Thursday, June 14, 2012

Old Dog

People often say that learning becomes more and more difficult as you get older. This apparent phenomenon is attributed to many factors. For example, they used to think that you can't produce new brain cells, that you're born with so many and their numbers slowly diminish over time. They used to think that.

Some attribute diminished capacity to learn to loss or reduction of other physical capacities such as seeing and hearing.

To be fair, given most of the evidence (i.e., all the people in your life), it might indeed seem that learning becomes more difficult as we age. However, I think a more accurate statement might be: people seem to learn less quickly and effectively as they grow older. I would also suggest that the phenomenon has nothing to do with learning, but instead, with unlearning.

When you're very young, you're almost a blank slate. You have very little bias and no built-up intuition.  As such, you see what is presented just as it is. You hear what is said just as it is. You don't dismiss physical sensations because you've felt them before.  Everything comes in for processing.

At first its nearly impossible to mistake one word for another because you don't have words. You may see things that people call by the same name to be completely different from one another, e.g., what makes those two things both 'grandpa'. You may see things that people call by the different names to be nearly identical, e.g., some people call poop 'icky' and other seem glad for you efforts.

However, as you get older you build up an arsenal of anti-learning systems. You no longer hear sounds; you hear words. You don't take the time to really look at someone's face as they speak, because you already "know" what they look like. Before you know it, you have a "way" you do things. It's filled with bias and assumption. You have intuition which is likely almost always wrong or at least limiting. It becomes nearly impossible to see something that you don't expect to see, that doesn't fit into your worldview.

With all this going for you, it becomes nearly impossible to learn anything you don't already know.

There's a solution.

It can be a bit challenging, but only emotionally. It's the basis of studentship the world-over.

Find someone to teach you (or someone to imitate) and decide that you know absolutely nothing. No matter what your intuition says, you do what she does or what she tells you to do. Even if everything inside you is screaming, "No, we don't do it that way!", you do it that way.

Not only that, but you do EVERYTHING he says, even the stuff that seems irrelevant or unimportant. You see, since you don't know ANYTHING, you can't tell what's relavent or important.

That's it.

It's pretty straight forward and yet apparently nearly impossible (based on the frequency of successful examples.)

I can tell you one thing though. I've never seen it not work.

Happy Thursday,

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