The key to how the world works
The 1st key to learning.
What is key in learning? This is the first 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 more than any other is about how
learning works. This key sets out how the power of learning causes the
world to change and how anyone not only can be a part of this, but in
fact, has an obligation to humanity to try and be a part of this.
Why do we learn?
Why do we want to learn? We learn, and want to
learn, because we are dissatisfied with ourselves and the state of the
world. We want to learn, so we can change ourselves for the better, and
thus can do and be more like what we would like. We want to learn, so
that we can change the world in which we live to something that is more
likely to allow us and help us to do and be what we want. We want to
learn so that we can understand how the world works and in turn make it
better for ourselves and for others.
The baby experiment.
In his book "The Paradox of Choice" Barry
Schwartz tells of an experiment that highlights the human need to
control himself and his environment as follows:
fundamental significance of having control was highlighted in a study
of three-month-old infants done more than thirty years ago. Infants in
one group - those who had control - were placed faceup in an ordinary
crib with their heads on a pillow. Mounted on the crib was a
translucent umbrella, with figures of various animals dangling from
strings inside. These figures were not visible to the infants, but
if the infants turned their heads on the pillows, a small light would
go on behind the umbrella, making the 'dancing' figures visible for a
while. Then the light would go off. When the infants did turn their
heads, just by chance, and then turned on the light and saw the
figures, they showed interest, delight and excitement. They quickly
learned to keep the figures visible by turning their heads, and they
kept on doing so, again and again. They also continued to show delight
at the visual spectacle. Other infants in the study got a 'free ride.'
Whenever a 'control' infant turned on the light behind the umbrella in
its crib, that action also turned on the light behind the umbrella in
the crib of another infant. So these infants go to see the dancing
figures just as often and for just as long as their controlling
partners did. Initially these infants showed just as much delight in
the dancing figures. But their interest quickly waned. They adapted.
infants have little control over anything. They can't move their bodies
toward things they want or away from things that are unpleasant. They
don't have good control over their hands, do that grasping or
manipulating objects is not easy. They get poked, prodded, picked up
and put down at unpredictable and inexplicable times. The world is just
a set of things that happen to them, leaving them completely at the
mercy of others. It is perhaps for just this reason that the occasional
bits of evidence that they can control certain things are so salient
and so exciting."
Power and powerlessness.
Many people, perhaps most people, tend to feel
helpless or powerless in the world. This is due to their never having
become fully confident in their ability to interact with, predict or
anticipate the world. What we all want and need is, the power to effect
change in the world. This power comes from understanding how the world
"Power is the by-product of understanding."
Deci and Richard Ryan have given the world a theory about how to make
humans healthier, happier, more successful, more internally integrated
and of greater general well being. To this end they propose that humans
have certain psychological needs of which the need for autonomy as the
most important. Autonomy or self-determination is about the feeling
that a person has about his ability to affect the world. While any
rational person will understandably say, that of course we can all
affect the world, it seems that given certain appalling and confusing
life experiences, that people can in fact dispense with this and feel
they have no effect in the world. Such people Deci and Ryan would say
are in a state of amotivation. Psychologists would probably say, of
severe cases of such people, that they were depressed. Amotivated
people are simply not motivated at all because they believe deep down
that nothing they do will make any difference. The rest of the people
in the world are either being motivated by others to change the world
or are internally motivated to change the world and themselves.
"If you haven't the strength to impose
your own terms upon life, you must accept the terms it offers you."
T. S. Elliot
Deci and Ryan's terms if you are not internally motivated, which is to
say, if you are not changing yourself and the world in the ways you
wish to change it, you are not fully living. You are not
self-determined. It is fairly straight forward. If you are not changing
the world or even changing it accidentally in ways you do not wish,
then you are hardly worth calling a human being. If you are changing
the world only at the request of others and only in the manner that
they require of you, this also cannot be fully living either. It is our
belief in this ability to change the world, and more importantly that
we can learn how to change the world, that makes the world predicable,
understandable and consistent. It makes us want to learn and able to
"Every addition to true knowledge is an
addition to human power." Horace Mann
So how do we come to have confidence that
we can learn how to change the world?
we are born with this confidence. You could say it is a normal instinct
to be confident that we can learn how to change the world. Anyone we
come into contact with however, will have an affect on this confidence,
either to increase it or decrease it. The most influential people in
our lives as regard this are our parents and our teachers. Perhaps the
most important factor in all this is how those who are the role models
of children pass this confidence on to them.
two books "Self-theories" and "Mindset" Carol Dweck sets out a theory
of how this confidence in one's ability to learn is nurtured by parents
and teachers and how it is hindered by parents and teachers. She
proposes that people can to be divided roughly into two groups, people
who are nurtured to believe that the world and themselves can be
changed and people who are not nurtured to believe to believe such
things. The people who are not so nurtured tend to come to believe the
world and themselves are limited by their circumstances and their
genetic makeup. This group becomes worried about appearances, showing
off their superiority for some, hiding their inferiority for others,
and sometimes doing both at the same time. Those nurtured to believe
they can change the world tend to believe, that what they can
accomplish is limited only by the amount of hard work and effort they
are willing to put in, while the others believe that what they can
accomplish is set at birth, and this quickly becomes apparent even when
they are still children.
is this confidence in ones ability to learn passed on?
