Mental Attitude While Learning
Distinguish Mere Facts From Conclusions or Opinions
Discriminate between mere statements of facts, necessary conclusions which follow therefrom, and mere opinions which they seem to render reasonable. There’s no need to perform an experiment to verify that the atomic weight of oxygen is 16. That the sum of the angles of a plane triangle equals two right angles is not a mere fact, but an inevitable truth.
Investigate the Reason For Facts
Why would the wind in a storm in the northern hemisphere revolve counterclockwise around the storm’s center? Definitions are exempt: there is no reason why New York is 90 miles from Philadelphia. Sometimes the reasons require specialized knowledge that the student lacks, e.g. the laws of physics.
If There’s No Reason for the Facts, Seek to Know How They Ascertained
How do we ascertain that the sun is 92 million miles from the earth? Suppose 3,072 Union soldiers were killed in the Battle of Gettysburg. Why 3,072 is not a reasonable question. But how did we arrive at 3,072?
published a paper claiming that Mercury is the nearest planet to Earth – and to every other planet in the solar system. The crux of their argument is defining nearness as the average distance between planets, instead of the closest approach between planets.
Look Out for Evidence of the Writer’s Reliability
Faulty conclusions/opinions may result from illogical reasoning from correct facts, especially when it has to do with statistical results. Be wary of overly dogmatic opinions and intolerability towards those that hold different conclusions.
Of late, the phrase “do your research” has been popular , with some pushing back claiming that lay people tend to entrench their initial opinions and should not do their own research, but instead defer to the consensus of scientific experts .
How does one spot the consensus of the experts? Maybe by surveying the publications of the relevant field. Indexing and abstracting services provide abstracts of publications and references to documents , and may thus prove useful. provides a list of academic databases and search engines.
For a given query, Microsoft Academic shows top authors, journals, institutions and conferences, which are informative when polling consensus in a given field. Google Scholar does not make such information apparent.
An Open Mind; No Preconceived Ideas
Study to Gain Wisdom, Rather Than Knowledge
The first thought is always someone else’s. Only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of your mind come to play do you arrive at original idea. And often, that idea needs further refinement.
It also helps to think out loud with a person that you feel safe with. You discover what you believe in the course of articulating it: doubts you aren’t supposed to have, questions you’re not supposed to ask, opinions that’d get you laughed at or reprimanded, and so on.
“Suppose you dig a hole, hundreds of feet deep. Will the bottom be warmer or colder than the top?” Crickets. The teacher said, “I’m sure they know, but you’re not asking the right question.” “In what condition is the interior of the globe?” Half the class, “In a condition of igneous fusion!"
Terms like energy, momentum, rate of change, period of vibration, value, social justice, etc., are often used without a clear understanding. Vagueness of an idea may impair all reasoning regarding it.
Test What You Think You Already Know
Some central themes, e.g. freedom is a desirable thing, have well thought-out arguments that we tend to overlook because we agree with the statement. Studying philosophy, especially by thinkers who disagree, is valuable.
Restate Things In Different Ways or Points of View
There’s no such thing as understanding something but being unable to explain it.But repeating a statement in different words is not proving it, e.g. Why can one see through glass? Because it is transparent. To understand a conclusion, you must see the steps in its logical demonstration.
State a Thing Not Only Positively But Also Negatively
For conclusions and opinions, see what objections can be raised and address them. But for areas like mathematics, seeking objections isn’t gainful because the principles are rigid and not open to question.
Distill Statements to Fundamentals
Keep the Mind Active and Alert
On Encountering Different Points of View, Investigate Where the Divergence Arises
Beware of books with “lots of facts about a big idea” as they tend to be popular, yet gloss over uncertainties observed in experts' disagreements. Books that ask how we know something are more valuable.
A System of Study
Discover the Fundamental Idea
It helps you master the subject because the other details can be viewed in relation to the fundamental idea. Facts of secondary importance may then be left for later readings. Fundamental principles should frequently be memorized.
Lay Out Pre-Existing Knowledge
Classify what you already know [and what you don’t know]. If you know nothing, insist on getting a clear idea of the subject, its extent, objects, methods, applications and relations to other subjects. In doing so, you cultivate an interest in what you’re studying.
Classify and Arrange Your Learnings
Work Independently of Others
Nothing is true simply because it is in a book. It must pass the test of one’s understanding. In case the understanding is beyond the student, they must perceive whether it’s mere fact, definition or opinion.
Fix your mind intensely on one thing for a time long enough to develop an idea about it. Multitasking is correlated with poor performance in tasks like distnguishing between relevant and irrelevant information, keeping information in the right contextual box and retrieving it quickly, and switching between tasks.
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.
Thinking deeply is costly, and I can’t afford to be doing it all the time.
You can’t make good decisions without good thinking, and good thinking requires time. The busiest people are often the ones who make the worst decisions, and thus spend a lot of time correcting poor decisions.
- How You Know. Paul Graham. www.paulgraham.com . Dec 1, 2014.
- Your Book Review: How Children Fail. astralcodexten.substack.com . Jun 11, 2021.
- do your research - Explore - Google Trends. trends.google.com . Accessed Oct 29, 2021.
- You Must Not 'Do Your Own Research' When It Comes To Science. Ethan Siegel. www.forbes.com . Jul 30, 2020. Accessed Oct 29, 2021.
- Indexing and Abstracting Service. en.wikipedia.org . Accessed Oct 29, 2021.
- List of Academic Databases and Search Engines. en.wikipedia.org . Accessed Oct 29, 2021.
- How to Study. Chapter 0. Introduction. Swain, George Fillmore. 1917.
- How to Study. Chapter 1. The Proper Mental Attitude. Swain, George Fillmore. 1917.
- How to Study. Chapter 2. Studying Understandingly. Swain, George Fillmore. 1917.
- How to Study. Chapter 3. A System of Study. Swain, George Fillmore. 1917.
- How to Study. Chapter 4. Proper Habits and Methods of Work. Swain, George Fillmore. 1917.
- How to Think: The Skill You've Never Been Taught - Farnam Street. fs.blog . Accessed Dec 29, 2021.
- Solitude and Leadership: If you want others to follow, learn to be alone with your thoughts. Deresiewicz, William. theamericanscholar.org . 2009. Accessed Dec 29, 2021.
- How to Think: The Skill You’ve Never Been Taught | Hacker News. news.ycombinator.com . Accessed Dec 29, 2021.
- Overcoming Bias : My Favorite Liar. Kai Chang. www.overcomingbias.com . Accessed May 20, 2022.
- Uncertainties regarding historical facts. Andrew Gelman. statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu . Dec 18, 2022. Accessed Dec 18, 2022.