On Learning

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abstract machine / code / Cognition / diagram / difference / energy / entropy / identity / knowledge / learning / memory / problem / structure / Thought / unconscious / wittgenstein


One way of approaching the difference between knowledge and learning (so profound in our opinion that, despite their entanglement, there can be postulated neither a material nor conceptual ground which could ever serve to unify them) is by considering that even while wholly disparate, they are not in the least opposed for that reason. To learn and to know are two divergent operations, contrapositive dynamisms, which are nevertheless always both active simultaneously, as the “cutting edges” or ungrounding machines of cognition. A thought is grounded not in abstract oppositions, but in concrete forces traversing real problematic fields.

Knowledge is classically represented as a heterogeneous assemblage — our minds are far too imperfect to clearly perceive the pure, homogeneous Truth — which is self-totalizing and self-regulated by an internal learning process, charged with traversing its own experiences (as they are represented and reactivated as memories of varying intensities.) In this sense, abstract oppositions emerge only as variables of these mixed compositions of energetic and entropic flows. This is the illusion of hyper-diagrammatism (implying a kind of super-diagram of “all” thought.) We must try and see that thought isn’t about models and copies, not about identity and ideology — but rather about lines along which interminglings are operative, as though “between” concrete and abstract flows of energy — food for words, money for sex, death for love, virtue for pain, and on and on…

What is produced in this process of establishing communication between incommensurable problematic fields — or learning — should certainly not be characterized as a pure memory, but rather a decentralized and a-subjective cognitive process. “Thought” is not the difference between learning and knowledge, but rather an abstract machine which underlies them while nevertheless separating them, almost as though by an absolute divergence. Learning fights dullness and emptiness with lightning and fire, mortally threatening the stasis and death of “serious knowledge,” which would otherwise totally consume the brave and fiery heart of discovery. So let’s stop asking what “knowledge” and “learning” mean in themselves (and trying to ‘deduce’ the ‘difference’ — and thereby, most likely, only serving to overcode it by an all-too-serious line of death); let’s rather ask: how do these operations work?

“That knowledge can be described”; this is, in a way, the implicit assertion of every “knower,” that a definition can be provided of the known’s own structure. Although the knower asserts his knowledge exists rigorously — that is, in such a way that its structure can be defined –nevertheless, the organizing or individuating drives supporting the knowledge (the hidden forces beneath the idea) must be grasped intuitively before we can “know” the knowledge itself (the pure idea, or form of the problematic field.) Otherwise knowledge and learning would be absolutely impossible, i.e., would have only an internal origin based on identity.

On the contrary, this prior recognition of a “problematic” structure — knowledge’s cautious but deliberate self-ungrounding — is paradoxically the driving urge towards discovery, the wild and infinite energy-overcoming-entropy we experience in learning. Though certainly knowledge misleads us, quite deliberately, as to the nature of this process! (It is easy enough for “knowers” to cover up, even to themselves, the unconscious, a-subjective lightning flash of intuition experienced directly “as” the subjective struggle in the world to learn.)

For knowledge is superficially calm and sure of itself, at least when observed in its close-to-equilibrium state: we must admit of a certain strange feeling of “possession” of an organized (i.e., received) truth, a smooth tabulation of events into neatly ordered columns and rows. Learning, on the other hand, is turbulence itself. Pre-organized knowledge is constitutionally incapable of questioning, or even apprehending as such, the underlying structures upon which its coherence depends.

This paradox could perhaps be formulated as follows. We must know the limits of our knowledge in order to be certain of our certainty. But — and this is, in some sense, Wittgenstein’s most important contribution to Western philosophy — “knowing the limit of our knowledge” entails already knowing both sides of it, that is, to know both the already-known, organized side with which we are familiar, as well as the unknown, unorganized side of which we know little — if anything at all.

The Author

mostly noise and glare

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