Sorry for the long post, this is a topic I find really interesting! If anything I write here steps on toes or suggests that anyone one Permies is less than perfect, please let me know so I may fix it!
I come to Permaculture by way of environmental philosophy, which I come to by way of philosophy more generally. All of which is to say, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of life people live currently, its implications, problems, and possibilities for change.
While there is a definite element of inborn or cultured method of learning (auditory, visual, tactile, that kind of thing), I think another large part is the way in which people understand something to be real in an increasingly mediated world. The average human is more likely to be versed in the squabbles of celebrities thousands of miles away than versed in the plants or animals or even people living all around them. In my opinion this is doubly (triply? quadruply?) true here in the US. Our understanding of what is important, what matters, what constitutes day to day life in the world one lives in is mediated by the middle man of mass media, tricked out in all the power and speed of modern information technology. A natural consequence of this inattention to place one (my pet term for which is 'unmooring'), is that the ability to gauge the validity of something is diminished. When our focus is on things seen through a screen, we no longer have 5 senses to help us verify things in the world around us.
This is equally (or perhaps especially!) true of the institutions and practices we've always taken to be the most aligned with truthful depictions of reality- journalism and science are great examples. One only has to sample a few different news articles on the same topic, or compare the AP wire of what's happened in the world to what news stories make headlines to see that clearly, the journalistic commitment to unbiased factual reporting is mostly a thing of the past. This same effect is apparent in science, I think, when looking at scientific studies on health as an example. For the same food, one study may find it healthy for its fiber content, while another says its unhealthy due to its ratio of fats; a third says it's best consumed moderately while a fourth says it can affect your ability to sleep and should therefore never be eaten. All are probably sound science, but the question of what 'health' is, how do we value or determine what is healthy, or what the overarching goal of these investigations should be are never asked. Couple this with 'science journalism', which happily takes any developed, nuanced and detailed study and reduces it to the absolute of a headline to snag reader's interest, and the end result is more uncertainty.
To add another element to it: people probably learn how to weigh and value truth and meaning socially. We determine as a society how information is verified, how weight is given to a certain idea or argument, and to what standards we hold something up to in order to believe it to be true. For instance the development of science placed at a premium that which could be verified with our senses, proven by experimentation and corroborated by replication. During the medieval period we believe that the validity of something often related to its presence in or possible contradiction with the words and tales of the bible. In many cultures we consider 'primitive', validity rests in something's power, which is proven in its actions- if someone has a good season as a hunter, they must have luck/magic/power, therefore their words ought to be given more weight.
If that is the case, I believe that our contemporary culture is one that, (between lack of faith in objective truth of mediated knowledge and focus on mediated things), encourages many to feel that 'that which agrees with what I believe is right', and vice versa. The question becomes less one of truth and reality, more one of which side you're on and what kind of person you want to be seen as being. We see this in the widening gulf that is American partisan politics. We also see it in conversations about GMO's or vaccines, in which both sides are deaf to any argument that might not agree with what they believe. Those are just two examples.
So to try and condense some of this rambling down by imitation:
I think that some people hear that the stove is hot and immediately believe it to be true.
Some people see the event of someone being burned and believe that stoves burn if touched, period.
Some people learn that the stove might be hot because they once got burned.
Some people learn that the stove might be hot because they have been burned several times.
Some people have been burned several times, but know that it's not because the stove is hot because stoves OBVIOUSLY don't burn people. If they did, why would everyone have one? Why would they be in stores everywhere? It was no doubt a result of the sun, or some other factor.
Some people refuse to believe the stove is hot until somebody gives them to a link to a collection of white papers referencing "real science" about this exact stove instance.
Some people refuse to believe the stove is hot because regardless of those other scientific papers, they have seen conclusive scientific evidence that, while stoves get hot, that's not a complete understanding of the process.
"The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences."
"Cultivate gratitude; hand out seed packets"
Very good observation Paul. I find the last type mentioned to be the most infuriating. For them science is almost a religion. They fail to take into account or ignore that most studies are flawed on purpose because those financing them have an agenda.
Personally I find observation to be the easiest way to learn. If you are open to the information collected by your five senses it is amazing how much you can learn.
Permaculture, Tiny House Living, Homesteading
Companion Planting Guide by World Permaculture Association