Dweck in her studies came to the conclusion that this confidence was
passed on in two ways. Firstly, the manner in which parents and
teachers conduced themselves in life and presented themselves as role
models was the most essential ingredient in nurturing this confidence
in children. Secondly, how parents and teachers praised and criticized
the children in their care was nearly as important in nurturing this
confidence. Those nurtured to have confidence in their ability to learn
Dweck refers to as having a growth mindset. Those not so nurtured Dweck
refers to has having a fixed mindset.
good role model or setting a good example of "learning confidence" for
children is mostly about having a growth mindset yourself. This means
that you believe that your potential, the one with which you are
genetically endowed, is unknowable, and that therefore you may, with
sufficient hard work, be able to learn how to do anything. This will be
exposed to children through what you do, how you do it and especially
what you say. What you say to children, what you say to yourself in
their presence, and what you say to others in their presence, are all
vital in promoting confidence in learning. Here are the sort of things
you should be saying: when facing difficulties say things like, "Accomplishment
isn't meant to be easy." when making a mistake say things
like, "Mistakes are stepping stones to success."
after failing to solve a problem say, "A good challenge makes
work worthwhile." In a households where such comments are
often heard and so repeated, children are being nurtured to have a
growth mindset and be confident in their ability to learn.
kind of praise that nurtures this confidence in ability to learn is
praise of effort. It is praise of hard work. It is praise of
persistence. It is praise of improvement. It is praise of the
strategies they have used. Never praise children's abilities or
intelligence, avoid praising their work, instead praise the effort they
have put in, praise the hard work they have put in, praise how they
have persisted till they understood something or solved a problem,
praise the strategies they have used to do it. The same is true of
criticism. Never criticize a child's abilities or intelligence. Try not
to criticize the child's work other that to give feedback as to what is
being done badly or incorrectly. The best kind of criticism is
criticism of effort and criticism of
great deal is explained about these "growth" and "fixed" mindsets in
other parts of this site, so here only these few hints have been
provided. To know more check out key 2 "confidence"
as one approaches adulthood.
children get older and approach adulthood we expect children to be able
to learn fast, hold masses of information in memory, and understand in
a deep way that will enable us to use this information in our chosen
professions. This goes beyond simple autonomy and confidence in one's
ability to learn. It requires an understanding of how learning takes
place in the brain and how this process can be facilitated. It turns
out a lot can be gleaned about this from watching and understanding how
good teachers teach and especially how good college teachers teach.
the best college teachers do.
book "What the Best College Teachers Do" Ken Bain and colleagues
conducted an informal study of teachers in colleges and universities
who had the best success rates with students academically, but more
than that they were the teachers that had such a profound effect on
their students that those students continued to do well long after they
left their influence. He explains his criteria as follows: [The
teachers in the study] "...had achieved remarkable success in
helping students learn in ways that made a sustained, substantial, and
positive influence on how those students think, act and feel."
Most were also recognized by their peers as superior teachers, each
having gained a plethora of teaching awards. As well as that, most of
their students were highly satisfied with their teaching. The book
about these teachers is very much about learning how the world
models in a map of reality.
have a map of reality in our heads which is unique to each of us. This
map is made up of models of patterns we construe in external reality.
In his book "What the Best College Teachers Do" Ken Bain discovered
quite a lot about mental models:
is constructed not received.
According to the traditional view, memory is a great storage bin. We
put knowledge in it and then later pick out what we need. Thus you
often hear people say, 'My students must learn the material before they
can think about it,' presumably meaning that they must store it
somewhere for later use.
best teachers don't think of memory that way, and neither do a lot of
learning scientists. Instead, they say that we construct our sense of
reality out of all the sensory input we receive, and that process
begins in the crib. We see, hear, feel, smell, and taste and we begin
connecting all those sensations in our brains to build
patterns of the way we think the world works. So our brains are both
storage and processing units. At some point, we begin using those
existing patterns to understand new sensory input. By the time
we reach college, we have thousands of mental models, or schemes, that
we use to try to understand the lectures we hear, the texts we read,
and so forth."
We make the world predictable by constructing a
map of reality in our heads. This structure is what enables us to both
store conjectures or theories and form conjectures or theories about
the world. These conjectures or theories or models build a mental map
of the assumed external world which enables an anticipation of real
events. They also enable us to interpret new sensory information and
form new models.
What is important about such models, is that they
are more likely to be predictive of external reality than one could
expect of mere chance. For learning, this means that we never actually
know reality (although we can believe it exists). Rather we know realit
only through our conjectures or theories about it, our internal models.
Moreover, learning is the process through which we are able to revise
these structures, so that more and more accurate predictions are
possible by restructuring, reinterpreting and rebuilding this map of
reality. Once we understand this simple idea, we can see how wrong many
of the traditional ideas are concerning learning. As we learn we
construct this personal map of reality, which we use as reference in
making predictions about the external world.
While we are young these these maps or models of
reality remain incomplete. So it follows that various parts of the
model may conflict with each other. Thus children may hold, and indeed
are forced to hold, two or more ideas about how something works in the
world. As more and more data is accumulated and weighed against other
accepted information, one idea may be allowed to grow stronger while
the others are allowed to wither and be deleted. For the young this is
obviously a fragmented or unstable system which they must try to move
toward being more stable and integrated.
However this unstable system has some advantages
for learning. For instance, it means that new ideas are introduced
easily, without resistance, as part of many conflicting conjectures,
which can. over time, grow into more and more comprehensive theories.
Such new theories can gradually replace the other conjectures by weight
of evidence and the mind's tendency to move toward a state of
congruency. As ideas are removed from the map and the model conflicts
are reduced, ideas become accepted as being 'how the world works'. The
point here is that the change is gradual. Although conjectures about
external reality initially conflict, the change to accepting one theory
over another is slow and carefully weighed.
integration and completion.
