‘We must learn how to unlearn,in order to move forward’

Today I watched a lecture of one of my favourite astrophysicists. At some point he said this quote ‘We must learn how to unlearn , in order to move forward’. (I agree it sounds like a Lacan or Zen quote).It is a two hours lecture I cant get much into details. Though this quote made me kinda curious.

He explained in this lecture that our brain makes a database of actions thoughts and behaviors. We make this database mostly up to the age of 16. That doesn’t mean that what we do/learn after doesn’t matter. With this database our mind judges everything we experience, do and feel. Then it decides if it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

We can add extra information in this database in our brain. It is relative easy if the information is not going against some preexisting information in the database.

The hard part is, when we want to add information which is against some preexisting information. Then it very hard to actually unlearn something from the database.

Therefor: ‘We must learn how to unlearn,in order to move forward’

Let make an example (don’t be too judgy with details its an exaggeration for the example).

Lets say a child is born with racist family friends and relatives. It grows up with a certain standard. That black people are bad. Child becomes an adult still hating black people. Over the course of his/hers life , randomly meet black people. Make friends with them etc. Suddenly the child realizes that color has nothing to do with how good or bad a person is. This process which lasted years lead the child to unlearn that speicific information. If a random person told the child this at some point earlier in his/her life. The child would probably reject it.

It takes effort to actually unlearn something. First one must think for their self. Actually try to think totally open without preconceptions (Which due to this ability of the brain is hard). Takes some time to realize and process something until it is really unlearned. Then it is quite easy to input the new information since there are no longer information against it in our database.  Even in our soft and simple example with the child. After a child unlearns that all black people bad. Then it is very easy to learn to judge who is good or bad.

If we really think this through. We will realize while we are not racists (I hope). There are too many things we take for granted and never really think through. Easiest example is to talk to our grandparents. Then we can see how many things they don’t want to accept.

A very interesting question came up at the end of the lecture by a mother.

She said she has two kids and can’t but wonder what she can do to help build her kids database as good as possible.

The answer was quite obvious and simple. I totally agree with it (I am not a parent yet but I believe it is correct and hard to actually do it for parents).

Try to avoid absolutes. Make our children think and realize why we do what we do. Avoiding tell them to do something because we said so or because it is like this.  This will first prevent some ‘bad’ information entering the database. Long term make the kid or future adult more awake. Able to judge and eventually learn and unlearn more efficient and accurate.

Obviously that is very hard. All parents want to teach their children some of their basic beliefs (Obviously they do it for the right reasons but it is not always right). Kids mimic parents so in the end we cant hide with words.

Therefor: ‘We must learn how to unlearn,in order to move forward’

When we move forward as people as parents and as community. Then our children will start on a higher standard. Then later evolve their self more efficient.

As for myself…

It took me years to realize. It is a long process. But I believe I am really dropping that ‘dualistic’ approach (Good or bad). I started doubt and re-evaluate everything. In my opinion that helped me a lot to evolve as a person. I guess that is why I am so intrigued by this quote. It actually verified my thoughts and action.




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