3.c.1 – Why man learns in many different ways?

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April 2, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

Why man learns in many different ways?

With knowledge we mean learning, i.e. all the notions acquired by a single human being, from a community or the entire humanity. We said that this heritage preserved in memory is shared, interpreted, organized in our mental map. We already know that the ability to learn from experiences, accumulating them in form of knowledge, is a typical capacity of the animal world, one of the most successful strategies of survival; the experiences we do are re-utilized through all our lives: for instance, when we are children, we learn to walk and to recognize the foods by their flavor, activities that we will not ever leave. It is interesting to note that what is learned by non social animals, usually is not only acquired by humans too, but also through the same process: the direct experience; everything concerning the movement of our bodies, personal tastes, relationships with our own kin, all the non social animals do, falls within this category. The accumulation of experience can overcome the limits of instinct making us enormously more adaptable to the environment where we live.
This ability has been greatly enhanced in social animals through the development of culture, which is knowledge transmitted among humans; this way, the experience of an individual becomes a common heritage. Again the process of human learning seems to stick to our evolutionary history, a large number of social behaviors are in fact unconsciously learned by imitation, exactly as in the animal world.
In the human being there have subsequently been new developments with the appearance of the word, the use of which is acquired by imitation like the other forms of animal communication, but that gives access to new forms of learning, like listening to the narration of stories from other men; these latter did not narrate only of events happened, but their thoughts and their generalizations too, thus transmitting some abstract concepts that far exceed the capabilities of simple imitation as they directly transfer the thought. The connection between speech and thought is very close, listening to our kin, we instinctively tend to imitate their way of thinking, we store their mental paths as we do with the roads for coming back home, and insert them in our mental map as possible alternatives of thought from which alternative choices of behavior will derive. This form of learning is virtually impossible with the simple imitation, the language has made us animals of a cultural level never seen before. The evolution of learning, namely that of cultural transmission, however did not stop here; the development of writing and then the press have opened new frontiers: a single message can then remain unchanged for millennia and be distributed to millions of individuals; finally with the emergence of the internet, this operation is becoming affordable for all, today we have possibilities of learning and cultural evolution much higher than twenty years ago. Since knowledge, the wealth we accumulate in our mental archives, may have origin from sources much more numerous and richer than before, perhaps it would be good to take advantage from it.

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