One time when my grandmother was in the hospital, before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's but after she's started showing what we recognize in hindsight to be the symptoms, I had the idea of getting her the gift of a demographically-appropriate sitcom series on DVD, so she'd have something funny at her fingertips at all times. I mentioned this idea to another family member with the idea of brainstorming which sitcom series she'd like best, and was told that this might not be a good idea for a gift because she has trouble working her DVD player. It seems she lost the ability to learn how to use new technology. She'd follow step-by-step instructions if someone wrote them out for her, but she lost the ability to look at the menu items or the manual and read and think and figure stuff out.
This led me to develop the fear that I will one day lose the ability to learn.
A couple of years after this, My Favourite Little Person was born. Watching her play with toys and learn how to operate her body and figure out how the world works, I came to the realization that she is learning at rate several orders of magnitude greater than I am. Her parents have told me stories of how she'd have a play date with another baby and watch the other baby play with toys in a new and different way, then have her nap, wake up especially eager to return to her toys, and start emulating what the other baby was doing. Her little brain literally assimilated the information during her nap! Once, when she was 8 months old, I watched her banging two rings from her ring stack toy together, as though she was trying and failing to fit one ring through the other. Watching this, I realized that she couldn't tell by eyeballing it that the one ring wouldn't fit inside the other - but she was literally in the process of learning this right before my very eyes! And, I noticed, she was only trying to fit the smaller ring through the bigger one, never vice versa. So, even though she couldn't tell by sight that the one ring wouldn't fit inside the other, she had already learned that smaller things fit inside bigger things and never vice versa!
This led me to realize I've already lost some of my ability to learn, because it has been a very long time since I've observed the world around me and figured out how things work and developed new skills like MFLP does every day.
I recently bought a new desk chair (from Staples - excellent customer service so far but I wasn't happy with the product. I'll blog about this more once the return process is completed). It came disassembled, so I had to assemble it. To add to the challenge, the instructions weren't as good as they should be - they showed what connects to what where, but there was no how. Then, after sitting in the chair for a couple hours, I came to the realization that it was unergonomic for me (it actually made my back hurt), so I had to figure out how to disassemble it and get it back into the box, for which there were no instructions.
So to work out this chair, I had to inspect it, see what kinds of shapes and sizes there were and how they might fit into each other, try various things, see that they didn't work, and analyze why. I had to look at the parts that were already together and analyze why they were there (e.g. "There's something blocking this piece, there's a screw here, could the screw be blocking that piece?"), look at my existing desk chair and extrapolate, and come up with ways to use my body and other objects in my apartment to lift and move heavy pieces into the position I wanted them, and then, when disassembling, to force them to come apart. I had to take breaks and return to it, I'd sometimes go to bed and wake up the next morning with inspiration I needed to master the next step.
In short, I learned how to assemble and disassemble this chair the same way MFLP learns things.
So I can still learn!
I knew I can still learn things academically, by reading about them or taking classes. I knew I could still learn how to use computer software the usual way. But can't remember the last time I learned how something tangible works by observing its properties, experimenting with it, and figuring it out, the way MFLP does. I'm quite relieved to learn that I can still do it.