However, as children move into their college years these personal maps
and models of reality approach the possibility of completion. As this
happens, these completed or nearly completed models begin to provide
resistance to change and induce clinging to earlier conceptions of how
things work, which are by then integrated into a fully functioning
model of reality. In this period of near completion of personal maps of
reality, the young adults find difficulty in holding different
conflicting theories in their minds. Instead of gradually moving from
one conjecture to another more preferable one, the students may find
they are faced with the prospect of tearing down a whole mental
structure before they can begin building a new improved structure.
know too much that isn't so.
holding on to discredited models the whole process of learning can be
skewed off track. In his book "What the Best College Teachers Do" Ken
Bain has much to say about this:
trouble with people, Josh Billings once remarked, 'is not that they
don't know but that they know so much that isn't so!' I'm not saying
that students bring misconceptions to class, as a philosophy professor
concluded a few years ago when he heard these ideas in a workshop.
Actually, I'm arguing something much more fundamental: the teachers we
encountered believe everybody constructs knowledge and that we all use
existing constructions to understand any new sensory input. When these
highly effective educators try to teach the basic facts of their
disciplines, they they want students to see a portion of reality the
way the latest research and scholarship in the discipline has come to
see it. They don't think of it as just getting students to 'absorb some
knowledge,' as many other people put it. Because they believe that
students must use their existing mental models to interpret what they
encounter, they think about what they do as simulating construction,
not 'transmitting knowledge.' Further more because they recognize that
the higher-order concepts of their disciplines often run counter to the
models of everyday experience has encouraged most people to construct,
they often want students to do something that human beings don't do
very well: build new mental models of reality. But that's the problem."
problem is that there is a way to continue to absorb information
without learning anything. We can cheat. We can memorize whole chunks
of new information without restructuring our mental model of reality.
In order to do this we minimize the number of connections the new
information can make with our mental model. Such memorization is
generally unhelpful in any real situation, and because of the lack of
links to our mental models or map, tends to be unstable, with a short
lifespan in memory. In all probability it never becomes part of what we
think is permanent long term memory at all. Learning
is not dropping facts into our heads. It involves at least to a large
extent, a revision of our model of how the world works. If it does not
do this, then nothing has been learned and the information will be
forgotten. Much of what we memorize in school is forgotten, unless it
connects profusely with our internal models.
The many experiments in leaning lists of nonsense
words are a complete waste of time because this is not how the mind
works. It can only be done temporarily because we change what the
nonsense means, so it becomes relevant to our map of reality. But even
then it remains peripheral and not truly integrated into the rest of
the map. In other words, by doing this, we are not making use of how
the mind works, but rather trying to overcome how it works, using it
for something it was never designed to do. Surely, it is better to go
with the natural flow. Let us rather use our minds to learn in the way
that evolution has fashioned those minds to be used. If we do this,
confidence will be increased as we can better anticipate what will
happen, and believe that the world has predictability.
"Power corrupts, but lack of power
corrupts absolutely." Adlai E. Stevenson
If we are able to recognize this kind of self
deception it is possible to do do a few things to correct the
situation. One way to help is to practice holding different alternative
theories in our minds without having to come to some instant decision
as to which one is correct. In this way we can train ourselves to
explore each theory connecting each in turn to our overall model of
reality. We can build rival abstractions for each theory, and try to
create or find concrete examples that reflect each theory, all without
making a decision as to which theory is correct.
If you wish to change the world you must first change yourself.
Changing the world requires not just information, but a restructuring
of your understanding of how the world works. It requires you to
rebuild again and again parts of the map of the world that resides
inside your head. You must build your map of reality only to tear parts
of it down so you can rebuild it again over and over.
outdated mental models as facilitating change.
essential part of the function of good teachers is to challenge
student's models of 'how the world works'. In his book "What the Best
College Teachers Do" Ken Bain continues:
models change slowly.
can we simulate students to build new models, to engage in what
some call 'deep' learning as opposed to 'surface' learning in which
they merely remember something long enough to pass the examination? Our
subjects generally believe that to accomplish that feat, learners
face the situation in which their mental model will not work ( that is,
will not help them explain or do something);
care that it does not work strongly enough to stop and grapple with the
issue at hand;
be able to handle the emotional trauma that sometimes accompanies
challenges to longstanding beliefs."
best teachers expose the inadequacies of outdated mental models, and
show how more recent theories can more adequately explain and account
for anomalies that the student's own mental models find dissonant and
perplexing. In his book "What the Best College Teachers Do" Ken Bain
teachers in our study often talked about 'challenging students
intellectually.' That means they wanted to to create what some of the
literature calls an 'expectation failure,' a situation in which
existing mental models will lead to faulty expectations, causing their
students to realize the problems they face in believing what they
believe. Yet these highly effective teachers realized that human beings
faced too many expectation failures in life to care about all of them,
so students may not engage in the deep thinking required to build
completely new models. Furthermore, they understood that people have so
many paradigms of reality that they may not know which of their schemas
has led to the faulty prediction, so they may correct the wrong ones.
...Finally, the best teachers understood that their students may find
so much emotional comfort in some existing model of reality that they
cling to it even in the face of repeated expectation failure.
ideas have important implications for the teachers. They conduct
classes and craft assignments in a way that allows students to try
their own thinking, come up short, receive feedback, and try again.
