Psychology

Unlearnable

How many things are there, which one cannot learn? No matter how much effort is spent trying?

I’m aware that things like conscious control of intestinal peristalsis would fit this question (probably… I mean, who would’ve tried?) but I’m not interested in purely autonomous stuff.

Assuming the stereotypes are correct, I mean stuff like adults not being able to fully cross the Chinese-English language barrier in either direction if they didn’t learn both languages as children (if you read out The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den I can tell that the Shis are different to each other, but I can’t tell if the difference I hear actually conveys a difference-of-meaning or if it is just natural variation of the sort I produce if I say “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”, and I’m told this difficulty persists even with practice; in reverse, the ‘R’/’L’ error is a common stereotype of Chinese people speaking English). Is there something like that for visual recognition? Some people cannot recognise faces, is there something like that but for all humans? Something where no human can recognise which of two things they are looking at, even if we know that a difference exists?

Languages in general seem to be extremely difficult for most adults: personally, I’ve never been able to get my mind around all the tenses of irregular verbs in French… but is that genuinely unlearnable or something I could overcome with perseverance? I found German quite straightforward, so there may be something else going on.

Are there any other possibilities? Some people struggle with maths: is it genuinely unlearnable by the majority, or just difficult and lacking motive? Probability in particular comes to mind, because people can have the Monty Hall problem explained and not get it.

One concept I’ve only just encountered, but which suddenly makes sense of a lot of behaviour I’ve seen in politics, is called Morton’s demon by analogy with Maxwell’s demon. A filter at the level of perception which allows people to ignore and reject without consideration facts which ought to change their minds. It feels — and I recognise with amusement the oddity of using system 1 thinking at this point — like a more powerful thing than Cherry picking, Cognitive dissonance, Confirmation bias, etc., and it certainly represents — with regard to system 2 thinking — the sort of “unlearnable” I have in mind.

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