost automatic, leaving the mind free to use memorized material in thinking and learning additional new knowledge. It is why children who have memorized the alphabet, as well as the sounds of the letters, learn how to read and write more easily. Memorizing the numbers and how to count are indispensable for learning arithmetic. Most of that kind of memorization takes place before one goes to school, but the principle works for many other knowledge areas. It is why one should memorize the times tables. Memorization and repetition are necessary for learning language, especially spelling, vocabulary, declensions, and conjugations. In the sciences and technology, memorizing fundamental formulas and relationships and the symbols for the elements of the periodic table, for example, are very useful.

  6. Study Something You Think You Don't Like. I say think you don't like because before you study something a little it is impossible to know if you will like it or not. Many times a subject seems uninteresting simply because one is not proficient at it, but when one has learned enough they suddenly discover various aspects of the subject they have mastered are no longer tedious and difficult, but pleasant and rewarding.

  7. Government Education And Academia except for technical courses, languages, or other objective subjects, are not the best sources for learning. Educational institutions today are filled with those teaching useless and false knowledge driven by political ideas and bad philosophy. If you choose any of these as a route to knowledge most of your real learning will be outside the curriculum.

  8. Homeschooling or private schooling is almost a necessity if one wants their children to have the greatest opportunity to learn. Actually providing homeschooling for one's children is also a way for parents to learn as well. It is work, after all.

The Moral Individual will be providing links to many resources and suggestions for study and learning in almost any subject or discipline. A self-study course in philosophy, which is as simple and easy to understand as possible, is also planned.

But No One Can Learn Everything

No one can learn everything is true. Too many individuals use that fact as an excuse to learn less than they could. I once made the remark that the problems most people have are because they are ignorant and stupid. I was informed the criticism was unfair because people cannot help what they are.

Here's what's wrong with that argument. A person isn't ignorant because they don't know everything or as much as someone else, a person is ignorant because the have not learned all they could learn. The ignorant could all learn ten times what they have learned, but do not because they just won't make the effort to learn more.

A person is not stupid because they cannot think, or think as well as someone else, they are stupid because they won't make the effort to think as well as they can or learn how. Thinking is difficult and time consuming and they refuse to make the effort or spend the time to learn how to think and to actually think.

Everyone is able to learn all they need to know to live the kind of life they are capable of living and everyone is able to think well enough to make the kind of right choices necessary to live their own life successfully.

If any individual, whatever their raw intellectual ability is, learns all they can possibly learn and always thinks as well as they possibly can they are neither ignorant or stupid. Not everyone is going to be a genius or needs to be, but everyone can be the best person it is possible for them to be and know it; that is success and that is happiness. Anything else is failure and regret.

Know What You Don't Know

I doesn't really matter how much you know as long as you know as much as you can about as many things that are important and necessary to your own life. The list of things to learn is not meant to be daunting or to imply everything listed must be learned. The purpose of the list, which is far from complete, is to make you aware of all the kinds of things there are to know, and perhaps to inspire you to learn more.

There is one other reason for the list. It is not possible to know everything or even most of what there is to know. If one has honestly learned all they can what they know is sufficient, but however much one knows one must also be aware of what they don't know. It is very easy to be drawn into things about which one does not have sufficient knowledge to properly deal with them. Nobody can know everything and nobody can do everything. We are often tempted to engage in things, such as certain jobs or even discussions about which we do not have any real knowledge. The right choice in such cases is to abstain, or better, actually learning what needs to be known before engaging in them.

To quote Clint Eastwood, "a good man knows his limitations."

Want To Help?

Please add your own suggestions for what to learn, and methods for learning, in the comments below. All comments are appreciated.