Elon Musk pretends to know shit about rockets.
Listen, your brain is very good at two things:
- making structure out of unstructured data
- finding patterns in structured data
The brain is great at figuring out how to organize streams of unknown data, and we call this process understanding.
The brain is great at recognizing patterns in ready made structures, and we call this process grasping.
the brain is awful at understanding structured data, unless it created the structure for that data.
For these reasons, whatever you learn:
- start in the middle
- jump right in, a.k.a. act as if you know
- expose yourself to data
- use your senses
- always look for real world reference
1. Start in the middle
The joke is that this is the reason why Star Wars succeeded, because they started with episode four. We don’t know that, nevertheless, try not to start with the basic stuff. Go for the middle of the subject matter.
Try to figure it out by referencing the beginning. Don’t go too advanced either, because you’ll loose track of explanations on top of explanations. But, in general, the interesting factor of a subject is at medium difficulty, and the amount of “interesting” is what makes the learning reinforcement feedback fire.
2. Jump right in, aka act as if you know
This is the golden rule of learning, in my book. I think this is what keeps most people at bay when subjects hit their life and they need to learn:
Figuring out every single detail. That is the recipe to quit.
The rule? Skip it and plow ahead.
Plow ahead, expect bruises and blunders, but act as if you understand. Don’t let yourself be pinned at some level because you don’t get it. Don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t make sense, read on, it will.
We have background processing. All learning is exposing our brain to tons of structure made by others. Finding the patterns inside manuals of theory is hard work, but while you stream data in today, the yesterday’s stuff is still being worked on.
In nature we don’t need to know what the bark of trees or the fur of cats is made of. We know that somehow they are similar, even if very different. We, and many big brain animals, skip and plow ahead with trying to grasp more and more general patterns. And there is a point where it suddenly makes sense, and you think retrospectively and that past reading makes sense.
This is also the rule of least resistance. That fog of the mind is when we’re keen on grasping things way too early. Let it go. Let it gooo. Let it goooooo. Le … Damn you Disney.
3. Expose yourself to data
Learn a language? Sing their songs. Learn physics? Read on near phenomena like rain or lightning, or why water makes drops, or why dew forms.
Whatever you learn, use data as soon as it reaches you to connect to things you already know. There is nothing more memory forming than this, since it is so close to how direct experience happens.
4. Use your senses
Brain’s organization of data streams is not based on a priori systems. It is basic embedded biologic systems at work doing the same thing over and over, until data split in thin vertical silos begins to show connecting features between them.
Our brain’s organization of data is an internal process developed for our senses and the data they keep streaming in. It is actually optimized for that kind of raw data, and less so for structured reading of theory or formulas.
Therefore, whatever you learn, do your best to both see and hear and as much as you can touch or smell the subject. Math can be touched, make paper models of concepts, math can be smelled, all perfumes are algorithms. So if math can be enjoyed by all five senses, anything can.
5. Always look for real world reference
Take geometry. That is the best example, geometry is everywhere, it is easy to make real life stories to illustrate concepts. But, take trigonometry, the classical example of “too much too early”, where concepts are disconnected from reality until later on.
always make up a story.
If the textbook doesn’t help, well, do research! See what the hell is this thing you’re boggling your mind with used for anyway.
Overall, remember, this thing we call “learning” is not natural.
Learning as a self disciplined action is unnatural. You force yourself to be vulnerable, isolated, and exposed to things you don’t understand, repressing fear with your frontal lobe censorship of emotion.
What nature intended as learning is what you require very little effort for: figuring out reality. You are doing it.
You have a brain that is the best real time three dimensional image processing system yet, you have processes such as facial recognition and social cue filtering that work around the clock, you dream, you are a perfect motion machine, you remember vast amounts of data since you were born, so don’t ever, ever, ever feel intimidated by books, especially text books.
Textbooks are best attempts to put on paper the way other people figured out stuff. This is hard and most textbooks suck.
We only understand what we experience and we only grasp what we’re taught.
P.S. If you are an author of learning material, try and do this: build patterns that grow from the center to outside and explain them upfront as the key to the knowledge ahead.
Also, click the heart, even though I am unsure of the effect of it anyway.