On Spectatorship

:-). From ArtofManliness:

Here and there appears the aggravated case, completely infected, the fan who is nothing but a fan—a flabby creature, symbolic of the multitude, a parasite upon the play of others, the least athletic of all men, never playing himself at anything, a spectacle hunter, not a sportsman. –Richard Henry Edwards, 1915



The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler


On Learning..

Robert Bjork has some counter-intuitive ideas on learning. Here are some excerpts from an interview with him:

“People tend to try to learn in blocks,” says Bjork, “mastering one thing before moving on to the next.” But instead he recommends interleaving, a strategy in which, for example, instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork. “This creates a sense of difficulty,” says Bjork, “and people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”

Bjork explains that successful interleaving allows you to “seat” each skill among the others: “If information is studied so that it can be interpreted in relation to other things in memory, learning is much more powerful,” he says.

Similarly, studying in only one location is great as long as you’ll only be required to recall the information in the same location. If you want information to be accessible outside your dorm room, or office, or nook on the second floor of the library, Bjork recommends varying your study location.

“If you study and then you wait, tests show that the longer you wait, the more you will have forgotten,” says Bjork. That’s obvious — over time, you forget. But here’s the cool part: If you study, wait, and then study again, the longer the wait, the more you’ll have learned after this second study session.

Bjork explains it this way: “When we access things from our memory, we do more than reveal it’s there. It’s not like a playback. What we retrieve becomes more retrievable in the future. Provided the retrieval succeeds, the more difficult and involved the retrieval, the more beneficial it is.”

Along these lines, Bjork also recommends taking notes just after class, rather than during — forcing yourself to recall a lecture’s information is more effective than simply copying it from a blackboard. “Get out of court stenographer mode,” says Bjork. You have to work for it.


Beautiful Words From Karate Kid

I was watching this movie and in the climax, there is a fight between The Karate Kid and his opponent. The opponent’s master would have ordered him to break the Kid’s leg so that he does not play the final match. The Kid gets his leg hurt and lies on bed talking to his master. When the master (Jackie Chan) insists that the Kid should not play finals, the Kid responds, “You yourself have told me that when life knocks you down, you can choose to lie down or get up. Why are you telling me to quit?”.

And when the master asks, “Why do you want to play finals?”, the Kid replies, “Because, I am still scared. Tonight when I leave this hall, I don’t want to be scared anymore. That’s why.”

It struck a chord with me. The words are so beautiful, it brought tears.


Nuggets of Wisdom

From an MIT grad:

I wasn’t the greatest student in high school, and whenever I got poor grades I would explain them away by saying I just didn’t care or I was too busy or too unmotivated or (more often than not) just cared about something else. It didn’t help that I had good test performance which fed my ego and let me think I was smarter than everyone else, just relatively unmotivated. I had grossly underestimated MIT, and was left feeling so dumb.

I suffered through half a semester of differential equations before my pride let me go to R. for help. And sure enough, he took my textbook for a night to review the material (he couldn’t remember it all from third grade), and then he walked me through my difficulties and coached me. I ended up pulling a B+ at the end of a semester and avoiding that train wreck. The thing is, nothing he taught me involved raw brainpower. The more I learned the more I realized that the bulk of his intelligence and his performance just came from study and practice, and that the had amassed a large artillery of intellectual and mathematical tools that he had learned and trained to call upon. He showed me some of those tools, but what I really ended up learning was how to go about finding, building, and refining my own set of cognitive tools. I admired R., and I looked up to him, and while I doubt I will ever compete with his genius, I recognize that it’s because of a relative lack of my conviction and an excess of his, not some accident of genetics.

It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that “being smart” is what determines our performance. In so many ways, it’s the easiest possible explanation because it demands so little of us and immediately explains away our failings. You are facing this tension without recognizing it.

You got A’s because you studied or because the classes were easy. You got a B probably because you were so used to understanding things that you didn’t know how to deal with something that didn’t come so easily. I’m guessing that early on you built the cognitive and intellectual tools to rapidly acquire and process new information, but that you’ve relied on those tools so much you never really developed a good set of tools for what to do when those failed. This is what happened to me, but I didn’t figure it out until after I got crushed by my first semester of college. I need to ask you, has anyone ever taken the time to teach you how to study? And separately, have you learned how to study on your own in the absence of a teacher or curriculum? These are the most valuable tools you can acquire because they are the tools you will use to develop more powerful and more insightful tools. It only snowballs from there until you become like R.

In fact, I can’t think of a single one off the top of my head. People fail to graduate from MIT because they come in, encounter problems that are harder than anything they’ve had to do before, and not knowing how to look for help or how to go about wrestling those problems, burn out. The students that are successful look at that challenge, wrestle with feelings of inadequacy and stupidity, and begin to take steps hiking that mountain, knowing that bruised pride is a small price to pay for getting to see the view from the top. They ask for help, they acknowledge their inadequacies. They don’t blame their lack of intelligence, they blame their lack of motivation. I was lucky that I had someone to show me how to look for that motivation, and I’m hoping that I can be that person for you in some small capacity over the Internet. I was able to recover from my freshman year and go on to be very successful in my studies, even serving as a TA for my fellow students. When I was a senior, I would sit down with the freshmen in my dorm and show them the same things that had been shown to me, and I would watch them struggle with the same feelings, and overcome them. By the time I graduated MIT, I had become the person I looked up to when I first got in.

You’re so young, way too young to be worried about not being smart enough. Until you’re so old you start going senile, you have the opportunity to make yourself “smarter.” And I put that in quotes because “smart” is really just a way of saying “has invested so much time and sweat that you make it look effortless.” You feel like you are burnt out or that you are on the verge of burning out, but in reality you are on the verge of deciding whether or not you will burn out. It’s scary to acknowledge that it’s a decision because it puts the onus on you to to do something about it, but it’s empowering because it means there is something you can do about it.

And at last,

So do it.