On Learning

Dated May 2, 2020; last modified on Thu, 02 Sep 2021

Choose your content. Some material not worth the effort. Learning comes from repetition, but sometimes you just don’t care whether you’ll remember what you’ve read.

But even if you don’t remember the specifics, the effect on your model of the world persists. As your mental model evolves, re-reading books is beneficial because the material compiles differently.

When reading, annotate connections from previous knowledge, unanswered questions and unjustified assumptions. Make flashcards of facts/quotes that you wish to analyze. Do a write-up in your own words. Revisit arguments that weren’t convincing.

Collect questions and counter-arguments into a ‘questions’ basket. Answer questions from this basket in your free time.

The basket should have a hard cap, e.g. 20 questions. Picking a question at random to investigate is a nice way of staying motivated. It also helps when you have an hour or so of free time, but not necessarily set on what you want to read.

An essay helps you figure something out. Think of it as an idea graph - at each node, pick the most interesting related idea. Expressing your ideas also helps you form them. Writing them down forces you to think well.

I’ve noticed this when composing a post to ask why my code is not working. In the middle of writing and making sure that I’ve done my homework, I arrive at my answer, or an idea that I haven’t tried yet!

Dan Luu’s blog is quite informative and novel. In , Luu lists his motivations for measurement posts. Notice how they mostly start with an itch to dive into a personal curiosity.

Institutions are needed because left to our own, we only cherry-pick what we want to learn, which may not encompass all that we should learn. Given that institutions need accountability, they impose metrics, which break how we want to learn.

What if the underlying principle could be distilled, and the learning context tailored to the students? For example, students with a preference for biology could learn probability in the context of biological study. That way, they’re learning about what they want (biology) while also picking up necessary topics (probability).

  1. How You Know. Paul Graham. http://www.paulgraham.com/know.html . Dec 1, 2014.
  2. The Age of the Essay. Paul Graham. http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html . Sep 1, 2004.
  3. Your Book Review: How Children Fail. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/your-book-review-how-children-fail . Jun 11, 2021.
  4. Some reasons to measure > Appendix: the motivation for my measurement posts. Dan Luu. https://danluu.com/why-benchmark/#appendix-the-motivation-for-my-measurement-posts . Aug 27, 2021. Accessed Aug 28, 2021.