I’ve been wondering lately, is it possible to learn or know everything?
It is impossible to learn everything, cause how can you know what everything is? It is possible to know a lot about specific topics, as people can become experts on many things. But even those experts know only a small sample of everything there is to know.
The prospect of learning everything seems impossible, but it depends on how you frame the question. Do you want to be an expert? Do you want to learn something new? Or is this really about knowing everything there is to know?
Let’s try to answer these questions and some others.
Is it Possible to Learn everything?
The questions of is it possible to know everything needs more clarity, as we need to understand what we are asking before we can come up with an answer. On the surface, there are many aspects to this question, and they are all important in coming up with the right answer.
It is easy to say no without much thought, but we shouldn’t accept an answer without looking at the facts.
One way of looking at the question is, is it possible to learn something new. If that is the question, then yes, of course, we can learn something new. Just ask a question or pick a topic, and then you can research it and learn everything there is to learn about that topic. Put another way, you can’t know everything, but you can learn anything.
Another way to approach this question is to look at it from the lens of a specific topic or area of interest. Is it possible to know everything about being a plumber? With this question, it comes down to practicality, indeed, you can learn how to be a plumber, and you can also learn everything there is to know about dealing with different types of problems plumbers face. So yes, you can learn almost everything about a specific topic.
If looking at this question from a more technical perspective, according to neurologists, the human brain has a capacity of 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes).
Which is about all the information you would gain from watching TV for 300 years. Putting that in perspective, there are more than 300 hundred TV channels, so after a year, more information than our brains can hold has been shown on TV screens across the world.
From a capacity perspective, it wouldn’t be possible to hold all the information that exists, cause there is simply too much.
On top of this, when it comes to knowing what there is to know, how could we ever know anything that has happened on places other than earth? On top of this, time has been passing for billions of years, so what everything that has ever happened in the past?
Coming back to our original question, is it possible to learn everything, it is important to consider what we have in mind with that question. Clearly, it is a complicated question without a simple answer.
However, if you take some time to think about what question you are truly asking, there is some wiggle room and nuance to the question.
How Would You Go About learning everything?
If you think back to the original Matrix movie, Neo enters the construct and has information flashed into his mind by a computer. This example is from science fiction, but it does show us how we might go about knowing everything. If there was a way to quickly dump information into our brains, we might have some luck at learning a lot more than what we know right now.
Another way of looking at this, most people have a cell phone in their hand or pocket all the time. Having a smartphone means we have access to the internet and all the information it holds. If we want to learn anything, then we can simply look it up online and read about it or watch a video.
From a technological perspective, it is possible to know everything, because it is available if we want it, we just need to look for it.
A low-tech way to go about knowing everything would be to lock yourself in a library. Once you were there you would need to read all the books on all the shelves, in order to do that, you’d also need to avoid all distractions and people. In this case, it would take a lot of sacrifices, but it might help you accomplish the goal.
Another way to ensure that you learn a lot about something is to be curious about the topic. Asking questions is the best way to learn about something, cause that is how you build up your understanding and get a better sense of a topic. To help with your questions, it would be great to find a teacher who could help you learn about the basics and answer your questions as they come up.
But with all this in mind, it might be hard to find the perfect teacher who knows everything.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
One of the biggest obstacles when it comes to learning or knowing everything is that we don’t know what we don’t know. A lot of times when we learn something new we dig into the topic and follow all the paths that we can find. If you are into chemistry, you can go to Wikipedia and read all the basics, then you can follow links for deeper dives into related topics. Through this process, you learn a lot and grow your knowledge.
The problem with reading all there is on a topic, is that you only find the information that has already been collected on the topic by other people.
If there is something that isn’t known or hasn’t yet been discovered, then you aren’t going to be able to learn about it. For most topics, this is always underestimated, as people don’t know what they don’t know. What is even worse, is that this is equally true for all the experts on the topic.
It is very unlikely that any time soon, everything that there is to know will be known. So it is equally unlikely that all the information needed to know everything is available to learn right now.
Learn Everything About One Topic
Is it possible to learn everything about a specific topic? To this question, the answer is a lot more optimistic, as you can learn a lot about almost any topic you are willing to put the effort into. This is a bit of a cop-out, but it is true when it comes to practical knowledge and information.
There are lots of ways to learn about things, one way is to go to school, which will ensure you get the basics down. But once you’ve learnt that, you will need to dig deeper by reading more books and asking questions to experts. Working in an industry for a long time will introduce more and more experience, which translates into knowledge.
Researchers have found, that to become an expert at something, you will need up to 10,000 hours of practice.
That translates into about 5 years of full-time work. But for a lot of things, that is way more than what you need to be able to do something. It may take a few years to be an expert at rock climbing, but after 20 hours of practice, you’d probably be good enough to climb a mountain.
For myself, I’ve been working in tech for many years, in the area that I work many people would consider me an expert, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I can only assume that this is also the case for other people in other industries.
An important thing to keep in mind is that to know everything about a topic, you need to be interested in that topic, and willing to put in the effort it takes to learn.
For this reason, be wise about what you choose to learn everything about.