friday quote: learning versus creating

It is better to create than to be learned, creating is the true essence of life. — Barthold Georg Niebuhr

Niebhur was a German statesman and philosopher in the late 18th/early 19th century, whose most well-known contribution is his “Roman History” (shameless affiliate link, natch) .

He’s probably not therefore that well-known, but his quote is excellent. If I learned everything about everything ever learned by others, I have still not added to the total sum knowledge of the human species. To create one new thing is to have added something to this big amorphous blob we call humanity. Whether or not you feel that there is value to that addition is a matter of personal opinion, but step back for a second and consider: even the stupidest, most banal movie you’ve seen that elicited a chuckle added something to your life, and most likely others.  Learning about something adds to your life, but nothing to others.

Whether or not you feel there’s any value to contributing to the entity we call humanity is entirely up to you.  Many people – rightly so – feel that there’s no particular need to contribute further. I have a desire to contribute something to the world that will last beyond me, however small or short-lived.  For most people that desire manifests itself in children, but you can look on your own great-grandparents and see how short-lived that contribution can be.  How many of us can even recall our own great-grandparents’ first names?  But having been recently introduced to the idea of the singularity, I’m now quite focused on the idea of making a contribution to the human entity as a whole, or at least hanging  on until you do.  Even today, pre-singularity, we’re at a point where things we write/compose/develop will live long after we do.  That’s been true for millenia, but never more true than now with the explosion of electronic media.  If that idea doesn’t inspire you start creating, I don’t know what will.

Learning in our society is often confused with contribution.  Learning is supposed to be the springboard for contribution.  Creation is contribution.  There’s really no other way that you can establish your worth to the future other than to teach, to create or to contribute to something greater than yourself.  Learning for your own sake is ultimately satisfying for no one other than yourself.  Whether you view this as an admirable goal is entirely dependent on your own view of life.

I’ll be harsh:  learning is prelude.  Creation and its results are epilogue.  Creation is the only thing that really matters: everything else is stasis. Share what you learn.  If you don’t, you’re irrelevant.

4 Replies to “friday quote: learning versus creating”

  1. “Share what you learn. If you don’t, you’re irrelevant.”

    Just because you learn something does not mean you should share it. What if what you learned was total bull crap? What if you were taught to hate people of a certain color, race, religion, sex, etc? Should you share that at the risk of becoming irrelevant?

    I don’t think so.

    You should probably look a bit more into your generalizing quote and maybe add the caveat that learning along with judgement and values should be what is shared.

    1. That’s a good point – share positive things, then (although I suppose ‘positive’ is subjective).

    2. Luis – The statement might have been generalized, but given the context of this post and the overall theme of this blog, I think the unsaid was obvious.

      The post was about creation, not just sharing – although that sentence did use the word “share.” I would rephrase it to “Learn stuff, then create something you consider a positive contribution to the world, then share that. If you don’t, you’re irrelevant.”

      This blog is an example of the creation and sharing of a philosophy based on learning through life experiences.

  2. Interesting post and reactions. I’d say the extremes, learning without sharing (such as a lifelong student who never gets a job) or sharing without learning (such as Bill O’Reilly) are both poor approaches. I’d agree that learning is a prelude, but that doesn’t seem at all harsh to me: the learning is still vital.

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