The Elephant and The Wise Men

The Elephant and The Wise Men

The first learning tool of learning how to think, as proposed by Orlando University, is to ask students to revisit the ancient story of the Elephant and Blind Men (EBM). Most of us learned when we were children but likely have forgotten, that the basic idea of EBM is to understand two basic things. First, if someone wants to learn the truth or the whole truth of something, one needs to know the whole thing or all of its parts as a whole. Stated differently, we must try to gather all of the pertinent facts. Second, if one only knows one part, but believes or claims the part is the whole truth, one likely will be ridiculously wrong just like the blind men.

The University believes that such a simple story and its equally simple message have largely been ignored in conventional teaching, practice and research. This unfortunately includes the learning methodology employed at many institutions of higher education. Creating a set of concise and comprehensive foundation courses by Orlando University as one of three core curriculum components is intended to improve such a deficiency or insufficiency.

Modern higher education has been highly specialized into a myriad number of disciplines. This trend is continuing in order to meet the needs of an increasing modern society. Specialized or technical knowledge and skills are essential for various professional specialties, ranging from science, technology and engineering to medical, law or financial services. As a result, how to apply various perspectives correctly or properly in order to understand, interpret or deal with a particular subject (s) as a whole is critically essential.

The wide spectrum of foundation courses created by the University for its students as well as participating faculty, is also intended to reinforce this simple message – “Know What You Really Don’t Know.” This is the other side of the EBM story – that is, only to say or tell what we see or know. If we would think the part we knew or thought as the whole, we would be laughed at for being blind or wrong.

Through the foundation courses, students have opportunities to see how academia, professionals and other practitioners view the same entity or issue. Their differing perspectives, just as in the case of the Elephant and the Blind Men, often result in very different conclusions or positions. Understanding this fact of life helps students to understanding how limited and biased human perceptions or thinking can be, as well as how often humans act without adequate or unbiased information.

The University encourages faculty and students to think and to appreciate the thinking of Confucius, who taught his students over 2000 years ago: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of ignorance of his own.” Knowing what we don’t know will not make us unintelligent; rather it has the opposite effect. It likely will assist people to investigate the issue of concern more thoroughly and, in so doing, gain a better understanding in order to make a wiser choice through better judgment. Those who fail to know their limitations, that is, what they do not know, often make poor or unwise choices.