They give students a safe space in which to construct ideas, and they
often spend a great deal of time creating a kind of scaffolding to help
students engage in that construction (which is different from the
popular notion of 'covering' the material, but in ways that are
sometimes difficult to grasp). Because they attempt to place students
in situations in which some of their mental models will not work, they
try to understand those models and the emotional baggage attached to
them. They listen to student conceptions before challenging them.
Rather than telling students they are wrong and then providing the
'correct' answers, they often ask questions to help students see their
goes on to explain that current wisdom among ineffective teachers is
for them to believe that, "...students cannot learn to think,
to analyze, to synthesize, and to make judgments until they 'know' the
'basic facts' of the discipline." He continues:
in our study...believe that students must learn the facts while
learning to use them to make decisions about what they understand or
they should do. To them 'learning' makes little sense unless it has
some sustained influence on the way the learner subsequently thinks,
acts or feels. So they teach the 'facts' in a rich context of problems,
issues and questions."
is best to keep in mind however, that so called 'facts' are derived
from theories that could be disproven at any moment, and as such should
be accepted only on a tentative or provisional basis.
models and paradigms.
will also involve strong interactions with students in an effort to
discover how the mental models are leading them astray, or preventing
them from accommodating the new theories that are being advanced. We
can think of these mental models as internal paradigms following from
the work of Thomas
Kuhn. The following passage is from the Thomas Khun page on Wikipedia
which describes how paradigms work in science:
general, science is broken up into three distinct stages. Prescience,
which lacks a central paradigm, comes first. This is followed by
"normal science", when scientists attempt to enlarge the central
paradigm by "puzzle-solving". Thus, the failure of a result to conform
to the paradigm is seen not as refuting the paradigm, but as the
mistake of the researcher, contra Popper's refutability criterion. As
anomalous results build up, science reaches a crisis, at which point a
new paradigm, which subsumes the old results along with the anomalous
results into one framework, is accepted. This is termed revolutionary
only do scientists have to accept the new paradigms but student's minds
may have to go through many of the same paradigm shifts.
People's internal models are similar because we
discriminate, interpret, and see the implications of events in similar
ways. However, neither words nor word groups in themselves, provide the
common platform for humans to understand each other. It is the extent
to which the used words and phrases have the same meaning to humans
that links and gives the common understanding. It is clearly not enough
to memorize ideas of others, we have to be able to see the implications
of these ideas as they did, in order to understand them. In this way,
ideas become meaningful to us, in the way they are meaningful to
others. Finding out what theories mean to their students is an on going
push and pull interaction. Teachers must try to draw these meanings out
of their students.
"There is no knowledge that is not power."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Learning can be broken into three
essentially distinct types or categories.
There is the building and revising of internal
models of reality. This is the creation of a map of world 1 (objective
reality) in world 2 (the subjective world within each person). There is
the invention of the new. It is the reaching out, through speculation
beyond personal experience and error correction, that we call
creativity. This is an adding to or restructuring of word 2 to be more
consistent with world 1 and transferring that knowledge to world 3 (the
model of reality we hold collectively in common in the worlds media).
Finally there is the feedback loop where the collective knowledge
created by mankind is fed back to other people so they can in turn make
use of it. Here knowledge is taken from world 3 and fed back to world
2. Let us look at these further:
The first type of learning involves discovering
some instance where the belief structure of how we view reality is
thrown into question by the events of our experience. Or to put it
another way how our expectations, our anticipations are disconfirmed.
When this happens we must be prepared to accept the truth of it, the
truth that our inner world view is incorrect and must be modified. As
explained above people can come to be unwilling or unable to take up
this challenge and must be coaxed back to the learning path. If we can
accept this, however, then we can begin the process of inventing a new
conjecture or theory and then revising our world view in accordance
with this new conjecture or theory. This can only come from confidence
in our ability to form conjectures that are usually confirmed by our
interaction with external reality or events.
Revising the models.
These models that people make of patterns in
reality, are not perfect models of the external world and they vary
considerably from person to person. They vary to the extent to which
people do not view or understand their experiences in similar ways.
Ideally such maps should mirror external reality, but perhaps more
importantly they should provide a consensus of how most people view the
world. In order to approach a mirroring of reality and so as to agree
on a common viewpoint with others, our maps of reality need to remain
flexible and capable of change so they can respond to refutation in a
If these internal mental models do not remain
flexible, people will tend to cling to the information they have. The
more their map of reality fails or is disconfirmed, the more they cling
to conjecture or theories about reality, that have already been
discounted by previous events. In other words the more people's
predictions or expectations are invalidated, the more afraid they
become, the more defensive they become. Many people whose ideas are
clearly wrong, are the worst for clinging to those ideas such as
conspiracy theorists. Thus we can get the curious situation where very
intelligent people can end up using their intelligence to rationalize
and support the most ridiculous ideas.
What is needed is a kind of intellectual bravery,
and this can only come from a confidence in our ability to improve our
inner models, so that they influence, predict and anticipate the world.
If we can improve how we anticipate the world, we can cope with it and
change it for our own ends. In this way we become not helpless pawns
but rather have power over events.
For young children who are developing their maps
of reality, all conjecture is accepted as tentative dogma, but a dogma
that is subject to change and improvement. What young children need is,
to have life experience where such conjectures can be overturned, but
mostly prove to be validated by subsequent events. In this way children
gain confidence in the predictability of the world and thus their
ability to anticipate it. This then, perhaps surprisingly, enables them
to more readily accept, that the conjectures that form their personal
model can and should be able to be disconfirmed. It is likely that this
can only become true for children, if we let them form these
conjectures themselves and not try to enforce our own conjectures. In
other words how will they ever learn, if we teach them? Guide them,
facilitate them, but let them discover (invent) for themselves. They
need to have some autonomous control over what they learn.
