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Migrants cognitive, or learning to un-learn

This question (among others) is the one that seeks to answer the philosopher Gonçal Mayos in his essay The society of ignorance: how the hidden face of the knowledge society? . His writing is collected in the collective work of The society of ignorance (Peninsula, 2011), of which the same Mayos, along with Antoni Brei, is the editor.

The society of ignorance it is a work that, by the reflections of six thinkers from different fields, it seeks to analyse the possible negative consequences of the Knowledge Society that may already be developing. It is not a work of tone is apocalyptic: although I do not share necessarily all the ideas of the authors, I believe that in general are well founded, and that they receive the support of various jobs within the sociology (specifically, within the study of the Information Society and Knowledge).

But back to the test of Mayos. The philosopher part of a premise that it is difficult to put in doubt: the constant growth of the information goes well beyond the human capacity to process it. Put another way: while the human capacity for processing information is, at least for a moment, clearly limited by our neuronal basis, the ability to generate information seems to have no clear limits.

Mayos refers to this phenomenon as a process of malthusian of knowledge, making reference to the law of the british economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who tells us that while populations grow according to a geometric progression (1, 4, 9, 16,…), the means of subsistence do so arithmetic (2, 4, 6, 8,…). Adapting the law to the world of information, Mayo tells us that while the information grows over the long term as a geometric progression, the improvements of the possibilities of the individuals to be able to process that knowledge have increased in arithmetic progression (p. 29).

Societies that follow the model of the Information Society, according to the Mayos, are based on a capitalism of short-term, you are looking for in that constant production of information for the renewal of the knowledge to obtain competitive advantages necessary to maintain production and wealth.

That search for short-term profit through innovation and competitive advantage, combined with the speed in which knowledge become obsolete (due to the geometric progression of information), leads to the need of learning how to learn, not to be left out of date and not to miss the train of changes in our professions. But, as it reminds us of the Mayos, the learning to learn does not consist of:

[…] a mere process of adding new knowledge about the former, but, above all, involves the complex effort of removing the old beliefs, the information void with the time and the intellectual habits that do not fit with the new structure of knowledge; […] In short, it behaves deconstruct our beliefs, knowledge and even valuations; and keep them up to day of the accelerated process of change that undergoes the knowledge society. (p 188)

Thus, learning to learn involves the added task of learning to unlearn the skills and knowledge that is no longer valid for the new situation. As very well expressed by the author, we became migrants cognitive,

since the culture where we were born, and the knowledge that we were educated disappear quickly and inevitable of our lives (p. 189)

But the process of learning to unlearn is not simple, nor much less. I’ll leave it to the Mayos who we explain why:

The fact of unlearning is terrible for humans, especially if it entails erasing from our memory the systematic and accelerated, data, information, knowledge, beliefs, values and reflections, and not just because one day we learned them, or because they have been helpful to us, but also because many times we had built in some way to our character and identity (p. 191).

Of course it can be said that the ability to learn to (un)learn (and keep an open mind, as is often said), is good in itself. And I think it is. But here we encounter two related problems:

In the first place, let us remember that the need to learn (des)learning occurs in societies exposed to a competitive model based on the short-term gain. Very often the continuous learning is framed in discourses confused about the change, based on emotions more than on facts, and rhetorical dichotomous that associate to those able to change with the “winners”, while those who view hindered their cognitive change (for whatever reasons) are “resistant to change”, the “losers”. Not surprisingly, the tension that we feel the professional with the continuous learning: today we can be “winners”, but what will happen tomorrow?

In the second place, it is important to take into account what type of “open-minded” might be encouraging the current model of Society of Information and Knowledge. As we said Mays, because of infoxication, the individuals each time we are further away from the ideal of “general culture” necessary to understand our complex societies, and being able to act with knowledge of cause with global threats to which we are exposed. We are forced to devote much more effort to retrain continuously, to position ourselves in our professions, and to obtain, filter, and assimilate the relevant information to act as full citizens in our democracies.

I end this dense post with two questions for you: what do you think of the idea of the Mayos of the “migrants cognitive”?; do you think that the current conception of the “learning to learn” enhances, or undermines, the individual’s personal commitment with social issues?


Mayos, Gonçal; Brey, Antoni (eds.). The society of ignorance. Barcelona: Peninsula, 2011.