Asemantic learning

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This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak

Asemantic learning is learning without a semantic or mnemonic framework. Where learning is well rooted in the meaning and context of knowledge, it is easier to retain in memory, and easier to use in reasoning. Asemantic learning is devoid of the important quality of meaning and context. It is "learning without understanding".

Asemantic learning is one of the cardinal sins of schooling. When pushed too fast and too far, ahead of deadlines and tests, children commit knowledge to memory in the process of cramming. In most cases, cramming is asemantic due to a wrong pace, wrong context, wrong circadian frame, and most of all, due to insufficient framework of prior knowledge.

In most cases, asemantic learning is a result of coercion due to the fact that the brain provides natural defenses against meaningless knowledge. After years of schooling, asemantic learning may also become a habit (often associated with toxic memories). For example, an adult facing a mathematical problem may engage in asemantic learning and solving problems with guesswork. This type of learning and guesswork will often be accompanied by high anxiety (see: example).

If asemantic learning leads to toxic memory, we can observe the "arithmetic of the pleasure of learning". Mixing up bad learning material with good learning material does not result in a mix of the average quality. A SuperMemo collection ranked at 1/10 (highly unpleasant), mixed up with a collection ranked 9/10 (highly pleasurable), results in a collection whose perception will gravitate towards 1 overtime (assuming no user intervention in weeding out bad items). In other words, in the math of the pleasure of learning, we have (1+9)/2=1. The pleasure of learning is a sensitive quality that tends to be dragged to the lowest common denominator. This is explained by the old soup metaphor.

Instead of the distinction between semantic and asemantic learning, Peter Gray refers more intuitively to: intellectual skills and academic skills.

Colloquially asemantic learning may at times be called "abstract learning", which quarrels with the terminology used at guru, where abstract knowledge is a welcome kind of knowledge.

See also:

This glossary entry is used to explain "I would never send my kids to school" (2017-2024) by Piotr Wozniak