In the modern world the current popular form of
socialization of children, can cause children to have a lack of faith
in their own ability to anticipate the world. Parents who lack
confidence in their ability to manage their affairs, predict or change
the world, pass their insecurities on to their children. Friends,
acquaintances or other people's children can likewise pass on an
attitude of helplessness. Teachers however, are in a position to change
all that and serve as confident role models. If they so wish, teachers
can instill confidence in children that they can learn to change,
control and manipulate the world, or alternatively make this feeling of
But when our inner maps become fully functional,
changing parts of it, as in various models of patterns in reality,
become very difficult because these models have become interlinked.
Changing one might necessitate changing many. Each change may require
that the whole inner map of reality must be restructured. People
with fully functioning maps of reality, or nearly so, must be able to
accept that any idea can be disconfirmed at any moment. From this
follows that each and every person has within them the ability to form
new conjecture to replace what has been disconfirmed.
Revising a mental model of reality, for a child
necessitates a dilemma. On the one hand children need their world to be
consistent and predictable so that they can begin to feel confident in
their own ability to anticipate and make their way in the world. On the
other hand children need to not fear inconsistency or unpredictability,
because it is those very things that allow this first kind of learning
to take place. Only in this way can our internal models of reality be
made flexible enough to accommodate change, be improved and thus made
more accurate on a continuing basis through our subsequent lives.
The resolution of this dilemma turns out to be
wonderfully simple. Despite intuition to the contrary, as we become
more confident, our expectations of the functioning and predictability
of the world make us less fearful of unpredictable events. Thus the
world of children needs to become predictable enough to immunize them
against the trepidation of chaos, while at the same time unpredictable
enough to provide continuing opportunities in learning. This provides a
continuing transformation of their view of and understanding of a
variable world. Indeed if such learning takes place on a regular basis,
the suffocating effects of current socialization can be overturned.
Children will naturally begin to associate this uncertainty and
inconsistency with the joy they derive from the refinement of their
cognitive structure. Maybe then they will even seek out such chaos and
For adults those with fully functioning maps of
reality the answer is about changing paradigms as explained above, and
in how confidence in our ability to learn can be can be sustained as
explained in the second key "confidence".
The second type of learning (though some may
disagree that it is learning) is actually creativity. This involves a
leap of faith in our own ability. Those who are unafraid of being
wrong, can explore creative scenarios that are held to be wrong more
objectively. Creativity means bringing three different new and unique
elements into the world. It means materializing novel objects. It means
initializing novel actions. It means assembling new and novel
knowledge. Creativity is a special kind of learning that happens as new
and novel knowledge is assembled. It can readily be invoked, if we are
willing to ignore assumed dogma or models within, and formulate
conjecture for the love of conjecture. Creativity is about going beyond
what we know, into the unknown. It is speculation that reframes the
universe. It bids us go beyond the rightness of conventional and
consensual knowledge into chaos where others have stopped or
overlooked. It bids us play with the irrational and conceive the
impossible. All creative training starts with ignoring the rush to
judgment, the dogma or models of reality within. This is called by many
names; day dreaming, free associating, or as Kelly describes, as
loosening of the constructs.
Inventing new models.
Aristotle once said, "It
is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought
without accepting it." Perhaps Aristotle should have said a
learner's mind and particularly a creative mind rather than an educated
mind, because it is the creative mind that is needed to make the
unknown known. To truly be creative, we need to be able to hold
tentatively in our minds, two or more ways of perceiving the world, to
hold two or more ideas or views that are mutually
inconsistent, and yet accept neither. We need
to almost have more than one map of reality. It is well accepted that
genius is very close to madness, where people really do have more than
one internal world map.
We can formulate conjecture when our personal map
of reality or our theories have been fully or partially invalidated. In
solving problems of this sort our attention is automatically directed
to that part of our model which provides the the quickest and most
likely fit. In other words, we rush to judge. We rush to find a
solution. If we are able to prevent this initial rush, so directing our
attention to other internal parts of our model, we may be able to find
a better solution. We can even generate a number of solutions some of
which are much better than the others. In this quantity we discover
Part of the reason people rush to judge, has to do
with the pedantic and uncritical way knowledge is presented to children
by their parents and teachers. Often the education system in particular
forgets that knowledge is constantly changing or being improved, and
prefers to present knowledge as if it were absolute. This has the
unfortunate effect, that it makes us uncritical and unwilling to
continue looking after we have arrived at an answer. It is as if all
the answers are already known, and we just have to reproduce
them from what we have absorbed. This is what is referred to as
reproductive thinking. It is a sad case when people lose the ability to
come up with anything new.
Reproductive thought, not only prevents us from
coming up with new ideas, but also tends to make us blind to good ideas
when they are sitting right in front of us. The transistor was invented
in the USA, so why did the Japanese end up with it? The electronic
watch was invented in Switzerland, so why did Seiko end up with it? Why
did everybody reject out of hand, Fred Smith's idea for Federal
Express? Why did Charles Duell, the then director of the U.S. patent
office in 1899, suggest that the government should close the office
because everything that could be invented had been invented? Could it
be that such blindness is caused by reproductive thinking?
