The 10th key to learning.
is key in learning? This is the tenth of a number of keys that are
meant to bring understanding about what learning is and how leaning can
be improved by understanding the message of those keys. This key is
about how essential 'learning to learn' is in improving learning and
making learning possible. This key sets out the beliefs, strategies and
skills that make
learning more than accidental random occurrences so
people can guide their own learning in this ever changing
"The only person who is educated is the
one who has learned how to learn and change." Carl
"Oh, that one could learn to learn in
time!" Enrique Solari
is meant by learning to learn?
Learning to learn is
meta-knowledge which includes
attitudes, beliefs, strategies and a number of hard to learn skills.
application of most of what is written on this site can be
as learning to learn especially that contained in the sections called
the twelve keys to learning.
explained in the first key "How the World Works" Learning is three
different processes which we may be performing simultaneously in any
waking moment. Learning is the converting of data or information into
knowledge via these three processes. The result is knowledge that is
restructured, added to, or generated.
Restructured means new information does not fit
well with our existing model of reality and that we have to change that
model in order for the new information to fit.
Added to means a new piece of information simply
slides into place like a piece in a jigsaw.
Generated means that new knowledge, that has never
existed before, is created by two slightly different processes.
Elimination) as learning.
The first type of learning process, and perhaps
function of the mind, is to produce solutions to the problems created
our needs. When we are young we must learn in order to build our mental
model of reality, to draw a map of that reality which will enable us to
solve these problems. This is the only way
infants can learn. Piaget called this learning process accommodation.
concerns the dissonance between incoming sensory data and the knowledge
(facts and theories) already existing in our minds (our
current model of reality).
requires that the new information be accommodated. We make
the knowledge in the model consistent or consonant with the
incoming data by changing the model. We change our model of
the new information will fit, make sense and be understandable with the
rest of our model of reality. In
the process of
doing this our model of reality is restructured. If this is done well,
we restructure our mental model optimally, the new structure has the
data embedded or integrated into the way we habitually process incoming
data or information in our everyday interactions with the external
newly structured map or model of
reality becomes the lens through which we then experience external
reality. It enables us to anticipate, or have expectations, of what
will occur and what we can make occur. It enables us to both predict
the future and to understand what cannot be predicted. This temporary
nature of our model occludes 'certainty' reducing the models
probabilities, and ones that must continually be adjusted to produce
a closer and
closer approximation of reality. That is to say that our maps or models
of reality are
composed of theories and so called facts that are likely to change at
any moment. They are transient or in a state of flux.
Perhaps the most important thing we need to learn
to test these theories
and eliminate the errors in them and then produce new theories to
replace them. Obviously
the better we get at employing this process in our daily
lives the better our learning, in terms of building a personal model of
reality, will become.
model of reality or cognitive structure is a type of learning that is
continually being refined. Although some facts and especially theories
are essential to this type of learning, how to
improve the application of this process is far more useful for this
sort of learning than mere facts and theories
Postman and Weingartner point out in their book
process by which we learn is what we really need to learn. While facts
and theories are the building blocks of our maps or models of reality
we have a greater need for special theories about how theories may be
tested and how facts may be found and evaluated:
"What students most need
to learn in schools is how to learn. ...It has come to be recognized
that the facts, definitions, and generalizations of a discipline - its
content - are the end products of the learning process, and tend to
have little meaning and durability from the student's point of view if
the processes of inquiry which produced them are not understood. It is
therefore asserted that the basic task of teaching is to help students
to learn how inquiries are made. What is important is not that students
be given answers - even 'right' answers - but that they learn how the
answers are produced, how knowledge is generated, how learning is
conducted. As Jerome Bruner remarks in 'Growth of Mind':"
"There is nothing more
central to a discipline than its way of thinking. There is nothing more
important in its teaching than to provide the child the earliest
opportunity to learn that way of thinking - the forms of connections,
hopes, jokes, and frustrations that go with it. ...At the very first
breath, the young learner should be given the chance to solve problems
to conjecture, to quarrel as these are done at the heart of the
Building a cognitive toolkit.
It turns out that this process of learning to
learn is not a single
process but rather a vast array of cognitive tools. In the book "This
Make You Smarter" John Brockman asked today's leading
intellectuals the following question; "What scientific concept would
improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" In other words, "What are the
tools that are used in science that could be used to make everyday
learning more efficient?" This question provides an
excellent introduction to an important part of
understanding what it is to learn to
learn. A good part of learning to learn is building a cognitive
learn is first and foremost leaning strategies for making learning
and just plain possible. These are meta-strategies. Evolution
has bequeathed to us a very efficient pattern recognizing brain that
perform miracles of learning from the moment we are born. But it is
flawed. The items
that make a cognitive toolkit are mostly devices for overcoming and
improving on the flaws embedded in our natural or intuitive
These meta-strategies can
sometimes be boiled down to simple statements but more is needed to
make them effective. Even when we remember and understand these
strategies we usually fail to apply them in normal life situations. It
is not enough to understand these ideas they have to become a working
part of our everyday experience, and they have to be
others so that they too use them in their everyday experience. Below
this site has tried, with the help of edge.org, to provide a partial
tools and as far as possible also provide ways of preventing such ideas
slipping away especially in ordinary everyday situations.
list of possible cognitive
what are likely items that might be in
cognitive toolkit? While an exhaustive list of such tools is impossible
here are some likely tools mostly from the book "This Will Make You
Smarter" which is a compilation of the answers on edge.org. This
list is meant to
provide a few sample items for inclusion and does not even represent
most of the answers that appear in the book or on edge.org. This
does make you smarter, (but then almost any good book will do that).
book, however, makes you very smart, but only while you are
it and a little while after. For you to become very smart continuously
after reading this book, you need to somehow embed these ideas in your
game plan for interacting with the world. You are only that much
smarter if you are able to use these tools in your normal
interaction with reality.
Knowledge is uncertain.
Many of the contributors to 'edge.org' explored various aspects of this
"The Uselessness of Certainty" by Carlo Rovelli,
"Uncertainty" by Lawrence Krauss and
"The Pessimistic Meta-Induction from the History of
Science" by Kathryn Schulz. This idea has been discussed at
considerable length on the "knowing.html"
page of this site, so it will
be discussed only briefly here. Knowledge is uncertain for three
very different reasons.
