The Deep End

There’s a certain kind of learning mode that I think of as not only really effective, but super fun. When it comes to pure knowledge absorption, I don’t think you can beat it. I love going into this “learner mode” but I seldom see other people really detail their process for doing the same, if they do at all.

Information is different than knowledge. Most people actively learn for information. If something goes wrong with your car and you want to figure out how to fix it yourself, you target your search very directly. You look up that exact problem and how to fix it. Along the way you’ll certainly pick up a few other tidbits, but people frequently forget those if they don’t actively use them very soon after.

A lot of the learning we’re exposed to, especially early in our lives, is rote memorization. We don’t really learn how to process and store information for long-term application. What’s funny is that in the very very early stages, we do! We learn to read and do math not by memorizing specific books or equations, but by learning the tools. Once you know how to read, you can read anything. That’s a good outcome for learning. And that method can be duplicated, but we don’t!

When you’re learning to read, you can do that learning with anything. In fact, that’s best! Just pick up book after book and don’t worry about the subject matter or specific targeted vocabulary words, just read and read and read. That’s the deep end, as elemental as it might seem.

The best way to learn for knowledge, is to ignore information entirely.

Sometimes I will pick a topic (often it will pick me) and I’ll just go. I have no agenda. I have no specific problem I’m trying to learn to solve. I’m not taking notes or worrying about retaining any particular pieces of trivia. I’m just letting the waves crash over me.

I’ll read articles and books and scientific papers on the topic, not understanding more than 10% of it when I begin. Doesn’t matter, I’ll keep reading. Not letting the frustration of ignorance take hold is key, but this is a lot easier when you aren’t learning for a grade, or because you have a deadline, or a project.

A few years ago I became really enamored with the idea of complex math. I’m not a mathematician – I think 10th grade geometry was the last serious look I had given it. And that was why I was interested! So I looked up famous mathematicians who were working on awesome stuff and had published books, and I bought them. They were astronomically above my level, but who cares? No one knew I was learning it, no one was grading me. I just absorbed.

I’m still not a brilliant mathematician, but I know a ton more about set theory and concepts of infinity and even the landscape of current mathematical thought than I did before. It was fun!

The brain is a wonderful sponge, but we usually apply learning to it with an eye dropper. Just throw it in the river and see what happens! When you pick the sponge up a huge amount of knowledge will just run out, but what you retain will be tremendous – and fun.

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