Luckily a tentative and theoretical approach to
the presentation of knowledge produces what is called a productive
thinker. Productive thinkers are the people responsible for change and
progress. While it could be said that creative people often have an
advantage either social or even genetic, they are only different to the
rest of us, in that they refuse to accept ideas or theories as
immutable or true. They do not rush to judge prematurely themselves,
nor do they so advise others, and they continue to look for solutions
when a seemingly obvious answer exists.
There is a need for those born in
this present culture, with its pedantic and dogmatic educational
approach, to somehow escape this social conditioning, if we wish to be
creative. This may in fact be happening through the internet. The net
is often conducive to continuing to look for answers when the need is
gone. To be creative we need to stop rushing headlong into judging the
ideas of others and ourselves. We must somehow produce a culture of
productive thinkers. This in turn means uncoupling knowledge from
We also tend to polarize ideas. Using adversary
ideas or clash type thinking, places people's thoughts in a confining
box. Just because we have proved someone's idea wrong does not mean we
are right. If the other party has established our idea as being wrong
as well, we are probably both wrong. Likewise, we may in fact both be
correct to some degree. The important thing is that we do not stop
looking for the truth, just because we have found the first answer
available that seems to fit. It may not be a good answer. Someone else
may generate a better one, and we ourselves may be able to generate a
better one if we continue looking.
People usually formulate conjecture when there are
problems to be solved, when their model of reality breaks down and
needs revision. But conjecture can also be formulated by the
enlightened few, even when their model of reality or theories have not
been disconfirmed. People will counter such innovators, saying: "If it
is not broken, don't fix it". Fortunately, there have always been a few
creative people who have been able to ignore this bit of folk wisdom,
and have found new and improved ways of doing things, even though a
perfectly adequate way of doing things was still working.
Innovators can formulate conjecture
when there is no problem. Popper makes a strong case for debunking the
process of induction, relegating it (if it exists at all) to being a
simple devise for generating conjecture. This device is no more
scientific than other ways conjecture may be generated, such as dreams,
insight, and even being completely wrong. Looking at what is known to
be wrong, bringing together concepts and ideas that have no previous
links, is at the core of artistic creation. This process permits us to
solve problems that we did not even know about. Dreams, randomness,
wrongness, even chaos are valid and highly useful ways of arriving at
creation that could be performed in no other way. One of the most
hopeful things about the internet is all the 'wrong' answers out there
"Out of clutter, find simplicity. From
discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."
Children can free associate ideas easily.
Furthermore, it is essential that they should be encouraged to do so,
for it is at the heart of creativity. Parents and teachers waste a lot
of energy over concern with children having ideas that are wrong in
their opinion. Let children be wrong, let them find out for themselves
that reality disconfirms such views. There will be time enough later on
for learning about rigorous testing. Observing the young however,
should demonstrate that they test any conjecture they self-form in
their exploration, far more rigorously than adults do. This is as it
should be. As children have not yet formed a complete map of reality,
they must test their conjectures to find the limits in which they work.
Again it is our confidence in our abilities to be creative that enable
us to believe we can contribute to the pool of knowledge. We earn this
confidence by being creative. Thus children should have great
opportunity to use dreams, insight and randomness from as early as
possible in the pursuit of creation.
This is explored fully in the section on "creativity". While anyone
can be creative on a low level, highly artistic or creative works,
require something beyond mere ideas, where skill in execution is
essential. Indeed high creativity has three interrelated aspects all
essential to its production. These are domain craft skill, passion and
purpose, and motivation.
The skill needed to create highly creative works
takes about 10,000 hours of determined attempts to accomplish. There is
no easy way to develop skill in any domain other than working at it.
Some may be born with a little genetic advantage, but it counts for
little, unless the work is undertaken.
Passion comes from the interests we develop.
Creative interests develop through emulation of the role models of
creativity that we see around us. Purpose develops out of the
realization that that something is possible for us to accomplish,
building confidence that we are capable learning the skills necessary.
This confidence is explained further in the 2nd key "confidence". This
confidence in our power to manipulate the world is essential, if we are
to come up with knowledge previously unknown to others. It is essential
to the invention of that which has never before been known.
Motivation to create, perhaps not surprisingly, has to come from
within. Extensive testing, especially by Teresa Amabile, has shown
that creativity resists any attempt to manipulate it such that
conditional rewards actually cause creativity to fall. Extrinsic
motivation in the form of rewards or punishments only work in special
conditions were they are perceived as not being controlling. Freedom to
work in your own way is also essential to being creative and
consequently those forces that would restrict or control our work also
cause intrinsic motivation to be creative and creativity to fall. These
forces such as evaluation, surveillance, competition, and deadlines can
all be deadly to creativity and again only work in very restricted
circumstance where they are not seen to be
learn new knowledge, that has never been known before, we are
generating it out of the chaos. We are forming it from data that have
never been connected before. We do this by being unafraid to venture
beyond what is held by authority to be correct, and delve into the
murky world of dreams, fantasy and just plain wrongness. But these
ideas, newly invented in any domain, require some form of execution,
if they are to be considered highly creative works,
and this in turn requires an environment that encourages domain craft
skill, passion, purpose, and intrinsic motivation.
The third type of learning is what teachers and
parents usually understand to be learning. Knowledge exists in what
Popper calls three worlds. World 1 is the objective world of reality.
