Do we Love Learning?

What does it actually mean to love learning? I hear this quite frequently from employers, students, parents, etc., but despite its proliferation, I'm usually confused (not an uncommon state of mine) about what is meant by the phrase "love learning." My first instinct is to look to Ph.D. holders in society and infer that those individuals must obviously love learning because they ascended and attained the highest signal of that endeavor in a specific field. Then again, the question is, is that true love for learning? Or merely an expensive indication that they would be interested in learning as much as possible in a very specific domain? A trace of its etymology shows that the phrase's source derives from 1640s Greece. That christened "a lover of learning" a philomath. A philomath is essentially different from one who has acquired knowledge in an area. The philomath loves the process of learning. This hits at the heart of my confusion with the modern use of the phrase.

Contemporary uses of the words "Love learning" imply a state. This is not incorrect; moreover, to be "in love" with something might indicate a state of being. However, this use is aspirational at best (...brace yourself, the pedantic cynic is here). Our broader revealed preference shows that we don't actually love learning as much as we say we do. A cursory look at the things most googled last year shows what we truly care about; in the classic sense, learning is not one of them. One could ask what it is we're observing then. We know that podcasts have become extremely popular in recent times. This is obviously an indication of a love for learning on its face, right?. On this one, too, we see that we care about primarily true crime, with some comedy and news, as indicated by the top 10 most popular podcasts of all time. Our revealed preference shows that, at the very least, we have a love for entertainment rather than a love for learning, and many of the philomathy claims are not actual states of being but signals of our aspirations. You can do this test yourself.

Go to your YouTube homepage. Are your recommendations about learning? Or are they purely entertainment? (not that entertainment is inherently wrong. You might go to YouTube to get entertained. Still, the fact that your homepage is filled with entertainment is worth reflecting upon, is it not?) You can do the same test with TikTok and the like. One could easily say that the mediums are not conducive to learning, which is somewhat true but check your weekly summary on your phone or computer (if you own an Apple product) and see where most of your time is spent. Learning? Of course not.

In making this case, I do not discount the economic force of things like search engines that are primarily matching technologies. In other words, they exist to connect individuals to things, groups, ideas that would give them the most marginal satisfaction. This means that they indicate those things that provide the most marginal satisfaction for many of us. As a result, their very existence indicts the "love learning" cliches. If one loves learning, it must mean that learning, for that individual, is their primary form of entertainment. This is not to claim that there are no philomaths. In fact, I like to fancy myself an aspiring philomath like you, no doubt, do if you read this blog. I think we love to imagine that we are the kind of individuals who love to learn instead of actually being individuals who genuinely love learning. We should all be more honest about our preferences. This is truly a cynical case, but sometimes, the cynic is right.


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