Are we Metalearning yet? – The Art of learning how to learn


I started writing another piece and I got heavily sidetracked, so much so, I thought I had enough material to hold a piece on its own.

It’s an interesting read, let me know what you think about it?

MY CPU IS A NEURAL NET PROCESSOR, A LEARNING COMPUTER

There is a great part of James Cameron’s T2 movie where the young John Conner wants the T-101 model to start embracing a sense of humanity. They manage this by overriding its original programming and basically reset the glorified can opener to enable it to learn from new human experiences.

They have this wonderful part in the director’s cut where they basically remove a  processor chip from Arnie’s head to reboot the android killing machine. It’s a wonderfully devised scene with the use of the Hamilton twins and some basic cinematic trickery, tis a real shame it was cut out of the original version of the film.

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So the terminator is reboot with a thirst to learn. The first observation the T-101 is made aware of is where the spare car keys are likely to be stored in an unlocked car, after choosing to hotwire a vehicle instead. John Connor arrogantly shows him the location of the keys and infamously spouts at the Terminator one of my favourite lines of any film and the inspiration for this blog title…

Are we learning yet?

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Well this piece embraces somewhat of that journey to learn and ultimately evolve, through my own experiences and my thoughts about the whole process.

SO sit back ladies and gentlemen and allow me to reboot your neural net processors

Now then, any questions?

Ever since I was a young cub, I was instilled with the notion of when I didn’t understand something to ask questions and have it explained to me.

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Very soon I realised that who ever told me this wished they fucking hadn’t as I was forever bugging the world to explain the intricate details of everything, from how the concept of money works to how HIV made a person ill

*** (DISCLAIMER – Just before you all start wondering, AS a child I DID NOT want to hire an assassin to kill someone with AIDS, that came when much later in my teens 🙂 )***

Of course these were the days before the internet but we will get to the information super highway very soon.

It then occurred to me at a very early age that many people didn’t actually have a clue what they were talking about most of the time. This I presume was because they lacked the practical experience in the areas I wished to examine. They just spat out the same generic spiel every one else said without really trying it for themselves or thinking about it logically. Worst still, they would provide those souless empty batch of responses we’ve all heard as children

  • It’s just the way it is
  • It’s the way of the world
  • I’ll tell you when you’re older
  • You’re too young to understand
  • That’s how God made it

Ugh, even writing down those answers gives me a Vietnam-esque flashback that makes me wanna vomit in my mouth. IF you take anything from this, it should be this. NEVER leave a child’s question legitimately unanswered. it destroys the underlying circuitry required to drive creativity. You might as well give them a lobotomy in my eyes. Anywho, moving on….

I also quickly understood that most adults didn’t like to be trumped up by inquisitive younglings so I decided to be more selective whom my questions were geared to in order to not hurt their feelings so much.

With this I discovered very quickly, in order to gain an understanding in a subject  I had two options

1. I would either have to contact an expert or read directly from someone else’s expertise in it

or

2. Simply engage in it personally, breaking it down and trying to reconstruct it,  furthering my knowledge with simple trial and error based reasoning.

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In most cases due to the lack of experts around and general resources from said experts, I would simply delve with a little bit of each with a 35% read, 65% gain practice experience kinda ratio.

This is pretty much the best approach I’ve found and I’ve roughly stuck to it throughout my life.

Monkey see…

I also found out very early on that people weren’t necessarily aware of why they succeeded in certain areas. you would find that they may give the whole Hulk Hogan drivel of

Take your greens, say your prayers, take your vitamins, work hard, shave your ass, stay in school and listen to your parents

But in real life they were steroid injecting cut throat business-driven hairy arseholed bastards?

Many people’s ethos’ are actually different to how they go about their lives. Even subconsciously, the professionals would still likely give you the basic misinformation crap to start off with, the very same misinformation the regular muppets would jam down your throat.

So taking this in mind, I decided to turn that famous biblical line on its head.

“Do not what I say but as I do….BITCH”

This lead to me to nurture a unique ability to observe and retain specific visual information in order to quiz its usage later on or to mimmic it

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I’ve only just noticed now that I am actually a very good mimic and for most things, I only have to be shown once before it becomes second nature to me.

In many social situations, I pay attention to how people engage in certain things rather than the why they are doing it in the first place. I notice very intricate details and tiny mannerisms in people and it’s also helped me nailing accents better because I tend to listen more to how people say things rather than what they are saying most of the time.

This has helped me from everything as tedious of getting my way through my first kiss to learning how to drive, to learning instruments to salsa dancing and so on and so forth.

And like most things, once I got the hang of it, I would them make it my own by putting my own spin on it based on other life lessons etc.

From Padawan to Jedi Knight

I’ve found myself throughout life growing into a person people tend to go to for information for some reason. Based on my experience of asking people questions, I found the only way to become good on giving advise is to first truly master something by subjugating it, becoming successful at it and making it look effortless. Either that or have the ability to refer an individual to a relevant source of information or someone who has.

Otherwise, like the string of adults who came before you, you just end up spreading eucalyptus shit-filled lies, like a defecating koala bear in the middle of an epileptic fit.

But what does it take to truly master something?

