Learning | What We Know
Hi! First of all I am happy to announce that with this post I will start the science series, there are also other series more focused on the field of human nature and research in general.
More information in this post: https://peakd.com/hive-148441/@jp72924/original-content-series-or-research-learn-experiment-and-have-fun-in-the-process
Have you ever had that great moment of enlightenment? The one where after a long time you finally understand a formula in mathematical notation, or understand what someone said in that language you learn, maybe when you achieve perfect execution of something you have practiced a lot... like a song.
You probably know this, but this is not magic, it is learning!
It's that we do it every day (or at least we hope to do it), in any case it is a skill that every intelligent being can do and I am not talking only about humans, animals also learn, so we are already far away... why stop? machines are intelligent too, have you heard about machine learning? We're going too fast, it is time to stop!
Let's start with something more basic to learn, have you ever wondered what learning is?
What is learning?
If you're looking for a short definition, I'll tell you what...
"It's what you do when you have no idea what you're doing."
I know this may sound ambiguous, even a little crazy, and of course you're right, because you can do crazy things and have no idea what you're doing, but it's a short and easy to remember way to define it.
If you are one of those who doesn't settle easily, of course there is a better definition for this, so let's go with the following definition:
"to get knowledge or skill in a new subject or activity" (Cambridge English Dictionary, n.d., def. 1)
This first definition (as you may have heard, we will see more than one) gives us a key word, learning is essentially about obtaining knowledge, and as described above, this usually happens when we (any intelligent being) are present at something new.
Let's go from Cambridge to Oxford with the following definition:
"to gain knowledge or skill by studying, from experience, from being taught, etc." (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, n.d., def. 1)
There is not much to say here, except that there are two more key words: study and experience. We can cite many definitions, but to be brief, the main ways to get knowledge are practice and observation.
Now, we finally come to the last piece with the third definition it establishes:
"learn something to study and repeat something in order to be able to remember it" (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, n.d., def. 2)
Here the key word is repeat, it is not by chance that we remember things by doing them many times, practice also requires repeating tasks or steps.
The answer to this is within our brain, specifically how our neurons maintain communication with each other, especially when we repeat an action over and over again.
Learn is to obtain knowledge through practice or observation and it is necessary to repeat what has been learned several times.
Why do we learn?
To be honest this is my favorite part of the journey to get answers because we can express it as if it were a game, for this game we will use the typical fictional characters Alice and Bob, so imagine:
- You are a human detective
- The other character is an AI
Both Bob and Alice are intelligent. You need to get answers from the other character. Once the rules are established, you can identify with a character, in my case I will be Bob.
All the above dialogue in a compact text format:
Bob begins to interrogate Alice (and the game begins)...
Bob: Why do you learn?
Alice: Because I'm an intelligent being.
Bob: Why does an intelligent being learn?
Alice: Because it gains knowledge.
Bob: Why do you gain knowledge?
Alice: To be better at what I do.
At least at this point Alice's answers make sense to me, because AI gets better while training (learning), a soccer player gets better too, and any other intelligent being like a dog.
Intelligent beings learn to be better at what they do.
How do we learn?
Learning is a magical experience, but just because it can be magical does not necessarily mean that it is a black-box and we do not know how it works.
To understand how it works, we must first understand it as a process, essentially this process requires three actions to be performed successfully. So if you are very observant you will find that observation is one of those three and if you go over the subject again and again, you are right because repetition is another.
Knowing that we require these three actions to learn, which are observation, repetition and ... Hey! wait a moment, we only have two out of three, can you imagine what the third one is?
Well... there is a saying among Spanish speakers that goes like this:
"There is a long way from saying to doing."
In this case it is more appropriate to say:
"There is a long way from theory to practice."
Keep in mind that we can not repeat an action that we don't know how to do, let's suppose that you don't know anything about multiplication, however you know how to add, so if you try to solve a multiplication, you probably see the multiplication symbol as something strange and you don't know what to do with it, but if somewhere you observe that a multiplication is essentially a sum you will know what to do.
The moment you assume that multiplication is a sum, you are interpreting the information you have observed. The missing action in the process is interpretation.
The learning process requires essentially three actions that are observation, interpretation and repetition.
Learning is a process that has as subject the acquisition of knowledge, this process is done through three actions that are observation, interpretation and repetition. It is important to emphasize that this is true under a really general and simplified framework, because learning noticeably requires more ability as for example to remember what has been learned, because it does not make sense to gain knowledge if this cannot be maintained over time.