What does the word ‘unlearn’ mean to you?
Before we get to unlearn, we need to understand what learning means. To learn is to gather the ability to recognize a given pattern consistently and accurately. Whenever you see the symbols ‘3 + 4’ printed next to each other, a little voice inside your head whispers ‘7’. Your mind has learnt to do this.
Learning is a double edged sword, because it can liberate you from ignorance, but just as easily imprison you with knowledge. Whenever you see ‘3 + 4’ written next to each other, can you stop your brain from thinking of ‘7’? People continue to measure in feet, miles, pounds and ounces rather than switch to the metric system – their patterns won’t allow them. Heck, the layout of the ‘qwerty’ keyboard, which I use to type these words out, was designed for telegraph operators back in the 1870’s and ever since, we haven’t been able to move on.
Like a piece of clay fired in a kiln, our knowledge sets us in our ways. Once we are baked into a particular form, it is difficult for us to take another form. Knowledge is a blessing, but can just as easily be curse.
One way to free ourselves from knowledge is to forget. Rereading a suspense thriller whose plot you have is forgotten makes it exciting once again. However, while forgetting is involuntary, unlearning is deliberate.
If learning is the ability to recognize patterns, to unlearn is to free one’s self from them. Given the double-edged nature of knowledge, to unlearn is the ability to recognize a pattern, but step out of it. To unlearn is to feel emotion, but to separate one’s self from it. To unlearn is to gaze into the eyes of your lover the ten-thousandth time with the same excitement you felt the first time. To unlearn is to peer out of the balcony with a fresh pair of eyes despite living in the same house for decades.
To unlearn is the wonderful ability of the trained mind to go from a rigid piece of pottery to the flexible clay that created it.