A Means for Self-Actualizing

Not open for further replies.


I am a retired engineer with a good bit of formal education and twenty five years of self-learning. I began the self-learning experience while in my mid-forties. I had no goal in mind; I was just following my intellectual curiosity in whatever direction it led me. This hobby, self-learning, has become very important to me. I have bounced around from one hobby to another but have always been enticed back by the excitement I have discovered in this learning process. Carl Sagan is quoted as having written; “Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.â€

I label myself as a September Scholar because I began the process at mid-life and because my quest is disinterested knowledge.

Disinterested knowledge is an intrinsic value. Disinterested knowledge is not a means but an end. It is knowledge I seek because I desire to know it. I mean the term ‘disinterested knowledge’ as similar to ‘pure research’, as compared to ‘applied research’. Pure research seeks to know truth unconnected to any specific application.

I think of the self-learner of disinterested knowledge as driven by curiosity and imagination to understand. The September Scholar seeks to ‘see’ and then to ‘grasp’ through intellection directed at understanding the self as well as the world. The knowledge and understanding that is sought by the September Scholar are determined only by personal motivations. It is noteworthy that disinterested knowledge is knowledge I am driven to acquire because it is of dominating interest to me. Because I have such an interest in this disinterested knowledge my adrenaline level rises in anticipation of my voyage of discovery.

We often use the metaphors of ‘seeing’ for knowing and ‘grasping’ for understanding. I think these metaphors significantly illuminate the difference between these two forms of intellection. We see much but grasp little. It takes great force to impel us to go beyond seeing to the point of grasping. The force driving us is the strong personal involvement we have to the question that guides our quest. I think it is this inclusion of self-fulfillment, as associated with the question, that makes self-learning so important.

The self-learner of disinterested knowledge is engaged in a single-minded search for understanding. The goal, grasping the ‘truth’, is generally of insignificant consequence in comparison to the single-minded search. Others must judge the value of the ‘truth’ discovered by the autodidactic. I suggest that truth, should it be of any universal value, will evolve in a biological fashion when a significant number of pursuers of disinterested knowledge engage in dialogue.

We develop as we gain experience—interact with the world. Self-learning is one way of interacting with the world. Through the process of reading we apprehend the world and in this interaction a dialectic process develops. As I experience, through reading, I attempt to 'make sense' of the world and thus develop ever-richer and more sophisticated concepts. As I conceive this more sophisticated worldview I am also creating a more sophisticated self. The word ‘conception’ is an accurate word for the result of this experience. Just as the interaction of the two genders of all creatures result often in new life so does the interaction of reader and author.

There are books available in most community college libraries written by experts especially for the lay reader. I would guess that virtually all matters of interest are copiously and expertly elaborated upon by experts wishing to inform the public about every subject imaginable. Quantum theory and theory of relativity are examples of the most esoteric domains of knowledge accessible to most readers sufficiently motivated to persevere through some difficult study. For twenty-five dollars a year I am a ‘Friend of the Library’ at my community college and thus able to borrow any book therein.

The experience the September Scholar seeks is solely determined by his or her own internal ‘voice’. The curiosity and imagination of the learner drive the voice. Our formal education system has left most of us with little appreciation or understanding of our own curiosity and imagination. That characteristic so obvious in children has been subdued and, I suspect, stilled to the point that each one attempting this journey of discovery must make a conscious effort to reinvigorate the ‘inner voice’. We must search to ‘hear’ the voice, which is perhaps only a whisper that has become a stranger in our life. But, let me assure you, once freed again that voice will drive the self-learner with the excitement and satisfaction commensurate to any other experience.

I grew up in a Catholic family living in a small town in Oklahoma. My teachers were nuns and I learned how to read often by reading my Baltimore Catechism. The catechism is a small book, fitting easily in the back pocket of a pair of overalls, with a brown paper cover that contains the fundamental doctrine of the Catholic faith. It is in a question and answer format. I can still remember, after more than sixty years, the first page of that book.

Question: Who made you?
Answer: God made me.
Question: Why did God make you?
Answer: God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.

Before I had read the adventures of “Jack and Jillâ€, I had learned the answers to the most profound questions that has troubled humanity for more than twenty-five hundred years. Such was the educational methodology that changed little for the next sixteen years of my formal education. My teachers always told me what was important and what I must ‘know’ to be educated. The good student learned early to understand that education was a process of determining what questions the teacher regarded as important and to remember, for the test, the correct answers to those important questions. Since I was not required to provide the questions for the test I never concerned myself with such unimportant trivia as questions. I could always depend upon the teacher to come forward with all the questions.

