Is it better to learn through your own experience or through the experiences of others?

Asked on by norahakim

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Isaac Newton uses the metaphor that we are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. What this means is that we build on the knowledge and experience of others. We start out learning by the example of how others behave. There are many things we should not even try to learn from experience -- that we will die if we jump from tall buildings or cliffs without a parachute, that exposure to certain types of radiation or disease will make us very sick, that smoking is harmful, etc. There are other things we should experience for ourselves. For example, we learn literature and history by reading primary sources for ourselves rather than summaries,and we develop skill at ballet or tennis by practice.

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