World 2 is the subjective world within each person, that is largely
what this site refers to as our individual maps of reality. But there
is also what Popper calls World 3. World 3 is part of the objective
world and also largely a map of how the world works, but it is that
which is collectively held by humanity as a legacy for our children, in
books, media and computers. It is held to be the most likely way in
which objective reality works so far discovered. It, like our internal
map, is conjecture and can be proved incorrect at any moment by
invalidating events, and so it is like our internal maps, constantly
changing or being revised. It is however, far more accurate than our
personal maps of reality, because it is constantly being criticized by
the word's critics of genius and rigorously tested by the world's most
meticulous, methodical and most highly qualified people. Despite this,
we must understand that it is still just a map, and that the map is not
the territory. World 3 is not a collection of facts; it is a collection
of theories. The theories may be correct or they may inexact or they
may be completely wrong. We just cannot know.
Assimilating and accommodating our
knowledge legacy models.
How we approach this World 3 is perhaps the single
most vital precondition for learning. If humans were to try to discover
these theories each on our own, they would have made little progress.
They would still be in the stone age or earlier. We owe our progress to
our ready acceptance of these World 3 theories. Humanity
has to both be able to to assimilate and accommodate a large amount of
World 3 into their personal maps of reality and to contribute to the
building of World 3. The knowledge in World 3 has to be transferred
into World 2 inside our heads. Yet at the same time World 3 is created
out of the ideas that we propagate in our limited World 2s and transfer
to World 3.
Our ability to form conjecture and elaborate it
into theories is essential to the growth of World 3. In addition our
ability to criticize conjecture and theories is essential to the growth
of World 3. Furthermore our ability to transform conjecture and theory
into a hypothesis that can be rigorously tested is essential to the
growth of World 3. Our ability to perform rigorous tests on these
hypotheses is also essential to the growth of World 3.
This process of taking culturally acquired
World 3 knowledge into our personal beliefs so that it becomes World 2
knowledge is how we learn perhaps most of what we learn. Yet this is
not quite possible, because our perception is channeled by our current
mental state. As George Kelly has painstakingly pointed out, knowledge,
as it is absorbed is affected by our current mental state, and is thus
changed even as it changes our mental map. If this were not the case,
we would all be all able to read some thing and understand it, the way
the writer meant us to. What we can know depends on what we already
know. Clearly the current information in each of our World 2s (our
personal map of reality) must be the first thing to be considered in
transferring knowledge from world 3. What we can learn depends on what
we have learned already. The unfortunate fact is, that the best
facilitation of learning is done one on one basis, where what the
learner knows can be discovered before facilitation of the expansion of
that knowledge can begin.
Certain other preconditions are also essential to
the efficient movement of information from World 3 to World 2 and its
preparation for use. Real learning is about what is meaningful to us.
If something is not meaningful to us we can absorb it temporarily, but
it fades quickly because it is not connected to the rest of our map of
One way of making something meaningful is to
connect it to what we already know. Another better more efficient way
is to enable us to connect to things we are interested in.
Motivation or interest of the learner must be some how engaged, or the
learning deferred until such time as the motivation or interest can be
But taking information in, is not even the main
reason for acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is to be used. If we want
people to use knowledge we must expect them to change it, refute it,
add to it. If we expect people to make a contribution to knowledge in
this way, they need to be as fully aware, as is possible, of the
fallibility of knowledge. Such knowledge needs to be presented in the
context of conjecture and theories. It needs to be presented with such
criticism as there is of it. It should be shown how it was transformed
into hypotheses and how these were tested. We must understand as early
as possible that information is theory not fact, so we can begin to
practice forming or inventing it ourselves. How it was created by
others must not be hidden but rather explained and presented fully.
In this way we can begin to feel free emulate the
behavior of those role models. We may feel free to present our own
criticism, form our own hypotheses, and to conduct tests if we so wish.
Some subjects presented in schools do this better than others. Some
subjects like history and geography perhaps need to be looked at
closely to see how they can be brought into line with this, while
chemistry and physics only need to be a bit more tentative in their
It is this early confidence in our ability to form
conjecture that is so important to creativity later. It is only in this
way that we can come to feel that we too can make a contribution to the
pool of human knowledge. It is the only way we can come to feel, that
we too know how the world works, and can change that world.
Knowledge in world 3 is for convenience broken
down into subjects. But we must be ever aware that the boundaries
between subjects are artificial and that at any moment the knowledge in
one subject is applicable in another. Indeed the cutting edge of
knowledge is usually where one subject interfaces with another. It is
essential that both teachers and learners be encouraged to practice
applying knowledge gained in one subject to other subjects. This is
because each of our personal maps of reality do not have subject
headings that mean different things to us than they do to other people.
It is well that they do, the presence of universally understood subject
headings would be damaging rather than helpful to the growth knowledge.
Also the theories in our personal map of reality
are useable only if they are accessible and accessible mostly if they
are used. Of course this all comes back to connections. The more
connections a theory has the easier it is to remember, but it is clear
the more we use a theory the more connections we make to that theory.
If theories or bits of information are not used they are placed at the
periphery of the map, where the rest of the map does not predict them,
so they are not integrated and thus unremembered. The function of the
theories that make up the map is to make the world (reality)
predictable. If they do not do this they are just wasting space in the
map. We will not gain confidence in our ability to learn or predict by
filling up our mind with a lot of useless rubbish.