1/ Knowledge is uncertain
because we simply do not know who or what is scientifically acceptable.
This was always a problem, but it is even more so now we use the
Internet to find information.
we are presented with information by (so called)
experts or authorities how do we know if we can trust them? How can we
know if this
information is trustworthy enough for us to decide whether to accept it
model of reality or not? How can we
trust the theories of others sufficiently to be willing to make them
our own? How can we
trust information coming from outside ourselves that has not been
us? How can we discern what is acceptable as knowledge?
you think some information is likely to be true
because it is presented in a newspaper? Is it acceptable if it appears
in a prestigious
scientific journal? Is it acceptable if told to us by someone who's
judgment we trust? The answer is no, no and no. But if we can't trust
in news papers or scientific
journals, and we can't trust the judgment of the people we know, what
can we trust in? The short answer is that we
can't trust any authority, anyone or anything completely.
2/ Knowledge is uncertain
because the tools
we use to measure it have limits of exactness. In his answer to the
edge question Lawrence Krauss says in part:
is a central component of what makes science successful. Being able to
quantify uncertainty, and incorporate it into models, is what makes
science quantitative, rather than qualitative. Indeed, no number, no
measurement, no observable in science is exact. Quoting numbers without
attaching an uncertainty to them implies they have, in essence, no
is also uncertain
because neither science nor common sense can produce permanent,
certain answers. Science and common sense have always been
probabilistic. We just didn't know it. In her answer to the edge
question Kathryn Schulz says in part:
so many scientific theories from bygone eras have turned out to be
wrong, we must assume that most of todays theories will eventually
prove incorrect as well. And what goes for science goes in general.
Politics, economics technology,law, religion, medicine child rearing
education: No matter the domain of life, one generation's verities so
often become the next generation's falsehoods that we might as well
have a pessimistic meta-induction from the history of everything.
...despite its name, this idea
is not pessimistic. Or rather, it is only pessimistic if you hate being
Correlation is not a cause.
Most of us are familiar with the idea
that a correlation is not a cause, but the idea slips away from us in
everyday life, because we have been engineered by evolution to be
pattern recognizing creatures.
problem is that when we
find a correlation between between A and B there are many
Firstly it could be a coincidence that A and B occur together. To
eliminate this possibility we have to check that they occur together
fairly often. Secondly there is the possibility that A has caused B.
Thirdly there is the possibility that B has caused A even
though A seems to have occurred first. Does sleeping make us healthy or
does being unhealthy prevent us from seeping? Sometimes A and B occur
together because they were both caused by C. Still this is not all the
possibilities. A may indeed cause B but only if D also occurs or if E
does not occur.
this way we can see there
may be an almost infinite
amount of variables all of which have to be tested in varying
combinations to discover what cases what. The more, the number of
significant variables involved, the the less likely it is we will
discover anything. Outcomes with multiple causes can be difficult or
impossible to detect.
more and more causes are
found to be involved
our ability to get the same result every time disappears and
left with a change, a deviation or a result that only happens some of
the time. If a change happens fairly consistently this is
characterized as being a significant change, a significant deviation or
a significant result. But with many variables this becomes imposible
and the results are not significant. At that stage scientists have to
get lucky to
discover anything. What they are dealing with is not a cause or two
causes but a causal web.
terrible thing about cause and effect is our attraction to correlations
that any knowledge of science would would immediately disqualify as
causes, such as lucky socks, and you have to feel sorry for Mr. Boffo
above, whether he bets on the horse with his dog's name or not. It is
like our brains are wired to correlate any salient features of the
environment that occur simultaneously into a causal belief. The only
way to combat this as Sue Blackmore discovered is to turn the idea that
'correlation is not a Cause' into a procedural habit that
automatically confronts any perceived correlation. Sue Blackmore, in
her answer to the edge question,
is not a Cause" discovered
she could keep the idea from slipping away from her
student's minds by beginning each lecture with a strange correlation
the students to consider. She says in
soon discovered that this understanding tended to slip away again and
again, until I began a new regime, and started every lecture with an
invented example to get them thinking.
I might say "Suppose it's been discovered (I don't mean it's true) that
children who eat more tomato ketchup do worse in their exams. Why could
this be?" They would argue that it wasn't true (I'd explain the point
of thought experiments again). "But there'd be health warnings on
ketchup if it's poisonous" (Just pretend it's true for now please) and
then they'd start using their imaginations.
something in the ketchup that slows down nerves", "Eating ketchup makes
you watch more telly instead of doing your homework", "Eating more
ketchup means eating more chips and that makes you fat and lazy". Yes,
yes, probably wrong but great examples of A causes B — go on. And so to
"Stupid people have different taste buds and don't like ketchup",
"Maybe if you don't pass your exams your Mum gives you ketchup". And
finally " "Poorer people eat more junk food and do less well at school".
week: "Suppose we find that the more often people consult astrologers
or psychics the longer they live." "But it can't be true — astrology's
bunkum" (Sigh … just pretend it's true for now please.) OK.
"Astrologers have a special psychic energy that they radiate to their
clients", "Knowing the future means you can avoid dying",
"Understanding your horoscope makes you happier and healthier" Yes,
yes, excellent ideas, go on. "The older people get the more often they
go to psychics", "Being healthy makes you more spiritual and so you
seek out spiritual guidance". Yes, yes, keep going, all testable ideas,
and finally "Women go to psychics more often and also live longer than
The point is that once you
greet any new correlation with "CINAC" [correlation is not a cause]
imagination is let loose."
