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:

"The 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.

Young 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 works.

"Power is the by-product of understanding." Jacob Bronowski


Edward 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

In 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 learn.

"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?

Partly 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.

Carol Dweck.

In her 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.

How is this confidence in ones ability to learn passed on?

Carol 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.

Role models.

Being a 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.

Praise of effort.

The 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 persistence.   

A 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" and "self-theories".

Learning as one approaches adulthood.

As 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.

What the best college teachers do.

In his 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 works.  

Mental models in a map of reality.

We all 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:

"Knowledge 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.

The 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."

Modeling reality.

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.

Growing pains.

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.

Model 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.

They know too much that isn't so.

By 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:

"The 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."

Ignoring the problem.

Another 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

Self help.

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.

First change yourself.

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.

Challenging outdated mental models as facilitating change.

An 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:

Mental models change slowly.

"How 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 must...

(1) face the situation in which their mental model will not work ( that is, will not help them explain or do something);

(2) care that it does not work strongly enough to stop and grapple with the issue at hand;

(3) be able to handle the emotional trauma that sometimes accompanies challenges to longstanding beliefs."

Challenging intellectually.

The 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 continues:

"The 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.

Such 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 own mistakes."

Facilitator expectations.

Bain 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:

"Teachers 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."

It 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.       

Mental models and paradigms.

This 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:

"In 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 science."

Not 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:

  1. Revising the models.

  2. 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.

    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 constructive way.

    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 powerlessness worse.

    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 unpredictability.

    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".

  3. Inventing new models.

  4. 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.

    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 quality.

    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 authority.

    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 in cyberspace.

    "Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Albert Einstein

    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.

    Facilitating creativity.

    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.
    1. Domain craft skill.

    2. 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.
    3. Passion and purpose.

    4. 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.
    5. Motivation.

    6. 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 controlling.      

    When we 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.  

  5. Assimilating and accommodating our knowledge legacy models.

  6. 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.

    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 reality.

    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 engaged.

    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 presentation.

    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.

    World 3.

    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:

    Firstly 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.

    Secondly 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.

    Thirdly 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.

    Fourthly 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.

    Fifthly 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 says:

"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.

Since 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.

The 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.

Experts 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.

An 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 constructed."    

How does life long learning work in the world?

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.

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