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Ted Nelson’s Dream Machines

[Nelson 74, p. DM 42]

A lot of people are afraid to ask questions
because they’re afraid of looking dumb.
But the dumb thing is not asking questions.

If I ever get my school, the one course taught will be

How to learn anything

As far as I can tell, these are the techniques used by bright people who want to learn something other than by taking courses in it. It’s the way Ph.D.’s pick up a second field, it’s the way journalists and “geniuses” operate; it brings the general understandings of a field that children of eminent people in the field get as a birthright; it’s the way anybody can learn anything, if he has the nerve.

Ben Shneiderman, The Maryland Way:
Choose a good driving problem...
Become immersed in related work...

Kirsten Nygaard at IRIS ’96:
You should be conscious about such processes and exploit this insight.

Ivan Sutherland,Research and Fun: And if you would be a researcher it seams to me that you’d best search your soul first to find out what it is you like to do.

Resources on the Concept of Learning
  1. Decide what you want to learn. But you can’t know exactly, because of course you don’t know exactly how any field is structured until you know about it.

  2. Read everything you can on it, especially what you enjoy, since that way you can read more of it and faster.

  3. Grab for insights. Regardless of points others are trying to make, when you recognize an insight that has meaning for you, make it your own. It may have to do with the shape of molecules, or the personality of a specific emperor, or the quirks of a Great Man in the Field. Its importance is not how central it is, but how clear and interesting and memorable to you. Remember it. Then go for another.

  4. Tie insights together. Soon you will have your own string of insights in a field, like the string of lights around a Christmas tree.

  5. Concentrate on magazines, not books. Magazines have a far more insights per inch of text, and can be read much faster. But when a book really speaks to you, lavish attentions on it.

  6. Find your own special topics, and pursue them.

  7. Go to conventions. For some reason, conventions are a splendid concentrated way to learn things; talking to people helps. Don’t think you have to be anybody special to get to a convention; just plunk down your money. But you have to have a handle. Calling yourself a Consultant is good; “Student” is perfectly honorable.

  8. “Find your man.” Somewhere in the world is someone who will answer your questions extraordinarily well. If you find him, dog him. He may be a janitor or a teenage kid; no matter. Follow him with your begging-bowl, if that’s what he wants, or take him to expensive restaurants, or whatever.

  9. Keep improving your questions. Probably in your head there are questions, that don’t seem to line up with what you are hearing. Don’t assume that you don’t understand; keep adjusting the questions till you can get an answer that relates to what you wanted.

  10. Your field is bounded where you want it to be. Just because others group and stereotype things in conventional ways does not mean they are necessarily right. Intellectual subjects are connected every whichway; your field is what you think it is. (Again, this is one of the things what will get you into trouble if you try to go for degrees.)

There are limitations. This doesn’t give you lab experience, and you will continually have to be making up for gaps. But for alertness and the ability to use his mind, give me the man who’s learned this way, rather than been blinkered and clichéd to death within the educational system.

more excerpts from Dream Machines