Randomness has three laws:
one states: "There is no
such thing as randomness." However, the web of causation for some
is so complex that we can only experience the event as random. There
are so many causes and their interaction is so tangled that we have
neither the science nor the brains capable of understanding the
pattern. However, this does not stop us from trying to discover simple
of causation and imposing them on the events. We are driven to do this
by our pattern seeking brains.
states: "Some events
are impossible to predict." Singular events always are just a
probability and some events have a probability so small that one would
think that it was an impossible event. However, as our predictions are
probabilities they are therefore not certain. Thus an outlier can occur
despite the high probability for it not to occur. Likewise an outlier
can occur when there is a low probability for anything to occur. These
events simply cannot be predicted. No matter how carefully you follow
the causal web acting on the event, you will never be able to predict
the event. Despite this, we always expect to keep winning when we are
winning, and expect our luck to change when we are loosing.
three states: "Random
events behave predictably in aggregate even when they're not
individually." In his answer to the edge question Charles
"Randomness" says in part:
"Randomness follows its own set
of rules — rules that make the behavior of a random process
understandable and predictable.
rules state that even
though a single random event might be completely unpredictable, a
collection of independent random events is extremely predictable — and
the larger the number of events, the more predictable they become. The
law of large numbers is a mathematical theorem that dictates that
repeated, independent random events converge with pinpoint accuracy
upon a predictable average behavior. Another powerful mathematical
tool, the central limit theorem, tells you exactly how far off that
average a given collection of events is likely to be. With these tools,
no matter how chaotic, how strange a random behavior might be in the
short run, we can turn that behavior into stable, accurate predictions
in the long run."
These three laws etc., if they could be kept
uppermost in our minds so that they become part of our habitual
interactions with the external world, would indeed be a very useful
In his answer to the edge question
"Experimentation" Roger Schank explains that the word
experiment has lost its meaning over time. He explains that we tend to
associate the word with the experiments we did in science class at
school. He goes on to point
out that we perform experiments all the time, but because we are
unaware that we are performing experiments, we do not apply
the rules for good experimentation to those actions. We have in fact
allowed a valuable cognitive tool to be
disassociated from our everyday experience and we need to reclaim it.
In his answer to the edge question Roger Schank say in part:
is something done by everyone all the time. Babies experiment with what
might be good to put in their mouths. Toddlers experiment with various
behaviors to see what they can get away with. Teenagers experiment with
sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But because people don't really see
these things as experiments nor as ways of collecting evidence in
support or refutation of hypotheses, they don't learn to think about
experimentation as something they constantly do and thus will need to
learn to do better.
time we take a prescription drug we are conducting an experiment. But,
we don't carefully record the results after each dose, and we don't run
controls, and we mix up the variables by not changing only one behavior
at a time, so that when we suffer from side effects we can't figure out
what might have been the true cause. We do the same thing with personal
relationships. When they go wrong, we can't figure out why because the
conditions are different in each one.
while it is difficult if not impossible to conduct controlled
experiments in most aspects of our own lives, it is possible to come to
understand that we are indeed conducting an experiment when we take a
new job, or try a new tactic in a game we are playing, or when we pick
a school to attend, or when we try and figure out how someone is
feeling, or when we wonder why we ourselves feel the way we do."
The randomized double-blind
experiment. Richard Dawkins in his answer to the edge
"The Double-Blind Control Experiment" approached this same
cognitive tool from a different direction.
He suggests that the reason why people do not apply experimental
procedure in every day experience may be because they are not
familiar with how any good experiment should be designed, that we may
be unfamiliar with the
biases, randomness, etc. that a well designed experiment is trying to
compensate for. He therefore suggests that everybody should learn and
understand good experimental procedure as part of their normal
learning experience. Dawkins in his answer says in part:
that the double-blind control experiment does double duty. It is more
than just an excellent research tool. It also has educational, didactic
value in teaching people how to think critically. My thesis is that you
needn't actually do double-blind control experiments in order to
experience an improvement in your cognitive toolkit."
is how we implement free will. If we do not wish to learn about
something we can intentionally not attend to it, and if we do want to
lean something we can intentionally attend to it. Jonah
Lehrer likens this to moving around a spotlight. Your ability to learn
can be more under your control if you control the attention you place
on incoming data. In
"Control Your Spotlight" Jonah Lehrer says in part:
"These correlations demonstrate
the importance of learning to strategically allocate our attention.
When we properly control the spotlight, we can resist negative thoughts
and dangerous temptations. We can walk away from fights and improve our
odds against addiction. Our decisions are driven by the facts and
feelings bouncing around the brain — the allocation of attention allows
us to direct this haphazard process, as we consciously select the
thoughts we want to think about."
The shifting baseline syndrome.
How things are in the world is changing all the time, but we are
tempted to see how things are at the moment, as what is normal. A
baseline is a starting point, the reference point, from which
else is calculated. Unfortunately baselines seem to be seen
as what is normal, and what is normal is seen as how things
are when each person first encounters how particular things are in the
world. Thus as new people become involved in any project making
observations over time the baseline tends to change for that project
with their changing perspectives. This is an important cognitive tool.
In his answer to the edge
question Paul Kedrosky has the following to say in
"Shifting Baseline Syndrome" as follows:
1995 fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly coined a phrase for this
troubling ecological obliviousness — he called it "shifting baseline
syndrome". Here is how Pauly first described the syndrome:
generation of fisheries scientist accepts as baseline the stock
situation that occurred at the beginning of their careers, and uses
this to evaluate changes. When the next generation starts its career,
the stocks have further declined, but it is the stocks at that time
that serve as a new baseline. The result obviously is a gradual shift
of the baseline, a gradual accommodation of the creeping disappearance
of resource species…"
It is blindness, stupidity, intergeneration data obliviousness. Most
scientific disciplines have long timelines of data, but many ecological
disciplines don't. We are forced to rely on second-hand and anecdotal
information — we don't have enough data to know what is normal, so we
convince ourselves that this is normal.
But it often isn't normal. Instead, it is a steadily and insidiously
shifting baseline, no different than convincing ourselves that winters
have always been this warm, or this snowy. Or convincing ourselves that
there have always been this many deer in the forests of eastern North
America. Or that current levels of energy consumption per capita in the
developed world are normal. All of these are shifting baselines, where
our data inadequacy, whether personal or scientific, provides dangerous
cover for missing important longer-term changes in the world around us.
When you understand shifting baseline syndrome it forces you to
continually ask what is normal. Is this? Was that? And, at least as
importantly, it asks how we "know" that it's normal. Because, if it
isn't, we need to stop shifting the baselines and do something about it
before it's too late."
