What To Learn And How To Learn It – These Are The Questions


“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”Marcus Tullius Cicero

1.) Introduction
2.) Experience vs. Reading
3.) Refining Reading – The Art of Summarising
4.) In Closing / Relevant Reading

1.) Introduction:

Contrary to what may be impressed upon the reader by the length and intricacy of my essays, I greatly value simplification, especially when it comes to learning something. There are so many great books to read and so many interesting topics to discover, that there simply isn’t enough time to absorb it all. As such, when one is voracious for knowledge they must make choices in what they learn, and then strive to absorb what they have deemed worthy of learning as quickly as they can humanly learn it.

Knowledge is not power but power potential, and rather it is the application of knowledge and not knowledge itself that constitutes power as we think of it. As such, it is in one’s interest to accrue as much knowledge as possible in order to increase their power potential. Time however is as equally pressing as it is finite, if not because it is finite, and thus the net maximum potential power accumulable decreases in direct proportion to the amount of time expended on things extraneous of one’s current learning objective.

To simplify this statement: the more time one spends learning any specific thing, the less time they have left on the Earth to learn other things. And those things you’re not learning could be, unbeknownst to you, more conducive to your personal power than the things you have chosen to learn.

Cost-benefit analyses are our friends, but whatever we choose to learn incurs a sunk cost, and thereby it is in our interest to choose both wisely (to make the most informed decisions we’re capable of in choosing what we learn) and to choose quickly (to avoid the unproductive inertia of indecision and procrastination).

Naturally, the accuracy of a choice tends to increase with the slowness with which it is decided, and thus there’s an argument to be made that slower more accurate choices are superior to quicker and more sloppily made ones. Regardless, momentum is the achieving man’s friend, procrastination but his foe. And so in light of this there’s an even greater argument to be made: that in the pursuit of growth, it is better to simply make a decision than it is to make none at all, for even in failure there is education, whilst in stagnation there is little besides regret and the illusion of safety.

Ultimately, the goal of the most ambitious self-actualiser is to make smart learning choices in as little time as possible, whilst learning the chosen thing with maximum depth and understanding in the shortest time possible.

Most outwardly agree learning is important, fewer actually expend the effort necessary to actively learn, whilst even fewer seek to tinker with their learning methodology in order to optimise it. I of course am of the belief that in order to truly be the best that one can be, that simply doing is insufficient, doing is necessary, but more importantly one must seek to refine how they do. Learning is no exception to this need, and rather, I actually think of it to be the thing that epitomises this sentiment.

2.) Experience vs. Reading:

“But IM, is knowledge even important to the accumulation of power? Surely experience is superior to reading?”

There is indisputably great value to knowledge, but knowledge bereft a means of implementation is unactualised of purpose in much the way raw materials owned by nations without the means to refine them see the potential of said materials wasted.

Experience is vital in matters of the heart and the body, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Simply put, experience is overrated, for there’s not enough time in this life to experience everything to the degree sufficient enough to master it. This is why we have specialisation, for it is better to be a master of one trade than a layman in all.

This is also why we compress time in the form of books, for they allow us to derive the core lessons of a thing without requiring us to invest the time necessary to fully experience it. Life is literally too short to experience everything to the degree necessary for a man to truly understand and master it, for beyond a certain level of proficiency, one falls victim to the law of diminishing returns.

The power of books lies in their ability to have us learn from those who have already invested the time to become an expert at a thing, they are almost like surrogate mentors if you will. And so in the grander picture, they are time-saving devices, although in the heat of immediacy many do not view books as such because they can take considerable time to ingest. Nonetheless, irrespective of the time it takes a man to read a particularly lengthy and intricate book, it would take him even longer to live the things the writer did in order to form a conclusion of equal authority.

By the time you become a wall street trader, a pro wrestler, or whatever it is that will teach you the lessons you want to learn, you could’ve read hundreds of books that would’ve taught you more than you would’ve learned from investing an equal or greater amount of time actually trying the thing for yourself.

Personal experience is inefficient because you do a lot of things that don’t work in order to discover what does, whereas the success derived from the experience of others can be distilled into knowledge that saves you from making the mistakes necessary to arrive at the same conclusion.

Books that draw knowledge from a wide data pool can pattern recognise trends to derive principles, and these principles can in turn be used by the uninitiated to increase their odds of success. It is this macro approach to knowledge which allows a person to draw inferences with a level of accuracy that would be simply impossible to derive were they reliant solely on personal experience.

