Autodidacticism

srinivasa ramanujan by david levine

Autodidacticism [aw-toh-dahy-dak-tuh-siz-uhm] is self-education or self-directed learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is ‘learning on your own’ or ‘by yourself,’ and an autodidact is a person who teaches him or herself something. Self-teaching and self-directed learning are contemplative, absorptive processes. A person may become an autodidact at nearly any point in his or her life. While some may have been educated in a conventional manner in a particular field, they may choose to educate themselves in other, often unrelated areas.

In the field of mathematics, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887 – 1920) was an Indian autodidact who, with almost no formal training, made substantial contributions to number theory.

The earliest novels to deal with the concept of autodidacticism were Arabic novels, describing feral children living in isolation from society on a desert island and discovering the truth as they grow up without having been in contact with other people. The working-class protagonist of Jack London’s ‘Martin Eden’ (1909) embarks on a path of self-learning in order to gain the affections of Ruth, a member of cultured society. By the end of the novel, he has surpassed the intellect of the bourgeois class, leading to a state of indifference and ultimately, suicide. Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ (1938) depicts an autodidact who is a self-deluding dilettante (someone who engages in a field as an amateur out of casual interest rather than as a profession).

Many successful and influential architects such as Mies Van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Violet-Le-Duc and Tadao Ando were self-taught. However, there are very few countries allowing autodidactism in architecture today and the practice or use of the title: ‘architect,’ are now protected by law. Some countries have a grandfather clause, authorizing established self-taught architects to continue practicing.

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