On Learning from a Single Source

Eric Hoffer was a fine American philosopher whose quote below resonates really well with the technological era.

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

There are many articles on this website where I have discussed different methods for learning anything. Here, I want to mention one important aspect of this process which traps quite a few people, both novices and experts, into an illusion of scholarship.

“Never learn from a single source.”

There are two main reasons for this suggestion.

  1. Learning from a single source is akin to travelling on a highway between two points. While one can always reach point B from point A through one particular route, the bigger picture of the whole area, or forest view, can never become clear until the person knows how to get to point B from several different starting points surrounding the destination. Similarly, learning the same concept from different sources, e.g., through reading different books along with real-world implementation, opens new tunnels in our minds that connects the acquired knowledge with existing knowledge through distinct neural pathways, thus clarifying the bigger picture for us.
  2. One of the key techniques in lateral thinking, as opposed to more familiar logical thinking, is to arrange the existing information in as many different combinations as possible. This comes for free when we learn a field from different sources, thus placing it in a position where the probability of lightning strike is high.

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