The base rate. The
base rate in statistics is that science's most important tool and the
one non statisticians most frequently misunderstand and overlook. It is
however essential in considering any statistical phenomenon, which we
in everyday life all the time. In his answer to the edge
Base Rate" Keith Devlin explains in part:
statistician wants to predict the likelihood of some event based on the
available evidence, there are two main sources of information that have
to be taken into account:
evidence itself, for which a reliability figure has to be calculated;
2. The likelihood of the event calculated purely in terms of relative
figure here is the base rate. Since it is just a number, obtained by
the seemingly dull process of counting, it frequently gets overlooked
when there is new information, particularly if that new information is
obtained by "clever experts" using expensive equipment. In cases where
the event is dramatic and scary, like a terrorist attack on an
airplane, failure to take account of the base rate can result in
wasting massive amounts of effort or money trying to prevent something
that is very unlikely."
Almost 40% of all human actions can be classified as habits. These
habits to a large extent exemplify path dependence. With
habits the original reason for performing an action has in all
been forgotten or
repudiated; nevertheless the habit once
in place tends to continue and feels normal. In his answer to the edge
question John McWhorter in
"Path Dependence" explains in part:
"In an ideal world all people would
spontaneously understand that what political scientists call
path dependence explains much more of how the world works than
is apparent. Path dependence refers to the fact that often, something
that seems normal or inevitable today began with a choice that made
sense at a particular time in the past, but survived despite the
eclipse of the justification for that choice, because once established,
external factors discouraged going into reverse to try other
The paradigm example is the seemingly
illogical arrangement of letters on typewriter keyboards. Why not just
have the letters in alphabetical order, or arrange them so that the
most frequently occurring ones are under the strongest fingers? In
fact, the first typewriter tended to jam when typed on too quickly, so
its inventor deliberately concocted an arrangement that put A under the
ungainly little finger. In addition, the first row was provided with
all of the letters in the word typewriter so that
salesmen, new to typing, could wangle typing the word using just one
Einstein's blade in Occam's razor.
Occam's razor is about the fact that complications that are not
necessary should also be unlikely to occur, and is often stated in the
"If a number of theories about an event all seem equally likely in that
everything else seems equal, then the simplest theory is to be
preferred. Einstein improved on this idea when he restated the idea a
little more effectively. In his answer to the edge question
Blade in Occam's Razor" Kai Krause
draws our attention to this:
hesitation towards overuse of parsimony was expressed perfectly in the
quote by Albert Einstein, arguably the counterpart "blade" to Ockham's
razor: "Things should be made as simple as possible — but not simpler"
Shaving away non-essential conjectures is a
good thing, a worthy inclusion in "everybody's toolkit" — and so is the
corollary: not to overdo it!"
intelligence. We are beginning to become aware in science,
that intelligence is actually collective action, that in sufficient
numbers, becomes intelligence. In his answer to the edge question Matt
"Collective Intelligence" expresses the idea that any
intelligence including our own may be superior because of emergent
collective intelligence rather than individual intelligence:
"The key to
human achievement is not individual intelligence at all. The reason
human beings dominate the planet is not because they have big brains:
Neanderthals had big brains but were just another kind of predatory
ape. Evolving a 1200-cc brain and a lot of fancy software like language
was necessary but not sufficient for civilization. The reason some
economies work better than others is certainly not because they have
cleverer people in charge, and the reason some places make great
discoveries is not because they have smarter people.
achievement is entirely a networking phenomenon. It is by putting
brains together through the division of labor — through trade and
specialization — that human society stumbled upon a way to raise the
living standards, carrying capacity, technological virtuosity and
knowledge base of the species. We can see this in all sorts of
phenomena: the correlation between technology and connected population
size in Pacific islands; the collapse of technology in people who
became isolated, like native Tasmanians; the success of trading city
states in Greece, Italy, Holland and south-east Asia; the creative
consequences of trade."
Cumulative error is about information transformations. The more
transformations that information goes through the more likely there is
be errors. With some forms of error these transcription errors can be a
source of creativity and improvements as with the mutations in
evolution and the embellishment of myths and legends. However, most of
changes are for the worse as the idea is to reproduce
information perfectly. It then follows that, if we know that changes
occur we try to design systems to compensate for such changes. In his
answer to the edge question
"Cumulative error" Jaron Lanier says in
is the stuff of children's games. In the game of "telephone," a secret
message is whispered from child to child until it is announced out loud
by the final recipient. To the delight of all, the message is typically
transformed into something new and bizarre, no matter the sincerity and
care given to each retelling.
Falsifiability or refutability. This is
the idea that an assertion, hypothesis or theory
is scientific only when there is the logical possibility that it can be
by an observation or the outcome of a physical experiment. That
something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather it means,
it is false, then some observation or experiment will produce a
reproducible result that is in conflict with it. Popper
points out that no number of confirming instances will
ever provide proof (and thus the certainty) of an assertion. At the
same time a
single anomaly can throw an assertion into serious doubt and
(at least) temporarily disprove or refute it. In this way Popper also
reveals that knowledge is provisional, temporary and likely to change.
idea, as one might guess, was championed by the philosopher Karl Popper
and has to stand as
the epitome of science for the simple reason that humans are flawed
creatures. Humans will, if left without this guide to scientific rigor,
seek to try and confirm any hypothesis we may encounter regardless of
the paucity of evidence to justify its existence. In his book
Believe Everything You Think" Thomas Kida puts it like this: "Our
tendency to confirm is so ingrained in our cognitive makeup that we
confirm even if we don't have a prior belief or expectation...".
We tend to try and confirm what we believe, what we conjecture, what we
are told, and anything else that does not conflict with our current
model of reality. In his book Kida provides a wide variety of differing
examples of the
errors, misguided heuristics, and misunderstandings that this
we set out to disprove our hypotheses as
a matter of procedural rigor (be
they scientific or everyday) instead of setting out to confirm them, it
is less likely we will be led astray
by confirmation bias. While
the history of science may
teach us that scientific theories come to be accepted above all because
of their successes (as Sokal and Bricmont believe) none the less
theories in astronomy are refuted all the time while theories in
astrology are never refuted despite a fairly constant stream of
incorrect predictions. Astrology does not change but astronomy is in a
constant state of flux. Thus by Popper's estimation astrology is not
science while astronomy is.
