We learn from people who were taught by other people. Those people were taught by other people. Those people were taught by other people.

For example, a professor teaching in a university was once taught by a professor, who was once taught by a professor who …

Even the things we derive on our own is because of what we were taught by others.

Is this loop infinite? Does it start? End?

  • 3
    Why infinite? There is only a finite number of generations in human history. Commented Mar 3 at 16:56
  • 1
    It's not so much a loop, as a tree of knowledge. But one failing of the tree model is making cross-references, given the human propensity to categorise and compartmentalise knowledge. AI models might actually be better at that, with their networks of knowledge. Commented Mar 3 at 19:50
  • Thanks god there are people who do research and learn things from no one. Pythagoras didn't "learn" from ratio between the sides of straight triangles, Einstein did "learn" from anyone the theory of relativity.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 4 at 11:15
  • @armand did Pythagoras never LEARN what a triangle is? Did he never learn what a square is? Did he never learn that a right angled triangle has a right angle? Did Einstein never learn some physics? In my question, I explicitly state that “ Even the things we derive on our own is because of what we were taught by others.” Commented Mar 4 at 12:06
  • You completely missed my point. I'm arguing Pythagoras did learn some stuff on his own, you reply that he also learned other things from other people. It's not a rebuttal. Once it has been made clear that learning things without being taught by someone else is possible, as I made evidently clear, your problem is resolved. "Even the things we derive on our own is because of what we were taught by others" is a premise that is not supported, and in my opinion evidently false.
    – armand
    Commented Mar 4 at 12:11

4 Answers 4


You don't just learn by being taught, being taught is usually just a faster way of learning because unlikely learning by yourself where you have to be really lucky or make lots of mistakes and be able to improve upon them, you're able to take a shortcut by having someone guide you on that path. It's not a necessity or a requirement to learn it's just usually a faster way of doing it, because you skip the parts that were dead ends.

Though at the end of that journey you still arrive in the wilderness of the unknown where you do have to learn on your own.


I agree with your description. But it is not a loop (circular, end = start), but a chain (not closed).

Leaving the linguistic aspect. The idea is expressed by a metaphor ascribed to Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Fortunately it is an ascending chain, at least in the long term. Generally, this holds not only for the global chain of mankind, but also holds for the local chain within each person.


No, it can't be. Simply because there are other ways to learn than by being taught. Research is precisely the attempt to learn things no one has ever known before. People learn by their experiences, by their mistakes, by happy and unhappy accidents. For all those, it starts another chain of knowledge that hopefully will pass to the following generations. Knowledge can also be lost.


It had to start, since professors are a relatively recent product of evolution. As far as we know, there were no professors among the earliest forms of life on Earth. Fossil records show that primitive professors first appeared in the later Neogene period.

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