Monday, August 24, 2009

Self Education

We can say that Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult.
I strongly believe in the value of higher education, but it's just a guidance and support network. The real motivation and effort must come from the learner. As such, I also support autodidacticism, the practice of self-directed learning. I don't just link Wikipedia pages as an academically offensive form of citation. They contain information that's genuinely useful and accurate more often than not for people who want to learn more.

There are famous autodidacts in virtually every field of mathematics, science, music, and the arts. The list includes Albert Einstein and Frank Zappa, for example. That suggests there are no subjects a self-learner couldn't learn to master. The barriers are just natural aptitude and motivation, not field of study. Of course not everyone can understand quantum mechanics. But I suspect more often than not, people are held back by a lack of motivation, not a lack of aptitude.

That's not to suggest raw talent isn't important. Famous self-learners are famous explicitly because they happened to be so excellent in their field. Of all the people in the world, on those who both try to learn physics and have the talent will become the next Einsteins. Isaac Newton is famous for his work on Mathematics, Gravity, and Optics. But he also spent years working for the Royal Mint. We remember him most for the areas he excelled at.

I don't think it much matters if you try something new and aren't amazing at it. As long as you enjoy it, it's worthwhile. Over the past few months I've been teaching myself how to play classical piano. I'll never be Bach or even just a concern pianist. But I will be good enough that I can play some of Bach's works and that's all that matters to me. More than latent ability, I believe the most important factor is the audacious belief that you can teach yourself sometime new. BrainWorks itself is the result of that belief. I started with no relevant formal training in artificial intelligence and produced some pretty groundbreaking game AI.

You don't have to pick classical piano or AI research if you don't think you're up to the task. But surely there is something you don't know but could. Can you solve a Rubik's Cube? What meal do you enjoy the most that you can't yet cook? Do you know how a television works? What about how the Enigma code was broken in World War II? Can you sail a sailboat? Do you recognize constellations in the night sky? Have you ever made a piece of pottery? Repaired an automobile? Written a short story?

Humans are far wealthier now than at any previous time in history, and the mere fact that you can read this on a computer proves it. The latest Wall Street fallout is a drop in the bucket compared to the technological gains of the past century. More wealth converts itself to more leisure time if you want it to. That makes this coming century the setting of the greatest potential renaissance ever. Don't waste that time on television or Facebook. Find something you don't know you love and master it!


Numeron said...

I like this. I went through a phase some time ago where, with a friend, we taught ourselves how to skin rabbits shot with his 22 and make leather from the pelts, smith basic things in a home made furnace, and taylor ourselves some thai fisherman pants. Skills which are as practical as they are generally useless.
Embarrasingly the motivation was spawned from the MMO we were playing at the time, but it seems like the desire to continue learning has stuck. After all if I can do it once I can do it again.

Gros said...

Now it's been a year or 2 that I first visited your blog, and I didn't come across since then.

But now, I'm sure : I will always love you.


PS : no, Im not gay.