I seek disinterested knowledge because I wish to understand. The object of understanding is determined by questions guiding my quest. These guiding questions originate as a result of the force inherent in my curiosity and imagination.

The self-learner must develop the ability to create the questions. We have never before given any thought to questions but now, if we wish to take a journey of discover, we must learn the most important aspect of any educational process. We must create questions that will guide our travels. We can no longer depend upon education by coercion to guide us; we have the opportunity to develop education driven by the “ecstasy to understandâ€.

I suspect that most parents attempt to motivate their children to make good grades in school so that their child might go to college and live the American Dream. The college degree is a ticket to the land of dreams (where one produces and consumes more than his or her neighbor). I do not wish to praise or to bury this dream. I think there is great value resulting from this mode of education but it is earned at great sacrifice.

The point I wish to pivot on is the fact that higher education in America has become a commodity. To commodify means: to turn (as an intrinsic value or a work of art) into a commodity (an economic good). I would say that the intrinsic value of education is wisdom. It is wisdom that is sacrificed by our comodified higher education system. Our universities produce individuals capable of developing a great technology but lacking the wisdom to manage the world modified by that technology.

How can a nation recover the intrinsic value of education without undermining the valuable commodity that our higher education has become?

I think that there is much to applaud in our higher educational system. It produces graduates that have proven their ability to significantly guide our society into a cornucopia of material wealth. Perhaps, however, like the Midas touch, this gold has a down side. The down side is a paucity of collective wisdom within the society. I consider wisdom to be a sensitive synthesis of broad knowledge, deep understanding and solid judgement. I suggest that if one individual in a thousand, who has passed the age of forty would become a September Scholar, we could significantly replace the wisdom lost by our comodified higher education.

In the United States our culture compels us to have a purpose. Our culture defines that purpose to be ‘maximize production and consumption’. As a result all good children feel compelled to become a successful producer and consumer. All good children both consciously and unconsciously organize their life for this journey.

At mid-life many citizens begin to analyze their life and often discover a need to reconstitute their purpose. Some of the advantageous of this self-learning experience is that it is virtually free, undeterred by age, not a zero sum game, surprising, exciting and makes each discovery a new eureka moment. The self-learning experience I am suggesting is similar to any other hobby one might undertake; interest will ebb and flow. In my case this was a hobby that I continually came back to after other hobbies lost appeal.

I suggest for your consideration that if we “Get a life—Get an intellectual life†we very well might gain substantially in self-worth and, perhaps, community-worth.

As a popular saying goes ‘there is a season for all things’. We might consider that spring and summer are times for gathering knowledge, maximizing production and consumption, and increasing net-worth; while fall and winter are seasons for gathering understanding, creating wisdom and increasing self-worth.

I have been trying to encourage adults, who in general consider education as a matter only for young people, to give this idea of self-learning a try. It seems to be human nature to do a turtle (close the mind) when encountering a new and unorthodox idea. Generally we seem to need for an idea to face us many times before we can consider it seriously. A common method for brushing aside this idea is to think ‘I’ve been there and done that’, i.e. ‘ I have read and been a self-learner all my life’.

It is unlikely that you will encounter this unorthodox suggestion ever again. You must act on this occasion or never act. The first thing is to make a change in attitude about just what is the nature of education. Then one must face the world with a critical outlook. A number of attitude changes are required as a first step. All parents, I guess, recognize the problems inherent in attitude adjustment. We just have to focus that knowledge upon our self as the object needing an attitude adjustment rather than our child.

Another often heard response is that “you are preaching to the choirâ€. If you conclude that this is an old familiar tune then I have failed to make clear my suggestion. I recall a story circulating many years ago when the Catholic Church was undergoing substantial changes. Catholics where no longer using Latin in the mass, they were no longer required to abstain from meat on Friday and many other changes. The story goes that one lady was complaining about all these changes and she said, “with all these changes the only thing one will need to do to be a good Catholic is love thy neighborâ€.

I am not suggesting a stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon. I am suggesting a ‘Lewis and Clark Expedition’. I am suggesting the intellectual equivalent of crossing the Mississippi and heading West across unexplored intellectual territory with the intellectual equivalent of the Pacific Ocean as a destination.


Anonym0uz Bitch

I really see no point in keeping this open after 3 days and no replies. I figure most people really do not want to read about your life, and what you think, in the MD section.
Not open for further replies.