2 min read

How Do We Learn an Idea?

How Do We Learn an Idea?
Photo by Dom Fou / Unsplash

How do we acquire an idea from someone else? In fact, how do we acquire any idea? How come two people can hear the same speech and understand two different things? When a teacher is saying something to a student, is the student learning?

These seem like simple questions but their answer is probably not what you think (if you have ever been to school).

The answer is NEVER from straight copying / passing the idea from someone (a teacher for example) into our mind. That would be a form of induction.

Why is this impossible? When someone is communicating an idea (for example through a speech), we are hearing words, not the idea per se. But words become ideas, only after a TRANSFORMATION in our mind.


What kind of transformation? This transformation is GUESSING the meaning of the idea based on the words. So we have to re-create the idea in our mind. We are not just transferring it from person A to person B.

What influences that re-creation? That re-creation depends on our expectations and our pre-existing explanations of the world. We are not a blank slate. Our expectations could be for example "what we would like to hear" or "what we fear".

...and criticisms

That's why we understand ideas by re-creation, not copying. But even if we were to re-create "faithfully" someone else's explanation, the idea can still be criticized and improved upon by the mind. Immediately. So it may be then transferred into a different form to someone else.

Any possibility of an idea staying the same over time? Only very good ideas, which are "hard-to-vary", are likely to remain close to the original over time. This is because, by their definition, they are hard-to-vary when being recreated in our mind. So they tend to stay the same or fall apart entirely.


Ideas are transmitted through re-creation into the mind of each person. This re-creation may or may not be faithful. So you cannot speak in such a way as to never be misunderstood. Only good explanations are likely to remain the same over time.

Check out this video to learn more: youtu.be/IuHhHsxuAP8?t=2950