Often, to learn something new, you must unlearn something, just like when filling a tub with fresh water, you have to drain the old water. That description isn’t quite right because it suggests there just so much room in your brain, and to put more in, you have to, like a filled hard drive, trash some of the old files. It is more like this: the new learning may be in conflict with the ideas you’ve picked up along the way. Most people are more able to add new ideas and techniques than they are at unlearning what needs to be replaced.
A few years ago it was popular for people to say with a certain pride, “I’m a lifetime learner.” That was a phrase that was in vogue, and, in fact, it was a good idea. But too often, they thought of a “lifetime learner” as a collector of things, as one might collect stamps or baseball cards or recipes. These types of collections do not lead to contradictions. To have a Babe Ruth baseball card doesn’t contradict also having a Ted Williams baseball card.
几年前有些人会很自豪地说：〝我是个终生学习者。〞这在当时算是很流行，也是很好的想法。不过他们心目中的〝终生学习者〞比较像是一种收藏，类似集邮、收藏棒球卡或收据这类的行为。这种收藏的模式并不会带来任何的冲突。拥有一张 贝比●鲁斯（Babe Ruth）的棒球卡和 泰德●威廉斯（Ted Williams）的棒球卡本身并无冲突。
But you can’t agree with Darwin’s theory of evolution AND creationism. They say two completely different things about the origins of the species. If you thought one was true, you would have to think the other was not. New learning often contradicts old learning, and if one were truly a “lifetime learner,” there would be a lot of unlearning that would come with the territory.
People don’t usually talk about unlearning. You hardly ever hear someone say, “I’m a lifetime UN-learner.” Yet that’s what learning might take. When I first went to The Boston Conservatory of Music, my clarinet teacher was the great Attilio Poto. I’ve written about him before in my books as the teacher who kept giving me harder and harder lessons. Instead of letting me spend more time on each lesson, he kept moving to the next more difficult lesson. I thought I wasn’t making any progress, until weeks later, he turned back to the first lesson, and, low and behold, I could play it, as I could with the next number of lessons.
人们很少谈到反学习这件事。你很少会听人说〝我是终生的反学习者〞。但是其实学习就是要这样。我最早去波士顿音乐学院就读时，我的单簧管老师是 Attilio Poto。我在我的书里面曾经提到，这就是那位经常教我很困难的课程的老师。他不断教我更难的课程，而不是让我在每一堂课都慢慢吸收。原本我以为我根本赶不上进度，但是几个星期过后，他回到第一课，没想到我居然会吹奏，而且后面的几首乐曲我都做得到。
But one thing I didn’t write about was that on the first lesson, he changed my embouchure (the way I held the mouthpiece and the use of facial muscles.) This change was not easy. There was a lot of unlearning to learn the new technique. The best way to replace an old habit is by adopting a new habit. You can’t do them both. You need to unlearn the old one by learning the new one.
Robert Frost said there are some very educated people in the world, and of course, they will resent having to learn anything new. His observation has a built-in assumption: that these very educated people have their identities tied with how much they know. For such a person, new learning is made harder because it creates an identity crisis. Ideas cannot be considered based on their own merits. They become abstract symbols of how smart the person is. This may be one reason that the phrase “lifetime learner” has lost some of its popularity. Too often the phrase, itself, is about identity.
To ability to change one’s mind in light of new information or experience is essential to true learning. My friend Peter Senge likes to use the word “Metanoia.” It is an Ancient Greek term that means a change of one’s mind. I like the idea, but there is something about that word, the sound of it I guess, that leaves me a little cold. Sounds a little like something you wouldn’t want to catch. But the thought is so right, the orientation, the flexibility, the suppleness of mind in which unlearning is as common as learning, and new worlds can open to you.
作者：Robert Fritz（罗伯特●弗利兹，是美国一位成功的作曲家，电影制片人，作家，组织咨询顾问）。文章来自 ICA （The Institute of Cultural Affairs，文化事业学会），经授权转载。