The Cycle of Learning (#100)

We relish those "aha" moments when we have truly learned something new, yet our learning exposes the edges of how much more there is yet to learn.

A painting of a Havanese dog colorfully robed as a scholar
Learning, JLP

When we have learned something new, storing the knowledge deep in our cerebral cortex, we have reached a pivotal moment, we can never return to the person we were before this. We uncovered something that has changed us, we are wiser, in this dimension, than previously. Through a magical mix of basal ganglia activity and connecting synapses, we have increased the magnitude of our understanding.

In the precise point when the act of our study triggers an encoding of knowledge in our brain, we feel a slight euphoria, maybe a sense of accomplishment. We think "I've got it", we experience an "aha" moment. These moments are powerful, as if we recognize the knowledge gained and the reshaping of the person we are. We are awash, however fleetingly, in the momentary rush of dopamine and adrenaline in celebration of our mental accomplishments.

When we begin learning, discoveries happen frequently and with each it deepens our awareness of the vast depths of the material we have yet to tackle. Somehow its true that we know more and yet feel, in proportion, like we know less — its daunting, we know enough now to know our inadequacies. Mastery may seem out of reach.

It can be discouraging, acknowledging the scale of the body of work that lies in front of us. These eureka moments then act as small jolts of encouragement, providing a physical and mental reward for our efforts. They remind us that the journey is part of the purpose, sometimes more so than the destination.

“I get a lot of joy out of being in something: a task, a book, a school program. The end of something brings a fear of grappling with where I’ve been and where I’d hoped to be.” -Julia Bedell, a writer living in Anchorage

The struggle to grasp the meaning of our study, to truly know and have mastery, has to be difficult, for if it were easy we'd fail to appreciate it, we could not harness the power that comprehension yields. We would scarcely think deeply enough, taking our proficiency for granted, to leverage the insights that our gains in knowledge provide. We need the effort and the challenge, for when we have moments of discovery, it is our expended energy that is returned to us as motivation. To be motivated is to be curious, a desire to know, which begins anew our cycling of learning.

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us. A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.