When Tom was a young man (he’s now an ‘old man’ according to our current cultural attitudes), he looked inside himself and ‘noticed’ that even though he’d done all the things our culture said were the “right things” to do: (eg. highest grades throughout high school; President of his senior class; Full scholarship to Stanford; be “nice”) he was very unhappy and confused. He looked around outside himself too and “noticed” that even though “the culture” was very clear and dogmatic about the “right things” to do, there were an awful lot of problems and misery in the world.
Tom began to wonder if “they” (the “protectors” of “the culture”) really knew what are the “right things” for us human beings to learn and do for a happy, healthy, successful life. He’d made it to one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, with some of the most respected teachers of the culture, and they were teaching/preaching the same “right things to do” that Tom had been taught (and blindly accepted) all through elementary and high school – and now Tom wasn’t so sure they knew what they were teaching is “the Truth” or “the right way to live.”
This thinking, of course, made Tom even more miserable and confused. If the culture’s intellectual leaders (as well represented at Stanford) don’t know what is “the right way” or what are “the right ways” for us human beings to live and thrive, then maybe no one knows – or even worse, maybe life has no purpose, no meaning, no direction, no sense. These doubts led to several years of a pervasive and psychically painful negativity about life, the world, himself.
It did not feel like a “learning time” for Tom, but it retrospect it was a very necessary and potent time of learning. The negativity of doubt is not an “open-minded,” “open-to-learning” state of consciousness. [See Wikipedia article on "Doubt"]. However, it was a “learning time” for Tom, because, although he was mired in the closed-minded negativity of doubt, it was also a symptom that underneath the doubt were percolating the fundamental questions about life, the meaning of life, Truth, the purpose of life.
Tom doesn’t recommend “doubt” as an optimal strategy for learning about life or learning about anything. It wasn’t any fun. If he could go back to those painful years and advise his younger self, he would advise himself to “question everything,” “puzzle about everything;” “explore everything;” rather than to “doubt everything.” Exploring, discovering, learning is fun and exciting. [Check out the book CREATIVITY, by Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly] Learning only happens when you don’t know something, when you’ve got a question, when you’re open to exploring, learning.