All skills are learned, and the method of learning is key to the degree of success.
We can learn (1) implicitly via actual experience, which is slow, haphazard, improvised, and tends to result in rote, unprincipled behavior, or (2) we can learn explicitly via formal, methodical training, where the subject to be learned can be clearly defined, integrated together into a consistent whole, and fully covered through a deliberate education plan. Combined together, all of this can provide a principled focus and basis for a wide variety of future tasks.
"Principled" (vs. "unprincipled") as used here refers to a solid, inductively-based understanding of the reasons for doing something – the causal relationship that explains why something works. This is also known as inductive reasoning.
The means of teaching this kind of knowledge is via methodical, explicit education – the organized, subject-specific, goal-directed classroom.
Reasoned actions contrast with rote actions, where we repeat what has worked in the past (a.k.a. "custom" or "tradition"). Principled actions can be generalized and applied to new situations – innovation. Rote actions do not provide any opportunity for change – i.e., stagnation vs. growth and improvement.
A classic example of this kind of learning would be serving as an apprentice to a blacksmith a thousand years ago. Little different is “coming up through the ranks” – implicit learning of what is required for job success, with little or no explicit training.
The third possibility is a lack of learning, and the lack of the transmittal and retention of knowledge from one generation to the next. This lack occurs when the prior, more learned generation does not value passing on its knowledge to the next.
All three are possible in the world in general, or in any specific subject.
1. Lack of sustained knowledge –
(a) the decline and fall of the Roman civilization after 250 A.D. Knowledge was not being retained and passed along, the form of government regressed (from a republic to a dictatorship to a religious monarchy), population could not be supported, and the general standard of living fell from a high-point that would not again be achieved for more than 1200 years.
(b) the decline of Arab-Persian culture (versus its prior innovations in algebra, astronomy, medicine, etc.) since 1000 A.D.
In both cases, the result was an ensuing Dark Age, with a return to barbarism and subsistence-level survival.
2. Tradition, custom, and rote actions –
(a) the stagnation of American Indian cultures, particularly in contrast to the more innovative European cultures as they made their arrivals into various parts of the New World, from the 1500s through the 1800s.
(b) the contrast of the rest of the world around them (and before them) to the huge impact of reasoned thought on the advances of the civilization in Classical Greece, in 600-300 B.C.
(c) programmers who make no effort to learn new technologies, and whose careers are fatally dependent on legacy languages and systems.
3. Principled, reasoned, innovative thinking –
(a) the discoveries of the first great scientists, such as Galileo, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, etc., in the 1600s;
(b) the revolutionary governing principles of a constitutional republic, in the 1700s: the United States;
(c) the tremendously innovative Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s;
(d) the remarkable growth of Japan as it was transformed from a feudal culture to a capitalist culture in the 1900s.
These examples explicitly show the importance of continuous, reasoned thinking that results in improvements to the actions taken.
– Scott Crosby, 2006
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