So yesterday I spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to figure out why I seem to shy away from research. This is a follow-up post with what I think is the answer. I’ve already eliminated simple reasons, like I’m just lazy, and the true reason comes down to my way of looking at knowledge and learning. In this post, I’m calling it Organic Knowledge.
You may or may not know that epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge. It deals specifically with how and why people know things, what it means to know something or not know something, and how people come to know (or learn) new things. Now I have no idea if someone else has come up with this before (I wouldn’t be surprised) but I didn’t check because that would require research, which I don’t do.
Let me also say first that this is not some grand theory of all knowledge. This is how I think of my own learning; it’s a learning preference. This is how I know stuff and why I don’t like research.
I like contextualization. I feel like nothing is isolated and nothing is simple. All things are contextualized in the World, and often times you can’t take something out of the World without dramatically changing the nature of what that thing is. We all know how this can happen with words. Take a sentence out of context and it might mean something very different. Newspapers do this to politicians all the time.
I feel the same way about knowledge and context. I feel that learning something new is great, but it has to fit into the web of thoughts, ideas, and facts that one already possesses. Therefore, I see knowledge as a network, as a web of connections.
This, by the way, is how we supposedly remember things. The more connections you make to something, the more likely you’ll remember it.
So to me, knowledge is just as much about connecting what you already know as it is about learning new things. How does this relate to learning? I try to do as much learning through organic growth.
I imagine my knowledge as a bush or sorts, but also like a cobweb of interconnections. As I learn new things, the complexity of my knowledge bush intensifies. Everything I learn I try to connect to what I already know. I try to form a context for the facts and ideas.
I do know, however, the difference between my own connections (the ones I come up with) and connections established by professionals. I know that the more knowledge I take in already contextualized, the less time I’ll spend on making connections of lesser quality and focus on newer and more interesting connections.
If I want to know about pidgins, for example, I could look the topic up in an encyclopedia and have to connect the ideas myself, or I could read books about language change and growth (which I’ve been doing) and get a complete context for what I learn about pidgins.
My thought is, if I have a question but I feel that my knowledge bush is not ready for the answer yet, I shelf the question and focus on learning more about topics that are closer to me first.
And that’s why I don’t like research. I don’t want to go wandering in and plucking up interesting but useless facts. I want to have a general understanding of the topic first.
So, I constantly have questions about language, but I don’t research the answers. Instead, I read books about language, knowing that eventually my questions will either be answered or one day be obvious to me.
When I’m learning a new language, I don’t stress over every word I don’t know. I just keep reading and listening. I know that soon the words I don’t know will be obvious and natural to me. One day. When the bush grows up a little.
For Meditation: How often do you try and connect new ideas with ones you already know? Why might this be beneficial?
Subscribe to my E-Newsletter about language learning, Polyglot Post. A new edition will be sent the first and fifteenth of each month, starting on November 15.