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For most people, I generally find that with new situations comes an  learning S-curve where you start off with no clue in the infantile stage and through some trial and error, manage to hit puberty with some basic knowledge. Then with some backed up experience, you reach a level of maturity that allows you to overcome that obstacle with considerably more ease than when you first were bamboozled by it. Then you do it subconsciously without even trying and people look at you like a guru.

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So how does this look on a timescale, you ask?

Awhile ago,  some clever clogs wrote  the following in a journal on the subject of expertise, while observing chess players.

There are no instant experts in chess—certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade’s intense preoccupation with the game. We would estimate, very roughly, that a master has spent perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions…

And with that, the 10,000 rule was roughly scrutinised across a wide variety of subjects from mastering an instrument, race car driving, being a world class head shef, to even neuro-surgery and was deemed to be somewhat accurate. The notion stuck and society has kinda accepted it.

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For those of you trying to break down what 10,000 hours looks like, it roughly translates to 416 dedicated full days (with no sleep, eat or rest) of practice to  to reach at a world level.

Now if you were to practice for just three hours a days every day, this would equate to pretty much a grand total of 3328 days, or 10 years to be Final boss epic, like M Bison here. Look at him all smug with his 10,000 hours of villainey under his belt.

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Now looking at this rationally, this is why most managers and junior executives or technical specialists in the field have jobs advertised that look for candidates with at least 10-15 years field experience before opening up the board to them.

It’s also amusing that in order to become a doctorate at something at university, considering you are doing an 8 hour a day batch of research it would take you….3.5 years to do it in.

How convenient that most PhD courses are roughly set at the 3-5 year bracket for completion, depending on which country you are in (and how productive you are with your write up).

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I am under the impression that this 10,000 duration is most likely down to the time spent for self tutoring of one’s self through the intricate nature of a subject, or perhaps with only some basic guidance.

This is mostly with a trial and error kinda strategy and wading your way into it gently, basically getting a feeling for how it should be done over the best part of a decade till you’re pretty much flying on automatic. This can then allow you the time to tune up on the delicate tiny bits that set you apart from the rest. making you that one in a Million type candidate.

Is there another way?

Now the 10,000 rule is one in order to gain a true mastery in a single field but unless there is a competitive or financial reward at the end of it or simply an overwhelming passion for it, most people don’t need to get to that level in anything.

I am under the impression that alot of people would like to improve their skills over a wide variety of things. Ya know the typical things you always hear from a failed new year’s resolution list.

  • Learn a new language
  • Learn to cook
  • Lose weight, tone up and be healthier
  • Run a marathon
  • Read more
  • Start up my own business
  • Learn an instrument
  • Go back to Uni/College
  • Be more efficient with my time/money
  • Get back on that hobby I loved when I was a kid

However, right there you are staring at 100 years of pure dedication to master just these few things on your wishlist. Truth be told, not many people believe they have that much time to commit to all their loves. It’s no wonder so many people fail especially when real life gets in the way.

Many think there is no way to circumvent this but I personally don’t think that’s the case. However I noticed one thing….

You can trim literally 90% off that 10,000 hour estimate, freeing you up to either carry on with normal life or even better, to pursue being excellent at pretty much anything your heart desires.

Like going from barely being able to swim a lap at the pool to open water swimming of the british channel. Or from hardly managing a five 5k run, to running 43 marathons in 53 days.

I only mention this because these were feats performed by two Well known british comedians, David Walliams (swim) and Eddie Izzard  (run) managing to raise millions for well known British charities.

In the case of Eddie, he managed this with only five week’s training and no previous running experience. That is a remarkable feat  of running over 1,100 miles for only…. say ….140 hours of training MAX. That’s a staggering 1.5% of the 10,000 hours time it’s supposed to take.

So are these types of results feasible for everyday people like me and you and not just poncy celebrities with too much time on their hands?

Abso-fucking-lutely

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Alright clever clogs, how would you go about it?

The problem we have really comes down to the two fundamental stumbling blocks of

  • How we have been taught to learn

and also

  • The basic information we are provided right from the offset is often inadequate and misleading.

In many situations, people are too proud to ask for proper advise from the get go and end up going into things incorrectly, meaning when they get to a reasonable level to ask advise, alot of that initial time is spent reshaping old habbits to get them to behave/act in a manner that is more beneficial towards their final goal. No one likes this ‘retard’ stage. Fear is a real stumbling block for most people getting to their goals.

Don’t believe me, let’s take a real trivial example most people have been involved in, SEX

Let’s talk about sex baby…

How often have I heard someone complaining about the prowess of an ex or are worried that they are not pleasing a current partner?

When asked with the simple question of

DId you ask/tell them what they/you liked before you started having sex?

Nearly all of them said no

If they were still in said relationship, I invited them to ask/tell and they always came up with this…

‘It’s too late now’

This shows up time and time again in many situations. Again, I was lucky from my youth to have this inquisitive nature and always go into a situation with no pre-determined view points ready to absorb anything I can. Alot of people have this ego thing and really don’t like being deconstructed, even if the end it makes them better. They’d rather base their knowledge on common knowledge and end up being….crap and common at many things. Kinda sad but I tend not to try and Judge.

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So where should I be obtaining my knowledge from?

Before I go on, this part will be focusing still on the 35% knowledge.

As they most commonly say, ya gotta stick to the SEVEN Ps

Peter Piper Picked a pickled pepper

no, that’s not it, oh wait…

Proper Prior Preparation prevents piss poor performance

With regards to actually sourcing for expertise, it’s pretty fucking simple these days, the internet is a raging source of free information for anyone who has the slightest inkling on how to properly use a search engine.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds as I still get asked a plethora of asinine questions from people who have access to answers from true experts, right in the palm of their hands. I will get on to how we should be learning later on.

Everyone who has ever made it at something has been exactly where you have been at some point in their life. Most of them have gone through the hardships of going at it mostly on their own and generally kinda wish there was someone out there to lend a hand to them to help them on their way up. So once they’ve achieved their goals, they decide to be that person for the next generation to help drag others through the mud.

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It’s a very human trait that when you find ‘genuine success’ in something to wish to share that experience with other people. Because of this, anyone with any expertise on anything is literally trying to shout out the joys of their mastery on some dedicated website. More often than not, they wish to divulge this information to you for nothing at all.

Gone are the days when you have to pay for solid advise. Now experts are begging for you to hear it. That is because you are now small fry to their revenue stream which no longer needs you as a directly paying participator, rather than a subconcious absorber of the advertising on their page.

As long as you can stay away from the influence of the Trojan advertising horse, that information is yours for the taking.

Not only this but you now have the ability to directly interact with these individuals no matter where in the world they are with things such as blog comment replies, Vlogs, youtube, tweets, skype, video conferencing etc. You literally have no excuse

What type of information should I be seeking?

I would start off with this.

FUCK the common knowledge basics and go direct to expertise advise on the intricate details and this is why.

Now it would be pointless to try and pick out everything from the bat, you’ll be overcome with a sensory overload. However, if you can break down your task enough to understand the basic requirements of what makes a person or certain individuals excel in a certain field or what a judging panel generally looks for and pick out say five points to vastly improve upon in your own performance, you can see a incredibly rapid improvements in your mastery of it in very little time at all. Think of it as the bare minimum requirements to get you to that level in a short period of time, the escalator to greatness so to speak.

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Incorporating specific expertise right from the offset will automatically make you adhere to the basics from a top-down learning experience. When most people go from bottom up, they are unaware of where they need to strive for next often getting complacent at a level for too long, further prolonging their time on something.

Also if you want to excel, provide yourself with a strict deadline (concert in 12 weeks, marathon in a month, book launch party in six months). The complexity of a task will fill up the time allocated to it. SO try not to drag it along, make it a realistic time with little lee way to spare and allow some sense of humiliation if you don’t go through with it (don’t chicken out, go through and if you’re not successful this will be the biggest motivation for next time). Losing face infront of loved ones or more importantly work colleagues is quite the motivator.

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Most Importantly, how should I be absorbing this information?

Now this is the tricky bastard.

Allow me to introduce you to a short video on a dude called Tim Ferris. If you haven’t heard of him, you should find this video very interesting at the very least. Please take some time to watch it.

So there you have it,

Now I am not here to try and get you to purchase anything of his, however I do think that Tim does have an overall valid point, which happens to align and showcase my own.

We all complain about how little time we have in order to accomplish anything while one of the main reasons for this is the fact that we waste so much of it learning how to do it in the first place.

The key is this thing he calls Metalearning or understanding the art of learning and being conscious and optimising of one’s own ability to learn, interpret, understand and implement data to our best use.

The key culprit as to why we don’t all have this skill is that at schools, we are never taught the real fundamentals. We are taught what to learn but not necessarily how to learn at any key stage in our development.Whether this is because we aren’t capable or if this (as well as many other key subjects) is neglected or purpose for some part of social control is a topic for another post.

I’ve been very fortunate as part of a researching period in my career to have enough time to internally map and take control of my learning process and tweak it to my benefit. Not many have the time, money,  convenience, necessity or self-interest to afford this luxury of  this type of self examination and personal evolution.

If you assume, children could grasp this notion, I do genuinely believe if we are taught how to learn at schools then the emphasis of learning from memory (Rote Learning), which is a skill most adults don’t actually utilize can be fizzled out (completely pointless skill). Instead teach people how to source reliable data, extract and implement useful aspects from it and you will find that they excel in what ever profession they enter.

If you can teach people how to learn properly and how they can take control of this process, then whatever they choose to learn thereafter is much more likely to stick. Whether that is computer programming their own ap software, world war two historically correct re-enactments, equal rights law or becoming a legend at tennis. The same rules will always apply.

Furthermore, it makes everything so much more quicker going forward, trimming the 10,000 hour myth right down to its bare bones, allowing you the ability to tackle all the great loves in your life.

In terminator 2, it only took the Terminator a day to understand the depths of the human soul. With it, he essentially turned to as close to human as possibly could.

Just imagine what you could accomplish in few months utilizing similar metalearning techniques and what you could turn into.

It’s time to start evolving people. No more excuses

That is the lesson for today.

 

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