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Why? directs and motivates effort

(To be revised)

Asking why we study engages us in thinking, but we too easily short-circuit the thinking asking why in the form of Why bother?, why should we take the trouble to study when we feel so busy, so pressed by many cares, just wanting some relaxation, escape, a "good time."

Why bother? preempts asking why. It pretends that we don't do these activities and maybe we'll start if we can find a good reason to do so. But in actuality, we began studying long ago. In the course of living our lives, we have been all along forming ourselves, learning liberally, and disclosing the commons. The question is not when to start, but to become more aware why we do these things we've been doing all along. Throughout our work on A Place to Study, let's pay attention to why we do study, sharpening our sense of purpose as we form ourselves, learn liberally and disclose the commons.

We find it difficult to attend to our purposes in studying because they are activities deeply embedded in our lives. They are not a great new idea for which we need a grab-you elevator pitch. They emerge from our infantile beginnings, from our primal ignorance, from our solitary vulnerability. Let's take a moment to contemplate initial conditions to see how they stick with us as key motivators throughout our lives.

What can a fertilized egg do? It can grow, absorbing nutrition according to a metabolism, which is complicated from the get-go compared to dead molecular processes, but simple compared to its emerging metabolic systems. It's all programmed, we say. But is it actually? completely? just in what sense? There are decision points, balances maintained, developmental forks all turning on flows of information with sensitive feedback patterns triggering actions that have significant formative consequences. All these unfold throughout our lives, throughout the lives of all living organisms, and only a miniscule fraction of the decision points in them enter into our conscious lives. But those that do enter into our awareness have substantial significance for the course and quality of our lives and we concern ourselves for them as problems of self-formation.Anno

Likewise, we face an imperative, embedded deeply in how we must live our lives, to learn liberally. At birth, we find ourselves knowing nothing, thrown into the world. Each newly born life faces a big puzzle — how do we find out what can happen in it? We don't know enough yet to respond slavishly according to a careful utilitarian calculus. We explore, probe, try this and that, follow our curiosity. Watch an infant, newly seated in a high chair. What does it do? It drops things, over and over, a supremely useless achievement. It spills things and watches liquid flow. It stomps on a puddle and wonders why is splashes. Wet feet? That doesn't matter. Let mother make her fuss! Why?

Ah! Exactly, it's because — Why? The question matters! Will the spoon drop? Why does it fall? Why doesn't it just stay put, there in the air, in the place where I pushed it? It took humanity many generations to answer that question well, but to the infant the question seems natural, an obvious first starting point — poke life and its world and all at once ask who-why-what-how-where. Look. That happened! Hunh? Knowing begins in wonder, the urge to learn liberally.

And then there is the commons. How does the civic space of the infant or child appear to it?Anno The infant quickly and forcefully expresses its vulnerability crying out its disquiet for all to hear. It is not a cowering expression of fear, but one of vulnerability, insufficiency, an expectant call for help. It is not a possessive self-assertion, but more a reaching out to the altruism of others. As the infant becomes a child, with growing independence, it quite naturally acquires and expresses that independence within the sphere of common usages, and we all largely go on to conduct our lives within the frameworks set by the common law.

Those who would claim for the practices of possessive individualism a exclusive grounding in natural law have much explaining still to do. A kind of selfish altruism seems a more natural basis for human sociability — each feels less vulnerable and more likely to achieve fulfillment by grounding their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on their commonalities with the rest of humanity. The common law of intellectual property clearly states that it all belongs to humanity in common and that exceptions subjecting parts of it to private ownership occur expressly to create incentives to facilitate the advance of intellectual activity for the benefit of all. Efforts to disclose the intellectual commons insofar as possible independent of the incentives created by privatization are entirely consonant with prevailing practices.