If you’ve ever crammed a bunch of information into your head before a test – only to lose it the next day – you might have an idea what Confucius meant when he said, “Learning without thought is labor lost.” Memorizing facts and figures just to spit them out on a test or paper is not learning; it’s regurgitation. Unless you’ve interacted with the material and worked to understand why it matters, the data becomes useless information that’s not connected to the rest of your studies or anything else in your life.
Of course, certain things (e.g., multiplication tables) do have to be memorized in order to be learned. But even in the case of the times tables, it’s beneficial to first learn what it means to multiply before you take on the task of memorizing seemingly random numbers.
On the flip side, when Confucius adds, “Thought without learning is perilous,” he’s cautioning those who get stuck in their own head, forming ideas without getting the facts first. Being able to pontificate on an array of topics is admirable, but not when your opinions are uninformed.
“Perilous” is a strong word – it means dangerous, hazardous, risky. When we speak without really knowing what we’re talking about, we pose a danger to ourselves and others. But the more you learn, the broader and more valuable your thinking becomes.