In my previous blog post, (the link will be at the bottom of the page) which was written a long time ago, I introduced the new series I wanted to do which would be based on Mortimer J Adler’s book. Just to briefly re-introduce the series, the series would highlight lessons that the author has discussed within the book. This series would take a long time since there are so many lessons within the book but in the long run, this would be very beneficial and worth it.
The book is so good that I purchased it by ordering it online and now I have it within my own personal library. I first came across the book in an online lecture called ‘How To Read a Book’ by a learned scholar called Hamza Yusuf. I came across the book around last year when I was out for a walk and I decided to keep walking and then listen to the lecture. I found it very interesting. Soon afterwards, I decided to read the whole book because Sheikh Yusuf was explaining Mortimer J Adler book.
Reading the book was definitely an eye-opening experience and the passion of Sheikh Yusuf whilst he was explaining the importance of the book definitely made me even more interested. This is because of the fact that the Sheikh said that Mortimer J Adler’s book is ‘the key to understanding all other book’. I definitely, in hindsight, feel like this is true because of the fact that prior to reading this book I didn’t understand academic western civilisation.
After reading the book, all sorts of other books were opened to me and that was amazing to me. I know understand the western civilisation around me a lot more. The book contains so many lessons and teaches all the different reading styles as well as reading techniques. The goal of my series, like I mentioned before, is to explain ever single reading style and technique. Like I mentioned before, this will take a long time but for all of you followers who love books, I hope you enjoy it.
The Goals of Reading: The Two Main Goals
The definition of reading that Adler gave was as follows: “the process whereby a mind, with nothing to operate on but the symbols of the readable matter, and with no help from outside, I elevates itself by the power of its own operations.”There are only two main goals of reading. Every other reason is superficial and not important. The first reason is reading for information and the second reason is reading for understanding. These will be explained further.
The word reading can be used in two different contexts. The first is reading for information like I previously mentioned. This is an important goal of reading but one that is also somewhat superficial at the same time. This is because of the fact that our understanding didn’t necessarily increase since our understanding was equal before reading it. What happens when we read for information is that our information store increases. This process happens when we read news, magazines etc.
The second goal of reading is reading to understand. This doesn’t usually happen when you are reading a newspaper or glimpsing over a magazine. This is another reason why reading for information can’t qualify as reading for understanding because no one pauses and discovers a deep intricate idea within a superficial magazine or a random newspaper. Reading for understanding occurs when you read something, struggle to understand it and then return to read it again.
This process continues to keep happening until you become elevated in your understanding of whatever topic you are studying. Even then this process could take years for some high-level academic books written by high-level scholars. For some people, they can never fully wrap their hands around certain ideas and so no matter how long they try, they can never quite understand whatever books that they are reading. In general, reading for understanding is a lot more difficult as it requires repetition.
Reading as Learning: The Difference Between Learning by Instruction and Learning by Discovery
Whenever you as the reader reads something that the author is trying to teach you and remember this knowledge then you have learned something. If what the author is saying is true, then you have learnt something new about the world. However this doesn’t mean that you are enlightened. This is only occurs when you as the reader know what the author said, understand what the author means and understand exactly why the author has said that.
Learning by instruction is the common way of studying and learning in the eastern world. This is also the standard western school system as well. However, the western school system is slowly moving towards learning by discovery. This is certainly the case in Holland as I have found as an international student. Learning by instruction occurs when a teacher instructs the student and the student learns from this, then we could call this learning by instruction.
When a student learns from discovery, this is far more exciting for the student. This is when the student ‘gets out there’ and does independent research on whatever topic or subject he is trying to learn. For now we won’t really explain what the terms ‘reading’, ‘thinking’ or ‘listening’ means. We will translate them loosely for the sake of continuing to explain this topic. Listening is taking in information from someone by using your ears.
This information is restrictive and hasn’t had much time to grow in your mind. Furthermore, it comes from one person’s opinion which means it’s one particular part of the discourse. ‘Thinking’ means using our minds to gain knowledge about whatever topic we are studying. This process is done by using our mental abilities to analyse the knowledge. Reading can be loosely translated is deeply studying (using your eyes to read) the knowledge in front of you.
Therefore when a student learns from discovery, this is often very different from learning by instruction. This is because in learning by discovery the student will read the works of many different authors on the same topic and use his mind to grow the knowledge inside his head. In this process there will be an abundant amount of information as well as different specialised opinions at the readers disposal. Both styles for learning are important and should be used.
Present and Absent Teachers
Listening and reading are often viewed as similar things in the sense that they are both ways of studying from teachers. With reading you take in information with your eyes and process it in your mind. With listening you take in information from the teacher with your ears snd process the information with your mind as well. However, as much as this is they are similar, there are certain differences between the two. For example, reading is from absent teachers and listening is from a present teacher.
More often than not, this is the case. It has always been this way for most of human history up until just a few decades ago. Of course, one can argue that you can listen to radio or videos of people who have passed away and are absent but this is only a post-modern reality. Having a present teacher with you is an easy way of studying. If you are ever confused you could just ask the teacher to explain themselves. If something puzzles you, you can ask the teacher to clarify it for you.
However, with reading it’s completely different since the teacher here (the author) is completely absent. Therefore if you ever get confused or puzzled whilst reading the book you just have to discover the answer yourself. This is a huge challenge for everyone. Adler further emphasises this point by saying that reading is like nature or the world , it will only answer you to the extent that you do the work, thinking or analysis yourself.
The author isn’t also saying that having a living teacher means you don’t have to do further work, but definitely a considerably small amount less compared to reading a book by a dead author. The benefits of having a living teacher is that the living teacher will push you in the right general direction towards understanding whatever you are trying to learn this is much easier compared to reading a book by an absent author when all you have are his words. I hope you have enjoyed this article. The next blog post about this topic should be about the different levels of reading explained by Adler. Tune in and I’m sure you will learn something new.
You May Also Be Interested In: