Learning is not spray paint. You don’t enter a school and
it automatically covers you in knowledge. Learning requires
Most people don’t know how to learn. They memorize.
They read their texts over and over, and as long as a question
matches the words they have forced into their mind they can
answer. If a question is phrased in such a way to demand
thought, they become catatonic.
In learning a difficult Italian Aria, a soprano doesn’t have
to know Italian, just how to get the syllables and the notes
to match. So too, a large number of students. They can
rattle off long theorems but haven’t a clue what they are
To learn means to make that information part of your
consciousness. To be able to visualize, to see the
connections between new information and old.
Just as you can watch a television serial and remember
the names of the characters and the plots from year to
year without conscious effort, so too can you learn all
the rulers of England, philosophies, scientific theorems.
The question is how do you learn? How did you come to learn
all about that television serial? Surely you didn’t sit down with
a text, a notebook, a pen, began to watch and transcribe, and
study your notes over night.
Somehow the information painlessly entered your brain.
How did that happen?
Children are taught ‘nursery rhymes’ to teach them how
to learn. They hear something over and over, it becomes
familiar, they repeat it. They can move from nursery
rhymes to the Alphabet, to numbers, using the same
repetition, memorization they used for the rhyme.
But there has to come a point where they can go from
A = Apple to realizing that the same sound the ‘A’
makes there, is the same sound it makes with Avocado,
and that if Apple begins with an ‘A’, then Avocado
must begin with an ‘A’.
That jump is the blue print for how one learns. Until one
can make the jump, one has not learned. One has memorized.
The way to provoke the ‘jump’ is when one can find an
‘old’ bit of information and match it to a ‘new’ bit; as
with the letter ‘A’.
If one reads history as a bunch of unconnected events
happening randomly, one will never learn History. They
might memorize a few dates, connect a few incidents,
but history will remain an indecipherable montage.
Historical television programs have done a great deal in
spreading (mis)information. You ‘see’ Cleopatra or Queen
Elizabeth I or Shaka Zulu, and become interested in the
character, the plot, the dialog, and so you open yourself
to participation in the presentation.
It is this opening of your intellect to this drama which
puts things in a logical order, and makes it ‘live’.
Because you have ‘seen’ it, you can remember it visually.
If you also read along with the program, you gain nuances
which might have been left out or twisted by the producers.
Other subjects are more difficult to visualize.
In science, for example, an experiment can prove or disprove
a theory. You can see, for example, that raw meat doesn’t
make maggots, that maggots are made when flies lay their
eggs in raw meat.
In English you need to hear the words pronounced, defined,
and used, to create that template in your mind. Hearing
a word like ‘persiflage’ will only make sense to you, and
become part of your vocabulary if you use it in a sentence
You can not think about what you can not find words for.
Hence, until ‘persiflage’ is performed, you might not
realise it exists.
Sometimes one will create a word to describe something
for which they do not have the word; depending on their
vocabulary they may coin a phrase or be incomprehensible,
but the fact that a brain is being utilized can not be
An example of learning is using a piece of
rubber tire as a door hinge.
One has seen a door hinge, one has extrapolated how it
works, one sees a piece of old tire. One nails one piece
to the frame, another to the door. The door can open and
close. Depending on the size of the door, the thickness
of the tire, one might have to use two or three pieces.
Yes, it doesn’t work as well as an actual hinge, but the
fact that one has been able to appreciate the properties
of the hinge, that is learning.
How do you learn?
Listen or read. Stop. Visualise. Put it into your context
so that it makes sense. Own the concept so that you can
explain it to someone else. If you can’t explain it, you
haven’t learned it.