These meta-self-beliefs are
what we believe about our ability to change
ourselves and the world around us. It is what has elsewhere been called
a growth mindset. This belief has been
studied extensively by Carol Dweck and her colleagues. Dweck discovered
that people, depending on their upbringing, their nurturing, their
environmental contingencies, tended to fall fairly evenly into two
categories of belief about change. This is not to say that the people
in each group strongly believed one way or the other but that people
held a wide spectrum of various beliefs that averaged into one group or
the other. Some people tended to believe that they could change
themselves and the world around them by means of effort, hard work and
persistence. This group she called the growth mindset group. The other
people tended to believe their lot was fixed at birth and that they
could do nothing to change themselves or their world. This group she
called the fixed
discovered, that whichever beliefs about change these people held,
had an enormous impact on their lives. Those with a growth mindset she
discovered were better off in every way. They were happier, more
productive, more successful etc. However, what is most significant to
here is that those with a growth mindset learned better. Why did they
learn better? Two reasons. They learned better because they understood
that they needed to make an effort to learn. Those with a fixed mindset
tended to see making an effort to learn as an indicator of low
intelligence. Secondly, they learned better because they believed they
could learn. They believed
that no skill or area of knowledge was beyond them, and that all they
needed to do in order to learn was to put in sufficient effort or hard
also discovered that these groups were not stable, and that people
easily be shifted from one group to the other by means of simple
interventions. This is an incredibly important discovery because it
allows people to chose which group they wish to be in. It is not just
an accident or random occurrence which group they are in. It is not
a matter of what was done to nurture them in the past. It is possible
with this meta knowledge to place oneself in the growth mindset group
as an act of freewill.
People usually tend to think
their personal beliefs are very stable
entities that do not vary at all. There is some reason to believe,
however, that our personal beliefs might be quite unstable. Beliefs may
in fact change from moment to moment. Good arguments, solid evidence
etc. may cause us to change our minds, if only for a moment, till we
can marshal counter arguments and evidence to rejustify our original
beliefs. Sure we can
find out the beliefs of one person today and check again years later,
and those beliefs may be exactly the same. However, it simply does not
that beliefs once installed are permanent stable entities. Those
beliefs need not have remained unchanged all that time. Those beliefs
may have drifted back and forth and even have radically changed back
and forth during that time. When we have certain beliefs we tend to
place ourselves in circumstances that reinforce those beliefs thus we
see those beliefs as unchanging. We do this often by reiterating our
beliefs to ourselves and others. However, when we run into
circumstances that refute those beliefs we may in fact have our beliefs
considerably changed, at least temporarily.
being the case long term change in what we believe may simply
change in the circumstances of our environment which after some time
nudges us to
reinforce different beliefs to our previous beliefs over a further long
of time. Change the environment permanently and the beliefs change sort
of permanently. Rather than an epiphany being necessary for a mind to
change, a change may occur because the temporary change in our beliefs
happening till eventually it becomes so pressing that we have to
integrate it with our other beliefs. The dissonance may cause us to
restructure our model of reality so it is fully integrated into that
Very simple interventions
have been shown in various social psychology
research experiments to change, not only our beliefs, but how we feel,
how we walk and what we think, all on a temporary basis. This type of
research is called priming. In priming research it has been shown that
very small interventions (environmental changes) can make us
to certain beliefs. For instance it can enable us to overcome our
prejudice temporarily. Simply by being reminded of the achievements of
blacks we can become less prejudiced against them. Thus watching black
people winning at the Olympics can temporarily enable us to become less
prejudiced against them. These temporary influences if made a permanent
part of our environment would enable us to change and become better
and morally stronger people. A few well placed words or pictures can
change us for
the better if often repeated.
Primed for growth.
Most importantly for our
purposes, experiments in priming show us how
little is needed in the form of intervention to change our beliefs and
in the case of Dwecks two mindsets how easily people can be channeled
(nudged) toward one set of beliefs rather than the other. Indeed
Dweck's experiments involved very little in the way of intervention
often no more that a couple of spoken words that changed praise of a
person into praise of effort. In other words we can prime our children
to be more oriented toward growth and and to believe, that they can
through effort and hard work, change the world around them. Also we
can with the knowledge of how this priming intervention works take
control of our own beliefs and thus be able to perpetuate, change and
sculpt our own beliefs so that we too believe that through effort and
hard work we can change the world around us.
Sculpting our beliefs.
interventions are neither complex nor difficult to
perform, although they are somewhat counter intuitive. It is just a
matter of having the environment so organized as to show the absolute
superiority of the ability to learn over any other ability. If your
environment continually shows you that you are improving at whatever
you are learning then you will believe you can continue to learn. If
your environment continually shows you that working hard at learning
enables you to
accomplish great things you will want to continue to work hard at
learning and thus
accomplish. If your environment continually shows you that
effort to learn pays off with increased skills and ability, you will
want to make the best effort you can in all you are trying to do. If
your environment continually tells you that persisting in trying to
learn and trying to do brings results, eventually you will persist more
and learn more. It's all about determining and forming these beliefs
and embedding them
so completely they the become part of our mental model of reality.
Dweck and colleagues
invented many ways to perform this sort of
intervention. As this is
discussed in detail on the self-theories
page it will only be discussed
here briefly Firstly, the mere
presentation of the mindset concept by itself was found
to significantly move people toward a belief that the world
be changed by them.
Dweck discovered that nature nurture debate in the science of
intelligence and genius had a significant influence on whether people
believed they could change the world or not. Those who believed that
their fate was determined by their genes also tended to believe that
they were limited by those genes and thus were not motivated to try
hard. Thus a simple small article that produced evidence for the
nurture argument could temporarily orient people to believing they
change the world.
Dweck discovered, counter intuitive though it seems, praising people
tended to produce a belief that people could not change the world. On
the other hand she found that praising hard work, effort and
persistence tended to reinforce a belief that people can learn
anything and change the world.
we tend to want to bolster people's by telling them they have done
even if they havn't, this is counter productive to producing a growth
belief. Dweck and coleagues found, again, counter intuitively, that
criticism worked to promote a growth belief. She discovered that
criticizing effort, and hard work, if people's efforts were
weak or they did not work hard, was likely to induce a belief that
the world could be
changed and anything learned.