Take The Bell Curve for instance, the employ of statistics garnered from thousands of studies allowed this book to make conclusions with a level of accuracy beyond that which any single person is capable of achieving. How is this so? Quite simply, more data. Anyone with even a basic understanding of statistics realises that absent wilful falsification, greater sample sizes lead to more accurate findings.

People trust experience more because it can’t be faked, and lord knows academics fabricate all kinds of data to support their ideological agendas, and yet irrespective of this, experience is most certainly overrated.

I’m not trying to debase the necessity of experience for it certainly has value, undoubtedly a great many thing requires experience in order to be truly understood. However, there are only so many experiences a person can have, and one’s experiences are often incomplete in the sense that they’re the byproducts of inability rather than achievement.

Likewise, people of greater mind can teach us things we don’t notice, or struggle to articulate and consciously understand. And so reading not only saves us time, but more importantly it allows us to pierce the universe more deeply than if we were to remain unlettered. It is this quality of the book that makes it irreplaceably additive to one’s time on this Earth.

This is the value of secondhand knowledge, and unlike experience, it is often undervalued owing to its indirect and vicarious nature. I think this to be incorrect, and rather that it is the unread experience junkie who is the fool rather than the individual who complements their living with the wisdom and discoveries of men greater than they.

To give an example I’m sure most of you will relate to, a divorced man knows enough about marriage to accurately forewarn younger men of the risks inherent to the endeavour. One need not actually go and get married and undergo the same pains, trials and tribulations that millions of other men have in order to validate the finding.

This would not only be extremely deleterious to one’s mental health, but likewise a terrible use of their time. This notion really exemplifies how knowledge can trump experience in educating one on “what not to do”, for when a person has internalised a long list of what they shouldn’t be doing, the number of mistakes necessary to get where they want to go is reduced exponentially. Yes, often to find the answers on how to specifically do a thing, a person need merely repeatedly attempt a thing whilst altering their approach with each iteration. But to discover what not to do and decrease the odds of failure from the get go, this is where reading provides quite the boon.

3.) Refining Reading – The Art of Summarising:

“Ok IM, I understand reading is necessary to augment my success, but if reading is the default state of learning, how do I optimise my learning process to learn even quicker?”

So in the paragraphs prior I detailed my philosophy on learning, now I will detail the steps I’ve taken in light of it.

Effective businessmen know that in order to scale up and earn truly ludicrous sums of money they must learn to delegate. Things they became accustomed to doing when they were small should be assigned to others in order to free up their time for grander tasks. I apply this idea to learning.

If a person can reduce the time taken to learn a thing without compromising on the depth with which they understand the thing, they can gain a huge edge over the competition.

So rather than constantly read books, I look for people who have gone to the effort of fully understanding a book, plucking out its gems and explaining what they mean in a summarised manner. This way, I can profit from their time investment and learn exactly what they’ve learned in only a fraction of the time.

Books condense life, but summaries condense books, and thus pound for pound I believe reading or at least actively listening to summaries given by people who have already fully read a text is something that will provide me with the greatest intellectual return in the shortest amount of time. I believe very few people are doing this, and that yet this one thing alone can give a man a great edge in this game we call life.

This is the beauty of the digital age, if you know where to look, you can find time-saving services that would simply not have been possible before the advent of the internet. Podcasts are an obvious place to begin streamlining the learning process, I particularly enjoy the Tim Ferriss podcast. The only drawback with podcasts is the advertising and predominance of socialising acts as no more than fluff to the budding learner. Podcasts are as such in my view, more semi-educational easy listening than they are concentrated catalysts for self-growth.

A step-up from podcasts are audio summaries, an audio summary is a person summarising the key points of a text they’ve read and articulating these findings to the listener. I particularly enjoy illacertus’s YouTube channel for this purpose. The advantage audio summaries have over podcasts is how the speaker directly delivers the information absent the fluff of banter or social observation you can expect from podcasts.

Finally, we have text summaries. The main reason I believe text summaries to be superior to audio summaries is because audio can play in the background, allowing you to tune them out whilst you do other things. Text on the other hand demands your full attention to be imbibed, and thus cannot fall victim to your need to check social media. It’s actually quite difficult to find anyone going through the hassle of summarising books into text summaries, however I managed to find an online bookclub which is doing exactly this.

4.) In Closing / Relevant Reading:

I wouldn’t listen to a podcast in lieu of reading an actual book, however, if you’re reading to grow rather than for self-pleasure, I highly recommend integrating audio, and particularly text summaries into your autodidactic toolkit.

If you’re not improving, you’re not growing and if you’re not growing, you’re losing. By speeding up your rate of learning, you vastly increase your chances of success. Don’t hold yourself back.


The Art of Learning


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