The biggest fallacy in Education is that because you have a degree you are ‘Educated’; the second biggest that because you have not, you are not. I argue here that a bookworm may become more than 500 times more learned than a graduate .

Thinking of all kinds works through “The Association of Ideas” . Thus a new idea is valuable in proportion to the number of ideas in your head already, with which you can associate it, potentially leading to new insights. Thus the value of reading a new book is roughly proportional to the number you have read already. If you have read 100 say there are roughly 100 times 99 (divided by 2 to avoid double-counting) or roughly 5000 potential Associations to be made between them whereas if you have read 200 that number rises to 200 times 199 (divided by 2) or roughly 20,000. In general then the value of your knowledge lies in proportion to the number of Associations you can make, which rises with the Square of its size. This is a profound but unfamiliar truth, and the basis of my argument.

Now a typical university undergraduate will need to read something like 2 books/course, which comes to between 100 and 200 over an entire degree. A book-worm on the other hand, who reads 2 books every week, reads 2 times 52 times 50 or roughly 5000 books over the course of 50 years. Taking the above-mentioned Square into account that implies that the bookworm finishes up (5000/200) squared, or 625 times more learned than a graduate; which makes my point.

There are of course qualifications. If the bookworm reads only detective novels, or the undergraduate only critiques of Shakespeare plays, neither will become Learned. Some breadth is assumed, the more the better. I would guess most bookworms, because they have no imposed constrictions on their appetites, would be more widely read, generally, but not always , reinforcing the case.

Isn’t that surprising, and interesting? The most learned members of society are not university graduates, not even university professors (of which I am one), but possibly unqualified people who have always got their noses in a book.

What are we to make of all this? I would suggest:

One has no chance of becoming Learned unless one is a life-long bookworm, degree or not.

It must be a primary aim of both parents and educators to see that their charges become bookworms.

A great library in every suburb and school will be an indispensable measure of its Civilization.

All measures which curb or kill Natural Human Curiosity( the main driver of reading), such as bad teaching, or over-examining, must be curbed immediately before it causes life-long damage. What on Earth is the point of turning out qualified but unlearned graduates?

There will be plenty of critics of ‘unfocussed reading’, of mere ‘bookworming’, especially from the Academic professions. All I can say is that I haven’t come to my view lightly. Having made a twenty year study of how successful Science is done, I found it was Breadth that mattered, far more then ‘genius’, for which there was little evidence. Breakthroughs appeared to come mainly from those who could Associate ideas which previously appeared to have no connection. For instance the basis of the modern world is Electro-magnetic Radiation , a concept only born when Hans Christian Oersted (1820), reading about storms at sea, first realised that Electricity and Magnetism must be connected.. If you want to follow the argument you might read my book “Thinking for Ourselves” described elsewhere on this site (under ‘My books’ Category). Here is an excerpt from that book entitled ‘THE VALUE OF LEARNING:

So here’s to readers everywhere! Only you can become truly Learned , and capable of leading, or perhaps we should say ‘reading’, our way on up to new realms of thought…

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