Drawing attention to improvement.
Likewise, Dweck and her associates found that drawing attention to
progress or improvement similarly induced a belief that any skill would
eventually be learned and any ability would eventually be learned.
Creativity is the
second type of learning process. Of course creativity plays a part
our model or map of reality. We must be creative in order to to invent
conjecture needed to resolve the incompatibilities in our map of
reality. In this way creativity requires many of the same cognitive
tools as are required for updating our models of reality. These same tools inform the
processes of propagating new, novel, unique knowledge.
Creativity requires large amounts
of facts and theories.
Unlike mere trial and error adjustment of our model of reality,
creativity requires that we hold vast amounts of data in our brains. It
does not matter much what this data is only that we have large amounts
of data that we can recall and it is woven intricately together so that
is part of our personal model of reality. This large database of
knowledge is the essential requirement for any type of expertese and is
one of the most important preconditions for creativity. The bigger the
database of subject knowledge the more likely a person is to be
From inspiration to contribution.
While creation is always
in the solving the problems of satisfying our needs, creation is also
about what motivates us to be
creative. What we need
know in every
sphere of subject matter is what was going on in the minds of those who
made discoveries or produced the ideas in the past; why were they
looking in that area, what were the problems they were trying to solve.
This not only relates facts, generalizations and theory to reality,
but turns, that which is essentially boring to the mind (facts
into an adventure of
discovery, an exciting game or story, which will interest and perhaps
inspire those learning, to not only want to learn more, but to maybe
contribute. This is not only learned from others but also can be
learned by stepping back and examining our own actions in
The transient nature of facts and
If the knowledge found in our personal maps of reality were not enough
to covince us that all facts and theories are mere impermanent and
temporary constructs, then creativity makes us certain of this. Every
act of creativity creates new knowledge that continually replaces,
improves and refines the knowledge it replaces. In this way
although large amounts of subject knowledge are essential for
creativity it becomes clear that it is the questions and not the
answers that are truly important. The questions, the
arguments, and the how of finding the answers remain when facts and
theories are altered or erased. The facts, theories
(the major content of our maps of reality) are ephemeral and
insubstantial, ever changing and becoming
something else. They are here one moment and maybe gone the next.
Creativity for the love of
conjecture and creativity. There
is a kind of creativity that is not
about changing our map of reality to accommodate information
that currently does not fit, nor is it really about problem
such. It is about generating something new, novel and unique not to
solve a problem but rather simply for its own sake. If we are unafraid
wrong we can explore scenarios that we know to be wrong. This kind of
creativity is a special kind of learning that can only be performed if
we are willing to ignore the dogma within and formulate conjecture for
the love of conjecture. We can formulate conjecture when our personal
map of reality or our theories have been partially invalidated or we
can also formulate them when there is a problem, but with this kind of
creativity our theories have
not been disconfirmed in any way, nor is there any problem. We can even
when there is no problem at all and no disconformation of our maps of
All creative generation starts with
the rush to judgment, the dogma within, and this type of creativity is
no different. This type of creativity is called by many names,
day dreaming, free associating, or as Kelly describes it as loosening
of the constructs. Creativity for the love of it happens when our maps
of reality are mostly ignored or temporarly restructured into alternate
usually unlikely realities. This
type of creativity is in a sense doing the very opposite of taking a
conjecture tested in reality and accomodating it into our maps of
reality, thus revising those maps. It is rather about evisioning,
imagining new realities and then testing those against reality. This
kind of creativity requires the blurring of
thought boundaries. It is about the bleeding of ideas one into the
other. It is about the enabling of temporary chaos from which a new
order may be carved. This is the creativity that can be brought about
things that have no reason to be brought together and which are
illogical to be brought together. This
kind of creativity is creativity for its own sake, bringing about the
new novel and unique when no need for it exists. This does not mean,
however, that it has no use. Indeed it might solve problems that we had
thought of and might never have thought of. This is the kind of
creativity that helps us despite our not knowing what we need to know
meta-strategies and meta-beliefs.
meta-beliefs and meta-strategies to enhance creation are covered in the
this site concerned with creativity and thus will only be discussed
Inborn potential for creativity
and genius and meta-strategies for how to preserve it.
are inborn potentials to being creative that most people lose through
our current socialization processes that could be encouraged instead of
being discouraged. The thesis of the genius
page is that we are nearly
all born with the potential to be great, a genius, eminent or highly
creative and that social conditions in our lives are such that for most
of us this does not happen. Some potential abilities are lost because
social circumstances conspire to prevent or hinder their development.
These potentials seem to be
very difficult to try to reacquire later in life, although perhaps not
Meta-strategies for creative self
improvement and the facilitation of the same in others.
There are strategies that if
made part of our cognitive toolkit that would ensure that almost every
human was creative. This is discussed fully on this site's creativity
page. The main things to understand about creativity
Firstly, that it has to be
intrinsically motivated and that attempts to motivate it by others will
fail. Creativity only takes place in environments that are
self-determined. Any attempts to control creativity will fail.
Secondly, that it requires
about 10,000 hours to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to be
able to make a significant contribution. The importance of the
creativity varies with this skill and domain knowledge.
Thirdly, creativity is
'order' generated out of 'chaos' and requires the ability to bring
ideas together into a gestalt of something new and unique. Thus
creativity generally cannot be achieved by staying within a single
field. Indeed to increase the likelihood of creativity one should
expose one's self to differing knowledge domains and indeed change who
you talk to and where you go as much as possible. In other words expose
yourself to ideas outside your comfort zone.
Fourthly, creativity takes
place mostly in the unconscious. Thus unconscious processes need to
have time and place allowed for them.
Fifthly, creativity requires
postponement of judgment both by ones self and by
for implementing social conditions that induce
greater creativity in societies.
are social conditions,
that if in place, tend to make people creative by means of how they
interact with one another. In his book
Good Ideas Come From"
Steven Johnson lays out most of these social conditions for creativity.
