Learning by the Process of Data Sorting

This article and other similar articles can be found in  AMI/TIRA Newsletter Volumes 1-2: Selected Reprints 2004-2005  (currently out-of-print)

Obviously the process of learning includes more than the accumulation of data. To translate into effective action in the world, learning must have a component of practical application but to get to that stage with any certainty, the data of the subject being studied needs to be taken in and understood by the student. A novice in any subject from cooking to auto mechanics, from music to surgery, needs practical experience of how things look and feel. If this experience comes along with a good grounding in the data of the subject a real working knowledge is eventually achieved. Since the data absorption phase often causes problems, it is worth considering in itself.

One reason that taking on an entirely new subject can be daunting is that every datum at first seems nearly as important as every other datum. Most subjects have enough sheer mass of data to make the job of holding it all in our heads (especially if each datum were given an equal weight of importance) overwhelming. In fact, a great part of the process of learning itself consists of data sorting. I discovered this when I became pregnant and realized I needed to educate myself on the subject of childbirth. I started at one end of the library shelf containing books about birth, natural birth in particular, and read my way to the other end. In all I read 28 books. During the time that I was taking in this large amount of data a pattern began to emerge. Without especially thinking about it I fond that I was starting to sort the data into four categories:

  • Vital data
  • Useful data
  • Trivial data
  • False data

I found it fascinating that without any teacher or outside help (though I was certainly helped in this process by the stories in the books of many women sharing their birth experiences) I was able, with enough data, to sort it confidently into those four categories. Having gone through that process I was able to focus most of my attention on the vital data while still taking into consideration the useful information, fairly well ignoring the trivia and watching out for the pitfalls of the false information.

Having a good teacher or mentor with long experience of a subject can be an enormous help to a student because the mentor will have done a great deal of data sorting already and can pass on the fruits of that work to the student. Very well written books (written by someone truly qualified to be a teacher or mentor in that subject) can perform a similar function except that the student needs to have enough data to gain certainty about the author’s conclusions. Even if you study with a master of the subject you wish to learn, you need to do enough of your own data sorting to understand why the vital data are the vital ones, and so on.

Thinking about this process of data sorting I realized that we are constantly involved in data sorting in life as well as study situations and that doing it consciously we probably have a better chance of getting a good result. This brings us to the second factor in the process of data sorting. Both in life and in study we have certain key ideas around which we organize our thoughts and the data we take in. We can call these core assumptions. A core assumption is one that is used, consciously or unconsciously, to align, organize and make sense of other data. It is an assumption because there is a moment when we assume it, and take it on as true and important. That moment of assumption is necessary for the datum to take a key position in our mental world. In study, core assumptions may aid our thinking if we consciously choose them. This is a special subset of our group of vital data in a subject, around which we align the other data we learn. A core assumption consciously taken on is usually easy to replace if a more basic or useful datum comes along. This facilitates the data sorting process. For example, I went into the study of birth with the consciously adopted core assumption that I wanted as natural and gentle a birth for my child as possible. That assumption helped me in the sorting of information.

On the other hand a person may go into a study situation with a core assumption that is heavily charged and therefore unavailable for inspection. We call such an assumption a fixed idea. They may have had bad experiences with trying to learn something in that subject in the past, and may have been told that they were stupid. For it to have become a core assumption for that person, they must at some point have gone into agreement with it and taken it into their mental world as truth. Trying to study with that sort of assumption in the way can be a frustrating process. As another example a young child may have absorbed (and taken on) the idea that they were so bad a person that they were beyond help. That core assumption, long buried and forgotten probably, may impede progress as they study to understand and improve their own health later on in life.

One of my teachers once said to me, “What gets human beings in trouble is this habit they have of deciding things when they are in pain.” Of course we do this. We are trying in the moment of pain to adopt a strategy to avoid repetition of the painful event. While that might sound like a good idea, it doesn’t work very well for two reasons. The first is that our perception at the time is colored by the stress we are experiencing. The second is that the decision or assumption we make then gets embedded in the physical pain or painful emotion and the less-than-fully-conscious state we are in, making it hard to remember or to examine objectively. This tends to make these assumptions liabilities rather than assets in learning and in life. Traumatic Incident Reduction and its related techniques do empower a client to clear off and resolve charge, but also allow those embedded core assumptions to rise to the surface of thought and be inspected and evaluated.

All of the applications at all levels of Applied Metapsychology do an excellent job of helping a client to sort the data of life into more workable and meaningful patterns, and of helping the person to remove barriers to effective learning, both in study and in life.

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