Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

It is often said that the best way to learn is to teach. I find that to be very true; in the course of my IT career, I often had to present to customers on topics that I wasn't very familiar with. I had to learn to master the subject in a short period of time and then talk about it with relative confidence. This forced me to learn very quickly and whatever I learnt through that difficult process remained with me forever.

To learn something well, the mind must always be seeking. We must have a goal in mind, an application, or a deep desire to understand. Many students who attend school do not see the relevance of what they are studying. As a result, very little is learnt in the process.

Learning is also difficult when there are too many preconceptions in mind. The old Zen saying about having to empty the cup of one's mind first is definitely true. Subjects like physics, mathematics and philosophy are fascinating to me because you often have to change your familiar view of the world before you could comprehend their concepts fully. And that is not easy. One cannot grasp them in one reading. It is a process that takes time; sometimes years and decades.

The impatient student would give up half-way, claiming that they do not have the aptitude or talent for the subject. That is the wrong attitude. They must first learn to familiarize themselves with the materials and not worry too much about understanding. Like what I alluded to in a previous blog entry, understanding starts from familiarity. Through the process of familiarisation, we begin to internalize difficult concepts; and suddenly, one day we realise that we actually understand what they meant.

This applies to human relationships too. To know someone well, we must get familiar with the person first. Only after years of interaction, can we claim to have understood a person. We cross the border from familiarity to understanding without us realising it most of the time. Familiarity and understanding are merely two ends of the same spectrum. Make sense, No? Well, start getting familiar with it first.

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