Learning is dynamic & produces us

Learning is dynamic

In Proposition 31, Spinoza writes: “The actual intellect, whether finite or infinite, like will, desire, love, and the like must be referred to Natura naturata, not Natura naturans.” (Spinoza, 1994a, p. 21) In other words, the process of understanding, or “intellection” as Spinoza refers to it, is an evolving, ever-changing process, it is “nature naturing” (natura naturans), not “nature have natured” (Natura naturata).

Learning produces us

This is evident in Propositions 32 and 33 (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 21-22). Spinoza states that “the will, like the intellect, is only a certain mode of thinking”. Similarly, learning is only a “mode” of God, but a very important one which necessarily defines God’s project. In a Spinozist ontology, the subject is not the active “producer” of knowledge, but is actually produced by learning in that the subject is a mode, or nodal point, in which different forces of learning converge to produce new knowledge. To this extent, we do not “choose” what we learn; the learning chooses us. The student in the classroom is a good metaphor for this process; the student in the school room has most probably not “chosen” to be there, and very rarely “chooses” what he/she learns since this is supplied by the teacher. Now, the student can refuse to learn what he/she is being taught, but even that choice is not a “free” choice; there will be a number of different reasons why that student acts that way. The student’s own peculiar situation has produced those set of reactions. As Spinoza shows, we live in a determined, “necessary” universe where there is no free will. We are all students in the classroom of the universe, compelled to learn what is in front of us, and even our refusal to learn the official knowledge is another form of learning, which ultimately is not a free choice. Learning produces us, whatever that learning may be.

As Wallace Stevens says in his poem, The Things of August, “the beholder…is the possessed of sense not the possessor”. Sense or meaning-making is God’s power which is not located in an isolated human being, the lonely learner, but is everywhere, a constant flow and inter-change of knowing. When learning takes hold of us, we become “possessed of sense”; we become connectors between things, become conduits of knowing, this form of knowing is “God’s power”. (pp. 25, Ps 34, 35, 36). As the result of this learning, more learning must necessarily follow; the learner becomes a cause who creates a new effect. (pp. 25, P. 36)

Journey into Joy

Concept map: think about all the forces of learning that have produced you: learning to walk; learning to speak; learning to smile; learning to read and write; learning to avoid danger; learning to embrace pleasure; learning to succeed and fail. Draw a flow diagram (concept map etc.) which shows the forces of learning that have produced you.

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