Learning for Learning’s Sake

December 19, 2010

I’m studying Old English right now. Whenever I say that, people say, “Cool! Chaucer?”

Think a few centuries earlier. Think a variant of English that is really closer to German:

Hēr on þis gēare waes Sancte Petroces stōw forhergod, and þys ilcan gēare waes micel hearm gedōn gehwære be þām særiman ægþer ge on Defnum ge on Wēalum.

In this year St. Peter’s place was ravaged, and in this same year great damage was done everywhere by the coast both at Devon and Cornwall.

Why am I taking Old English? Mostly because I think it’s really cool. I strive to acquire languages like magpies do shiny objects, and what’s not to like about a literature that’s both fun to read aloud and is filled with Vikings, heroes, and riddles?

The same goes for my own attempts to learn Māori. It’s not the most widely spoken language, perhaps, but I like it. I was working in a library the other day and managed to correctly translate a short sentence. A joyous hiss of “Yesss!” escaped before I could stop myself, thoroughly terrifying the guy working near me. But I didn’t care, because my brian was buzzing with the sheer exhilaration that comes when it’s managed to make new connections.

The brain likes to learn.

I know the brain isn’t a muscle, but like your muscular system, it begs to be used and exercised on a daily basis. What it wants to learn may differ from person to person -I like languages and history, some people like science, or art- but I think the urge exists in all of us.

That’s why I smile when people talk about wanting to learn about something, like dinosaurs, but put it off, saying, “But it’s not practical.”

So what if it’s not practical? No learning is ever wasted. The linguistic terms I learned from studying French (particles, preterites, etc.) help in learning other languages. History’s an obvious resource for writers, but besides that, the ability to read sources critically and organize thoughts and arguments in a coherent manner is applicable to almost any field you can think of. Yes, even Commerce.

 But even that misses my main argument for learning. It’s fun. It makes use of the wonderful organ that is the human brain. We all have the same amount of brain cells; it’s what you do with them that counts. Even if it’s the most obscure,  specialized field of study, if it makes you and your brain happy, it’s worthwhile.

Learning for learning’s sake is like playing soccer with your friends or fetch with your dog. It’s exercise, it gets your heart pumping, but it’s leagues away from hitting the gym. It’s pure pleasure.

How will you make your brain happy today? 




  1. Wonderful post, Arvik! Learning is FUN, and good exercise for our brains.

    It’s funny the “lies” people tell themselves on a daily basis to stop themselves from climbing out of the “ruts” they inhabit.

    When I stopped practicing law, people argued that I was making a big mistake because of the huge investment I was throwing away.

    Throwing away? Au contraire!

    I benefit EVERY day from the training I received in law school and during the 13 years I practiced law ~ because it taught me to THINK. 😉

  2. I wholeheartedly agree and subscribe to the old adage “learn something new every day.” It may be something as small as a way to tweak that new banana bread recipe I just tried, but it still counts. I believe that when we stop learning, we start dying. It’s as simple as that.

    As for learning Old English, I think working on the contemporary version is enough of a challenge for me. You go on with your bad self, though.

  3. Arvik ~

    I just recommended this post to Greg Camp and think you would enjoy his last post as well:


    • Cool! I will check that out in the morning, when I’m on a computer, rather than an iPod. I’m outside now, waiting for the eclipse. 😉

  4. Heh, great minds, nrhatch. Arvik’s post led me down a tangent stream of my own. http://wp.me/NXsO

    Arvik, how’s the novel rewrite going?

    — david j.

    • Slowly but surely; thanks for asking! I basically gutted a scene yesterday, but I’m pleased with the way it turned out; much less “telling” going on. Description is turning out to be a biggie, oddly enough… I can see things in my head, but in my excitement, the setting didn’t always translate to the page. 😛

  5. Following Nancy’s advice, I’ve come here for a visit, and I like what I see. We appear to have something in common, namely our efforts at writing science fiction. My latest novel is being analyzed five pages at a time by my local writers’ group. Publishers who will do the same, on the other hand, are harder to find.

    About this article, though, I do enjoy times when I pull out some concept from physics or algebra to explain something to my English comp. students. Knowledge and wisdom are worthy things, no matter what the subject.

    • Hi there! I’m glad you stopped by! It’s always nice to meet another SF writer. 🙂

      And yes… taking advantage of cross-disciplinary learning is great. Knowledge is a wonderful tool, and if you can apply it across a broad spectrum, it’s just that much more useful.

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