Daily learning is my dictum for life, and I recommend it to everyone across the globe. Learning is an innate human fortitude that has come to life through evolution. It fortifies a deeper and broader knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our actions. Learning is an intellectual asset that boosts self-confidence, control, and well-being. Learning advances one’s rational and emotional clarity in order to lead a successful, insightful and happy life.
The modern world offers many complex and confusing options, requiring us to possess knowledge and wisdom to make rational decisions, thus deepening our learning and understanding to make smarter choices. This understanding is orchestrated by our internal motivation and selective attention on our goals and dreams.
Human attention is a laser beam that can focus only on one thing at a time. We can drive or text, but cannot do both activities at the same time without the risk of causing an accident. Our mental attention is limited in capacity, and it wears thin over time. It is effective when spared on our priorities. Exercising selective attention aligns our subconscious with the conscious, thus affecting the way we think, feel, and act.
Everything in the universe from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy, are in a continual dynamic motion. So is learning. Change is constant, either you are growing or shrinking in time; getting better or worse. Staying put means losing ground. Software companies that ride on the cutting edge of technology drive their competition out of business. The businesses that stay put are eventually uprooted. Virtually, all consumer items have to be upgraded to stay current.
Keeping an open mind facilitates good listening and learning. Good listening is the ability to listen without processing or framing a response until it is completely heard. Silence your thoughts totally, until you finish listening. People live by force of habits, attitudes, biases and prejudices, thus squandering learning opportunities. For example, a Republican tea party member will have a tough time listening to a hardcore liberal with an open mind. A catholic and a protestant locked up in a civil war in Ireland cannot listen to each other with an open mind. Israelis and Palestinians, both highly intelligent and civilized communities cannot listen to each other without prejudice. Most world conflicts present and past are rooted in prejudice of some sort. We need to transcend our bias to really understand and to be understood. We have to develop tolerance to other religious faiths, politics, and races before we can listen with an open mind. Doing so will not undermine our beliefs and values; indeed it ascertains similarly equal respect and consideration from others. That is civilization.
Human curiosity generates interest in learning. It spurs memory and motivation to deepen and broaden the knowledge on the subject of inquiry. Curiosity fuels invention and discovery. My school was a little shack in a small village, but I graduated from a big city college. The village had no running water, electricity, telephones or toilets, but the city had all the amenities. In my village, I walked daily to school, the farm, and neighboring villages and towns, but the city was bustling with cars, buses and trains to transport people and goods. The rich lived in mansions with all the modern amenities, while the poor lived in huts and tents. I wondered, how does it happen, and why does it persist? I was curious to know it all. My curiosity piqued further, when I began reading about the glorified west. I was keen to see and learn from places, people and cultures in the world. After graduating with my medical degree from India, I moved to England and then to United States.
It was said that the oracle at Delphi in Greece prophesied that Socrates was the wisest man of his time. When Socrates was asked what made him a wise man, he said, “I know that I know nothing.” The insight that “he knows nothing” about things he did not know paved the way for his inquiry. He stopped Athenians in the streets particular the youth and intellectuals, questioned them rationally and offered reasonable alternative thoughts. He deflated sophists with systematic questioning on their faith and ethics. In so doing, he risked his life but paved the way for the discovery of knowledge and wisdom. His successive Greek philosophers further advanced his rational inquiry to lay foundations for the western democracy, freedom of thought, individualism, ideas on equality and fairness. We, the people owe much of our joy of life to those founding fathers who set the creation of the modern world in motion.
People are presumptuous about things they don’t know thus squandering the discovery forever. Some people mistakenly believe in “all knowing.” They take what little they know as knowing it all. They mistake an opinion for a fact, an emotion for a reason, and a bias for openness. They feel overconfident and commit dangerous acts. Taking partial knowledge for full is a self-deception. People ignore the fact that all truths are partial, and the truths are ever evolving. It took over 2000 years to figure out the fact that the earth is round and heliocentric. What is new and believable today becomes obsolete tomorrow. Knowledge is a continuum, not a single destination. It blends observations, facts, inquiry, science and technology of the given time and space. It was the successive philosophers, scientists, explorers, adventurers, intellectuals and trailblazers of generations past that have amassed a wealth of knowledge and wisdom for us to cherish this good life.
Learning promotes neuroplasticity. The long held belief in neuroscience has been that nerve cells do not grow or change after adulthood. The recent scientific evidence favors that learning increases neuroplasticity of the brain cells at any age. Neuroplasticity in the human brain is prototypical of the network of highways, byways, flyovers, tunnels, railways, and airways that connect the physical world. It refers to the number of nerve cell connections and its signal strength networking among billions of the nerve cells. As learning intensifies, more and more nerve cell terminals are recruited to form wider and stronger connections between the nerve cells. Neuroplasticity correlates in tandem with mental activity. New and intense learning promotes cognitive reserve. The sum of the total knowledge and wisdom constitutes one’s cognitive reserve. Learning new concepts, ideas, skills, and knowledge boosts the Cognitive reserve and neuroplasticity . When we stop learning neuroplasticity weakens with disuse. Boosting one’s cognitive reserve through learning new games, word puzzles, playing cards, and engaging in Sudoku, etc. prevents Alzheimer’s disease.
The world ought to be a learning lab all through our lives. We grow up, go to schools and attend colleges to master skills, and build a career. We emulate our parents, families, friends and society. We learn a lot from our workplace, colleagues, and associates. I have always been working on improving the quality of patient care from the feedback I receive from my patients, nurses, and colleagues. People take pride in sharing their knowledge and wisdom readily if only you are willing to ask and listen.
The present day world is studded with learning opportunities unlike in my student days. I struggled with math in high school, therefore, I asked my math teacher to tutor me. He demanded the tuition fee be paid first. My mom frantically tried to borrow money but was unsuccessful. Look at all the free learning one can muster today on internet. We live in an information age in a global village. We can surf the Internet for free, go on Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and Khan Academy, etc. for anything, anytime, anywhere in the world. Virtually the entire world of knowledge is just a click away.