On Learning

I recently had the opportunity to become acquainted with the work of physicist Marcelo Gleisler. Last year, he released the book The Island of Knowledge. Though I haven’t read the book yet, I was introduced some of the concepts lately, one that even three weeks after hearing it, I can’t stop thinking about.

This quote from his interview with NPR gives a little bit of an insight as to why:

“Naively, we would expect that the more we know of the world,  the closer we come to some sort of final destination, which some call a theory of everything and others the ultimate nature of reality. However holding on to our metaphor, we see that as the island of Knowledge grows, so do the shores of our ignorance — the boundary between the known and the unknown.”

I have been actively engaged in learning all that I can about writing for about five years now. When I go to writer’s conferences, I packed myself into intensives, classes on craft, read lots of books about artist’s life and craft, and read blogs and blogs and blogs. And I have to admit, that there are times when I automatically dismiss a class because I have thought I knew everything that could be taught in that particular session.

But if you go back to that quote, you will see the flaw in my thinking. A more common idiom might be, “The more we know, the more we know we don’t know.”

It is easy, when we are first working into a new field, to know that we need to keep learning, to know that we need to keep studying. But there is a tendency to, if I may be so bold to say, to develop a sense of arrogance regarding our knowledge. I know there are times when I will skip over reading a certain blog or book because I’m not sure I can learn anything new. And I think that I can disregard reading about how to write certain elements because those particular plot points probably won’t end up in my story.

Then there are the other kind of people, those who hear this comparison and respond with the tendency to decrease their knowledge so that they can prevent the growth of ignorance. But that isn’t the way to success: success can only come from the growth of our island, and from understanding that we will still, and always, need to continue learning. If we don’t, we risk allowing stubbornness to leave us stagnant.

So the next time you see someone recommend a craft book, at least take a look inside. Stretch your island a little bit into the ocean of the unknown.

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and lives in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.