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Studying life vs Living life

Here in UCG, we have the motto: You don’t study for school, but you study for life. For you to be here, you must have an interest in understanding life, or at least some parts of it. However, it is said that you can either understand life or live life, but not both.

You can spend your entire life buried in books, in lecture halls, and watching documentaries to understand life, but in doing so, you miss out on living; you’re all thought but no action. Alternatively, you can spend your entire life partying hard, travelling the world, meeting new people, having new experiences, but in doing so, you miss out on all the knowledge of life; you’re all action but no thought.

Our time is limited, and there are only so many things we can do at a time, so I can see why people say that. However, I don’t entirely agree with this dichotomy. I think that understanding life and living life go hand-in-hand, maybe they’re even one and the same.

I was once in the middle of reading a book which has love as its main theme, and realized how miserably words failed to convey the actual feeling, even though I was unable to choose more appropriate words myself. You can read every Shakespearean book on love, every neuroscientific or biopsychological research on it, watch every romance movie out there, and read every detailed account written by people in love, but it will all be to no avail. Anyone who has experienced love knows that all of the above fail to encapsulate the actual feeling one experiences in all its unspoken detail.

This does not only hold true about love however, but for everything experienced. Imagine you never played the piano in your life. However, you read every book on playing the piano, memorized all the music theory behind it, learnt all the chords and how to transition, watched the pros play for hours, and read accounts of people describing how it feels to play the instrument. You are, by all accounts, an expert on the piano, but you’ve never experienced playing it. If now, you played it for the first time, would you not gain something new that you could never otherwise get? The experience, the emotional and cognitive feeling, the sensation on your fingertips, are all knowledge that you gained from playing the piano, which you would never get if you spend all of your life only studying the piano and never playing it.

 

A lot of knowledge is expressible, transferable and can be taught to anyone with enough time. But an equal amount of life’s knowledge is not: like the experiences of playing the piano, or feeling love, and so much more. They are inexpressible, and no matter how precisely we try to verbalize them, they can never be fully conveyed with words. There will always be this ‘tacit’ knowledge behind every experience, that we can never acquire unless we actually live the experience. 

There is no philosophy that on paper can teach you everything there is about life, because that can only happen through actively experiencing it. If you’ve failed to experience an aspect of life, no matter how much you read about it, you have failed to fully understand it, since you’re lacking its tacit knowledge. 

So we come to realize that life has knowledge to offer that words cannot convey, and knowledge whose reception is only possible through active conscious experience. Life is only understood when lived. And based on this revelation, whether true or unfounded, I invite all of us to put down our books once in a while, quit scratching our chin-hair and philosophizing the heavens, and just go live life, in the hopes that we can maybe understand it.

 

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