This is also covered on this site's sociocreativity
Innovations can only happen when all the pieces are in place for them
to happen. This is elaborated on in the answer to the edge question
Koliedoscopic Discovery Engine" by Clifford Pickover in
says in part:
we examine discoveries in science and mathematics, in hindsight we
often find that if one scientist did not make a particular discovery,
some other individual would have done so within a few months or years
of the discovery. Most scientists, as Newton said, stood on the
shoulders of giants to see the world just a bit further along the
horizon. Often, more than one individual creates essentially the same
device or discovers the same scientific law at about the same time, but
for various reasons, including sheer luck, history sometimes remembers
only the more famous discoverer."
Innovation and creativity happens through the modeling of skills and
communication of ideas. In times gone by this meant putting more and
more people in one place like a city. These days with telephones and
the Internet ideas can often be communicated better and easier when
never meet physically.
The slow hunch.
Creativity comes slowly not with two bits of information coming
together but with many bits of information coming together thus
providing another reason for communication and people being
society's to make and tolerate errors which is an important part
of serendipity. Some of the most important innovations and creative
works were mistakes which highly creative people were able to recognize
as being informational rather than just wrong.
accidents are the most
important social generators of creativity. There are various ways to
induce chaos and thus serendipity such as brain storming and De Bono's
ideas. These ideas do not work unless they are part of your normal
interaction with the world. Brainstorming is constrained by peoples
fear of looking stupid. In his answer to the edge
question Jason Zweig suggests that we all can increase the likelihood
our coming up with creative ideas by intentionally exposing ourselves
areas of knowledge that are not part of our habitual style of
interaction with the world.
works best at the interface between domains of knowledge where
knowledge in one domain illuminates information in a different domain.
Ideas are hijacked from one domain to another.
Platforms. This is where
one technology opens up the possibility of a new type of creativity.
Computers for instance opened up the possibility of programing them
software rather than have the programs wired in. A whole new type of
creativity was possible that was dependent on the existence of
The fourth quadrant. As
more and more people are able to be creative the need for any extrinsic
motivation becomes less and less necessary and this greases the
creative wheels because creativity works better with intrinsic
motivation and extrinsic motivation, for the most part, is detrimental
The commons. Creativity
works best in open systems where all people have full access to all the
information available. As all new ideas are built on old ideas the
access to any and all information becomes essential. Structures like
patents and copyright which essentially suppress the flow of
information are a blight on creativity.
are special people who for whatever reasons show early creativity.
Prodigies are discussed fully on this site's giftedness page. Prodigies
can be encouraged and mentored to reach their full potential.
(1) Do not discourage inborn
potentials. Instill in gifted people the belief they can with effort
(2) Facilitate creative
strategies in prodigies. Remember the first rule of creation is to
(3) Do place prodigies in
creative communities. Remember creativity comes from sharing our own
ideas and sharing the ideas of others in return.
culturally heritable common knowledge as learning.
The third type of learning
process is what teachers and parents more usually
understand to be learning. That
is the absorbing or assimilating of
the information currently in the body of
knowledge accepted by our
culture. That is to say it is passing of our culture's world view on to the next generation.
It is this kind of leaning that makes us different to other animals and
gives us our main evolutionary advantage.
There is, however, an
assumption about this kind of learning. It is assumed that because
others have found this knowledge to be mostly consistent it can simply
be added to what is in a person's current mental model without causing
any conflict or dissonance. It is assumed that this knowledge is
additive and does not require any restructuring of the mental model or
map. It is assumed that because the common knowledge model of reality
personal models of reality should not find it inconsistent with
themselves. It is assumed the information can simply be memorized.
unfortunately are false assumptions.
This kind of learning of our
cultural heritage of knowledge then,
sometimes is a
simple absorption or assimilation process, as has been assumed. But at other times, for
whatever reason, the new information does in fact conflict with the
information already in our mental model and has to be accommodated.
is a problem because we usually have no way we could test this new
and yet we are expected to restructure our mental models on the basis
of it. Also the testing of so much information would be so time
consuming as to allow only the tiniest amount of such
information to be absorbed.
This heritable body of
common knowledge can
be divided into 4 distinct types, (1) so called facts, (2) theories,
(3) the skills by which facts and theories are arrived at or found when
we need it (meta
skills), (4) the
meta facts and meta theories that allow us to determine which data is
true facts and theories. They allow us to discriminate between fact and
fiction, theory and pseudo theory.
Facts. Of these of these types
of knowledge facts are the least important. Facts
are items that stand
alone and are not well connected to anything else.
They are extremely difficult to remember, and are mostly useless in
where they are embedded as part of a skill or knowledge base and often
unconsciously. When they are used consciously it is not necessary that
they be recalled from our memories, and the shear amount of them
precludes that we can store and recall many of them.
are easily found, when they are needed, Facts can be used as
needed by means of recall not from our personal memories but from an
external memory that is part of our heritable knowledge (Poppers third
world) held in cyberspace for us on the web and accessed by means of
search engines, those miricales of modern day technology.
As Postman and Weingartner
point out in their book
"Linguistics" facts are becoming
obsolescent with increasing quickness.
"'Fact Obsolescence' is
one of the most vivid signs of our times. What are students to do with
a random collection of obsolete facts? How do students learn to
evaluate what they know? What have they been taught that will enable
them to ask the questions that need to be asked? How will they continue
so long ago the amount of knowledge in the
world was not so great that a great man might feel himself able to
encompass it all or at least not feel he needed any special knowledge
about how to go about learning. But our cultural heritage of common
knowledge grows in
this age as a geometric progression, and no one, genius or not, can
pace with it. Because of this, the skills involved in the learning
process have become the most
important thing we can learn. Instead of learning what the latest facts
are we have to start learning how those facts came into
being what people did and why they did it to discover them. In other
words learning not what but how it was done. In their essay in
Howard Kirchenbaum and Sydney Simon had this to say:
"...in a world in which
the amount of knowledge increases geometrically, and in which no one
can keep pace with it, we need to change the emphasis from what to
learn to how to learn. The new curriculum projects have emphasized the
process of the discipline, the ways in which the historian or scientist
goes about investigating his subject. The shift has been from content
to process. Learning how to learn has become more important than the
specific facts and concepts learned."
are what hold facts
together and thus many facts can
be derived from them. They are highly interconnected and connected and
so are easier to remember. They are both useful and used. Even
as facts become temporary and less important than the skills involved
in finding and evaluating them so have theories. Instead of learning
what the latest
theories are we have to start learning how those theories came into
being what people did and why they did it to create them. In other
words learning not what but how it was done. Theory replaces facts and
how to find and evaluate theories replaces both of them.
meta-skills of learning to learn.
