27 August 2011

aging of knowledge

Is there a difference between coming to know something that is known and coming to know something that was formerly unknown? Since all knowledge newly acquired is novel to the acquirer, is there a possibility of discriminating if the thing has previously been thought by others. (Or maybe stated in another way the question is can one detect creativity in oneself (let alone others)?)

What is understanding? Over and again I return to my attempts to envisage what an electron cloud is – why the doped semiconductor is more conductive than the undoped – I can regurgitate a sentence of the bookish teachings of the phenomenon, but I do not feel it. I do not have a sense of how the process actually works.

When I was first resident with Graham’s group I attended some of the lectures by Goran. His teaching leaves space within the lectures for the students to discuss amongst themselves, in order to problem solve and hence develop a deeper understanding of the subject. I was struck by the audio variations of the lectures – periods of low level sound as Goran spoke and showed slides, talked through examples etc, and then periods of vibrant noisy engagement as the students talked about the problem posed, among other less focussed chatterings. To me the energy contained in the audible discourses was the perceptible result of knowledge generation; tonal and volume variations resulting from the degree of insight; the sounds of the evolution of understanding. 

I used to find conversation (and argument) a useful tool for working through ideas, the discussion helping me to understand my view; the externalisation somehow clarifying the subtleties of complex notions. Nowadays I seem to find silent contemplation a more effective mechanism of generating understanding, with non-conscious thought arguably even better than mindful consideration for that purpose. Almost the polar opposite of my earlier method. It’s probably just my age, which is reassuring.

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