Although we cannot know for sure that any
knowledge is true, we have assume certain things are true so that
learning can take place. Learning (the assimilation and accommodation
of world 3) has so far validated that that it works best if we hold
certain ideas to be true. It also seems likely that if we are to do so,
we must have had certain experiences in childhood that promote such
views. These ideas and how they might come to be held are as follows:
that world 3 (what is held by the majority of
people to be the most likely state of how the world works) is theory,
and that this theory is changed or revised and improved constantly. In
order to hold that world 3 is theory and not fact, children need to see
how it changes all the time, and not have it presented as if it had
been written by god in letters of fire.
that anyone including
ourselves has the right and
duty to criticize the contents of world 3. In order to hold that it is
everyone's right to criticize it, children would be well served to not
only be presented with ideas from world 3, but also to be presented
with such criticism as was presented by those who opposed those ideas,
both when they were invented and since. They should also be encouraged
to try and criticize it themselves without fear of ridicule.
that anyone including ourselves has the ability
to assimilate much of the contents of world 3 into our personal map of
reality (world 2). It follows then, that to gain the confidence that we
can do this, we need to do it, not have it done for us, but to do it
ourselves. We need to be self-determined. To hold that anyone has the
ability to assimilate much of the contents of world 3 into each
personal map of reality children also need to be interested or
motivated to learn. In this way the ideas are retained by their
personal maps of reality and do not just slip away, as is the case when
they are not interested.
that anyone including
ourselves can retain that
which we absorb into our map of reality if it is useful, useable and
used. That we retain it because it is integrated with the other
theories in the map. If we do not understand where how and what it is
used for, how can we integrate it into our internal map. To hold that
anyone can retain that which we absorb into our map of reality,
children simply need to have the personal experience of learning when
interested, and see for themselves that it is retained.
that anyone including ourselves has the ability
to change world 3 to revise it and improve it. It is also essential
that we have some practice in doing this early, to gain the confidence
we need to make a real contribution to it in later life. To hold that
anyone can change world 3, children should be exposed to people who
have changed it, so that they can appreciate that such people are
ordinary mortals like themselves. More importantly they need to grow up
in an environment that promotes a growth mindset with its realistic
emphases on effort and hard work.
How does the world work?
It works and we know that it works through our
understanding of knowledge. We obtain this knowledge through learning.
We assimilate and accommodate the theories about the world invented by
others; we invent theories about how the world works ourselves; and we
test those theories and we build and revise our internal models and map
of how the world works accordingly. To do this we need to feel that
this internal map works, and can be used to estimate what will happen
given certain conditions. We need to know that the world has
invariants, but that we can never truly know what they are. We need to
understand that we must always struggle to try and improve our
knowledge of what those invariants are. If we can know this, we can
begin real learning, where we continually approach closer and closer to
forming an internal map that mirrors reality.
Experts see the way things work.
The expert is a person who has very detailed
internal models of how things work in his area of expertise. In his
book "Sources of Power" Garry Klein tells us why experts always have
the advantage, (because of their accurate mental models) regardless of
whether they are using their conscious or unconscious brain power. He
"Experts see inside events and objects. They have mental models of
how tasks are supposed to be performed, teams are supposed to
coordinate, equipment is supposed to function. This model lets them
know what to expect and lets them know when the expectancies are
violated. These two aspects of expertise are based, in part, on the
experts' mental models.
the experts have a mental model of the task, they know how the subtasks
fit together and can adapt the way they perform individual subtasks to
blend in with the others. This makes their performance so smooth. They
do not even feel they are performing subtasks because the integration
is so strong. If they have to explain what they are doing to novices,
they may have to stop and artificially break it down into subtasks.
Often they feel uncomfortable teaching the separate steps because they
know they are teaching some bad habits. They are teaching the novices
to do the task in a choppy way. In the short run, though, this task
decomposition makes it easier for the novices since they do not have to
worry about the big picture. They just have to remember the steps. As
part of their mental model of the task, experts know various tricks of
the trade, along with the conditions for using them.
mental model of the team coordination lets the expert anticipate what
the other team members will need and will be doing. Think about the
rooky soccer player, perhaps a striker. She may have the speed and
coordination to score goals, but she often will be in the wrong place,
trailing a play rather than leading it. As she gains a sense of how the
game flows and how her teammates react to different situations, she she
can put herself in more favorable positions to score goals.
also have mental models of equipment. They are not just pressing
buttons and receiving messages. They know enough about how their
equipment works to interpret what the system is telling them. One navy
electronic warfare technician referred to his console as 'a liar.' He
knew that it might report airplanes that were not there, under certain
conditions, and he had worked out strategies for double checking. He
knew why these these spurious signal might arise (because of the
hardware and the algorithms), and he did not hold it against the
equipment. In contrast, a novice would be likely to believe everything
the console reported, and be fooled, and then regard the with distrust
for being unreliable. The experts understood that the equipment is
reliable and also limited in predicable ways.
industrial designer once described to me how he viewed ordinary
equipment such as car doors and radios. Earlier in his career, he would
feel irritation when he encounters something that was poorly designed.
Eventually he learned enough about how things were manufactured to
appreciate the reasons for the poor designs. He did not excuse the
designs but had reached a point where he could look at most common
appliances and devices, recognize the mechanisms inside them, and
imagine how the design engineers had chosen to have the equipment
How does life long learning work in the
The assimilation and accommodation of the
theories about the world invented by others is a form of learning that
is enjoyable and performed by ourselves. The invention of theories
about how the world works is the intensely enjoyable creative
experience of learning that can also be performed by ourselves. The
testing of those theories and revision of our internal maps of how the
world works is also a pleasurable form of learning. If nothing intrudes
to disturb this process, learning will become a lifelong pursuit.
Although we can never know anything for sure, as we continually
approach closer and closer to knowing how the world works, our desire
to learn does not dim, but rather grows and changes us over and over
again. In this way we become life long learners.