Human Learning

By Edward L. Thorndike; Richard M. Elliott | Go to book overview

Lecture 1
INTRODUCTION: THE INFLUENCE OF THE FREQUENCY OF OCCURRENCE OF A SITUATION

IT has seemed that the best service which I can perform for the university and the donor of the Messenger lectureship is to present to you certain facts and theories concerning the nature and evolutions of human learning. This subject is intrinsically of great interest. Man's power to change himself, that is, to learn, is perhaps the most impressive thing about him. Modern theories explaining it will help acquaint us with certain important theories of the mind as a whole. This topic is closely and emphatically relevant to the problem of the Evolution of Civilization, specified in the donor's gift. Civilization is, indeed, the chief product of human learning. Homes and tools, language and art, customs and laws, science and religion are all created by changes in the minds of men. Their maintenance and use also depend on human modifiability--the ability of man to learn. If that were reduced by half, in the sense that the next generation could learn only things half as hard to learn as those which man now can learn, most of human civilization would be unusable by the next generation and would soon vanish off the face of the earth. For example, most, if not all, that is taught in this university nobody could then learn. The contents of drug stores would poison us. Ships and trains and automobiles, if they moved at all, would go in some what the disorder of the toy boats and trains of children.

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