Learning how to learn has
always involved learning a number of
these meta-skills. These
skills are essential for learning at a high level to take place. They
include the following; learning to talk, learning how to read, learning
how to write, learning how to use a computer, learning how to find
books and other stored information such as searching the
goes by the importance of these various meta-skills is changing. Some
skills like learning to use search engines are becoming more and more
important. All meta-skills
were less important
in the past, where all the information we needed to know could be
memorized and and recalled to be used when we needed it. But now, what
we need to know is vast and not permanent during our lifetimes. It is
so much and changing so fast that there is no way we can keep it all in
heads. Our whole way of knowing and using this knowledge
very different to how people knew and used knowledge in the past. Now
we need to be able to find information when we need it and be able to
convert it into knowledge we can use on the spot.
a world that is
constantly changing, there is no one subject or set of subjects that
will serve you for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of
your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to
learn." futurist John Nesbit
Learning how to find data
when we need it.
We can improve the economy
of storage in our minds by omitting nearly all these transient facts
a lot of
transient theory. We can concentrate on process and especially the
finding information and assembling it into knowledge on the fly. In
terms of vocation facts
no longer really need to be
remembered. (Who needs a multiplication table in these days of pocket
calculators?) To a very large extent theories no longer need to be
remembered in detail either. These things can be stored in books and
more especially in computers and drawn upon as needed. Knowing where to
find facts and theories and how to find them is what is now important.
Learning in the current age
is very different to
what has gone before. These days computer and Internet savvy children
no longer have to rely on their memories to dredge up specific
information. Facts and even theories do not have to be remembered. All
that has to be remembered is what key words can be used to access that
information from the Internet. The memories of these students, what Don
Tapscot calls Net Geners, are very different in that their memories
carry much less specific factual or theoretical information. Their
memories contain very general information mostly relating to where
specific information can be found and particularly where to find it on
the net. Net Geners tend to actually feel stupider when they are away
from their computer because they no longer have that specific
information at their fingertips. It is no wonder that the new
cellphones that have Internet access are so popular with Net Geners.
That way they are never cut off from access to facts and theories when
they might need them.
Of course we never did have
to remember every
little fact or theory even in the quite distant past. Although the way
we were tested often gave the
impression that we needed to remember every little bit of information.
always the possibility of looking information up in books and journals.
But now with the Internet we have the ability to find information so
quickly that it takes virtually the same time as if we were remembering
it. As Marshall McLuhan might say the Internet has truly become an
extension of our central nervous system.
"To Understand is to Invent" called into question why exams were
concerned almost totally with memorizing and that what was tested was
the ability to recall. He pointed out that a student was simply
answers: "(...as if he were condemned never to be able to
use his books once he was out of school!)."
Perhaps the most important type of learning to
learn or meta learning that we now perform is the learning of how to to
find the information that we need when we need to find it and learning
the meta-skill of being able to convert such information into usable
knowledge quickly and efficiently as we need it on the run.
Learning how to deternine if data
can be trusted. This
in a sense is the most important knowledge we need to learn. Despite
this we will only look at here briefly, because we have thoroughly
dicussed this subject on this site's page called "knowing" which can be
reached by clicking here.
can learn new things at any time in
your life if you're willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to
like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you." Barbara
still need to remember large amounts of facts and theories.
In his book
Ian Leslie suggests that
some education reformers have misunderstood the message above and
somehow have come to believe that the purpose of education is only to
teach children how to learn. He says in part:
contemporary version of this progressive philosophy is associated with
the phrase 'learning skills' (sometimes called 'higher order skills',
'thinking skills' or more recently, twenty-first century skills... The
proponents of 'learning skills' are more concerned with how schools
prepare pupils for the world of work. They share the progressive belief
that schools should spend less time on teaching specific knowledge of
specific subjects. Instead, they argue, schools should focus on
abstract skills like creativity, problem-solving, critical thought and
curiosity. Such skills it is said will equip children for whatever the
future throws at them."
The implication is that somehow the learning of
facts and theories need not be persued until we have use for them. This
site is not sure if such a reformist idea does indeed exist, but it
clearly cannot be correct if it does. Despite the change in the kind of
knowledge being held in people's memories, it should be obvious that a
certain amount of facts and theories still
have to be learned as they have an important part to play.
1. Firstly our personal maps or models of
reality are constructed out of facts and theories. Without facts and
theories there would be no personal maps of reality.
creativity requires large fields of data to be packed into our
memories. Without large amounts of data availible to be manipulated
within our brains we could not create anything.
3. It is only when we are absorbing the massive data
that has been accumulated by our ancestors over billions of years and
bequethed to us, that we realize that it is simply beyond our capacity to absorb it all.
Despite the above, all this information is still
to us and we can access it as needed from the external memory
devices where it is held.
desire for life long learning as a superior life script.
Learning how to learn ultimately is the
meta-learning of life long learning. It is
provides us with, not just the intrinsic pleasure of feeling
competent, not merely that we have the skills to cope with
whatever life throws at us,
but also gives us a kind of meta-competence confidence, the feeling
that we can
shoot for the stars and succeed. This is the confident feeling that we
competent at learning itself. It is the feeling that life is our oyster
or a feast from which we can pick and choose as we please. These
feelings of competence and meta-competence are what makes
learning efficient and also a delight. There is nothing more
frustrating in life than trying to learn and seemingly never getting
anywhere. The efficient learning, that is the result of having learned
well how to learn, and the belief that we can learn anything and
everything, enables greater more than usual satisfaction in learning,
and thus provides us with euphoric pleasure. Both
the enjoyment provided by this meta-learning and the added joy that
obtained from feeling competent at learning are essential in motivating
academic and skill learning through our entire lives. Not only that,
but this learning to learn is in itself an addictive way of living our
In a way learning to learn is the ultimate habit that ensures we
become life long learners who are well satisfied with their lives. Thus
we become people with a superior script for living our lives.