18 November 2010


The most useful piece of learning for the uses of life is to unlearn what is untrue.

Tim Rayner writes in Philosophy for Change,

"What do I need to know in order to effect change? What do I need to learn in order to bring change about? These are questions we inevitably ask as we set out to become agents of change. We should also ask: what do I need to unlearn in order to prepare myself for a new and different way of thinking, feeling, doing, or being? Unlearning is an important part of the process of change.

Change and innovation both call for unlearning. To think anything new, and to see what could be new in things, one must learn to unlearn what one already knows. Think of experiences you’ve had of working towards change (in whatever respect), and reaching a moment in which you saw that change was actually possible, and more than possible, inevitable. This is a moment of renewal – a new beginning. There is a world of learning to be done in order to prepare oneself for a new beginning. But to actually become the new beginning, to enter wholeheartedly into the process of change, one must undergo a process of unlearning, and refashion one’s understand of what it means to be in the world.

Martin Heidegger’s philosophy provides a framework for thinking about the role of learning and unlearning in processes of change. Heidegger argues that human understanding is first and foremost a circumspective understanding of the environment of our practical concerns. Our ‘intentional’ understanding of objects, problems, and things is grounded in a more basic mode of apprehension. We have a pre-reflective understanding of the background or ‘horizon’ of our concerns. This shifting background informs our every act of understanding and judgement.
Heidegger’s existential hermeneutics provides an interesting perspective on learning and unlearning in processes of change. Heidegger says that to understand the meaning and significance of an object or item of knowledge, we must attune ourselves to a certain background of practices. We must enter in the ‘world’ of the object or item of knowledge and become accustomed to treating it in ways that a community expects it to be treated. We must accustom ourselves to the discourses and practices surrounding the object to understand it as the object it is.

Extrapolating from this, we see that to change one’s understanding of life or any part of it, one must transform the cognitive-existential background on the basis of which one understands. One must unlearn how to come at things from the perspective of a certain background or horizon of understanding." Read more of Tim Rayner at the above link.

What do you need to unlearn?

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