How to Transcend the Learning Ladder to What Is Valuable

Because not all learning is valuable.

A ladder is made up of a series of rungs to get to a destination one cannot get to without a ladder. Learning things of low importance represents the bottom set of rungs and higher leverage types of learning represent the rungs closest to the top. How do we judge what is important vs. what is not?

It’s a tough question to keep short, but I’ll do it anyway.

Initially, types of learning that enable survival are important. But then once we have transcended that, the higher rungs on the ladder are those that enable yourself and others to thrive.

Let me paint you a picture of what I think the Learning Ladder looks like.

On the floor, we have no learning at all.

Obviously, if we don’t learn things there is no merit in stepping to the first rung. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we repeat them. And if we repeat them, we end up in the same spot – on the ground no closer to our destination. To top it off, we have also wasted time.

Staying on ground level afraid to climb for too long is a colossal waste of time and life.

Also beneath the floor, in the depths of hell, is learning to conduct evil works.

I’m not going to go into moralistic philosophy on what is evil. Everyone has an idea of what evil truly is. C.S Lewis argues in his book, Mere Christianity, that this idea and standard of judgement is God himself. I couldn’t agree more.

You can’t put this standard into words. It is only felt.

I can, however, put into words where evil will get you —> infinitely further from the ladder than not learning at all.

Okay, enough with the complacency and degeneracy. Let’s take our first step up.

Rung #1

One-Way Learning – Learning and not doing anything with it

This is one-way learning because knowledge enters your brain and stays there.

We’ve all heard that learning without application is useless. It’s true. In our information age, the sheer volume of content causes most to stay at the first rung. These people are the self-help junkies, the podcast procrastinators, & the doing nothing Youtube bingers.

Obviously, everyone starts off learning this way.

It is hard to immediately apply most of what you’re learning to better yourself and the world at large.

However, when you’re addicted to information for the sake of consumption, then information is only flowing one way. When the direction is like this, your brain becomes overloaded.

Paralysis by analysis is a real thing and keeps people stuck on rung #1.

Rung #2

Verified by Authority – Accept facts as true because you cannot verify them yourself.

This is the public school system in a nutshell.

With the exception of Math and Art, we blindly accept most of what we’re taught in school. I’m not bashing this because trust is an essential component of education. It’s more efficient to accept facts we read in a textbook than question everything we’re taught.

I still place this type on a lower rung because I forgot most of the facts I learnt in school. Only recently have they resurfaced as I am now teaching them. However, if it wasn’t for tutoring, these facts would stay in oblivion.

The facts that stick with you and enable you to thrive are those that you have verified yourself.

Rung #3

Theoretical Learning – learning theory for the purpose of stepping to rung #4.

Stepping on rung #3 puts you about maybe 3 feet in the air. A standard ladder is what, 8 rungs?! You’re still on the lower end but the next step transitions you to the higher levels of learning.

Learning the theory behind concepts in any given field is the foundation if we want to be an expert. It is why universities initially spend more time lecturing rather than practical application. If you neglect to learn the theory, there is no chance you will be able to apply yourself.

Rung #3 isn’t one-way learning or blindly accepting things as fact.

It is a step above those because we are putting in the effort in learning something we already know we’re going to apply.

No one learns music theory without the intention of playing the piano.

Rung #4

Procedural Learning – applying your knowledge.

If you have long enough legs you can always jump from the lower rungs to this one. Provided you have accumulated enough knowledge, you will already know what to do to apply it.

Be cautious of accumulating too much knowledge before applying it.

How to know when too much is too much? Follow the Pareto principle. It says that 80% of the outcomes come from the first 20% of what you are learning (i.e. the fundamentals).

With the internet and AI, it is easy to find what those fundamentals are and learn about them.

Once you think you know them, rung #4 is only a step (or leap) of faith away.

Rung #5

Learning essence from appearance.

If 100% represents all VALUABLE things you can learn about a subject. Then appearance is anything that pushes you past that 100%. Hence, appearance is not essential.

This is rather easy to conceptualize when talking about topics we can learn.

However, this topic is rooted in the metaphysical – things we cannot see.

It’s hard to put the metaphysical into words – it’s literally above the physics of pen and paper. Simply put, appearance is fluff, projections, personas, falsehoods vs. essence being what a thing TRULY is.

There’s a lot of appearance going on in this world. It’s hard not to get sucked into the vortex. Therefore, rung #5 is high-level learning. You need to be high enough to not get sucked into appearance’s depth.

The appearance vs. essence learning is somewhat illusory: you may not be able to fully comprehend the essence of something unless you, yourself, are that something.

However, that illusion is shattered when you realize that we are all that something. The labels we give to form and matter are just socially constructed language. We are all one.

Of course, it is easier to write this than to embody it. But yeah that’s rung #5 for you and it is a beast to conquer.

Rung #6

Self-Knowledge – learning about the essence of the Self.

Once we understand appearance vs. essence in its totality, we are now ready to dive into the Self with a capital S.

The self with the small “s” is maintained through the illusion of separation the world has fallen prey to. This illusion is necessary for our survival. Therefore, it has been ingrained in our psyche.

Knowing about the illusion isn’t enough to shake it – as long as we are living, we all still need to survive. So having this knowledge does not mean you have transcended the self. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have achieved this rare state.

Nevertheless, the self is maintained out of necessity.

The self (small “s”) is run by our little egos.

The ego that:

  • Functions to maintain itself
  • Polarizes (me vs. the world)
  • Gets Easily Triggered and Inflated with Pride

A quote on Pride from C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity:

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

What C.S Lewis is saying is that the first step towards detaching from the self (lower case “s”), is to realize that you are your egoic self.

Thinking that you are above the self is a sneaky way the devil infiltrates us with pride. Your self-imposed virtue becomes a never-ending source of pride. C.S Lewis points toward a solution:

The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

The quest towards Self-knowledge, capital “S”, is realizing the essence of the Self – that is, that we are God. Not a God that is better and more powerful than everyone else. But a God that relinquishes the self-consciousness that comes with pride and our little self.

A Conclusion on the Hierarchy

So what’s all this climbing for?

I don’t know.

To summarize the book of Ecclesiastes in the bible,

Life is meaningless.

This could be taken nihilistically with our striving for the top being pointless.


It could be the starting point of real freedom.

We often obsess with climbing hierarchies. These hierarchies exist in all realms of human endeavour. This learning ladder is just one of them. But there’s your career, wealth, relationships and so on. The cool thing is that as you transcend the learning ladder, you simultaneously climb the others.

Rung by rung, we climb. However, at the end of the day, there really is no last rung. At the end of the day, the lights go out and we return to dust. We, along with our place in the hierarchy, vanishes.

Life being meaningless is freedom because we become detached from our place in the hierarchy. It still exists, but the end goal doesn’t matter because there isn’t one. This goes back to pride – once we stop being self-conscious, we begin the detachment process.

It’s like the flow state described by mountain climbers.

Climb the mountain so intensely that you forget about being at 10, 000-foot elevation.


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