Learning Vacuum

If you’ve ever heard Richard Feynman talk (example), you’ll be easily and fairly quickly sucked into his world of physics and chemistry. How does he do that?
Feynman does something that is very counter-intuitive to standard approach to lecturing about an idea or a concept. He starts from the middle or the end and branches towards the beginning.
The standard, intuitive, approach to teaching would be to start from the beginning. Like the Bible: In the beginning there was the Word…
And if you’ve ever tried to read the Bible from the beginning, it starts off disconnected from your current reality, and quickly becomes very boring and hard to follow.
In every single class you’ve taken in high school or college you start from the beginning of the topic of that class. In geometry you begin with the standard shapes and areas and circumferences. In algebra you begin with basic equations and solving for single unknowns.
But this approach to teaching forces the student to disconnect him/herself from reality and jump into a vacuum of unknown. And then the student is expected to retain these basic information and build on top of it, then hopefully the student will be able to build this tree of knowledge up until their actual reality coincides with the reality formulated inside the classroom.
This approach is considered as ‘academic.’ And it’s no wonder that there is such a gap between what people consider as academic and what people consider as practical reality.
In economics you learn about supply and demand in a vacuum of unrealistic examples of guns vs butter. In physics you learn about forces in a conceptual vacuum of unrealistic examples of frictionless carts in a literal vacuum.
But when you are, after you get your degree, thrown into the real world, you are expected to somehow bridge the gap between reality and the vacuous systems of knowledge you’ve created in school. And this bridge is sometimes so vast that most people disregard school as an inconsequential and political exercise that doesn’t really mean anything except to show that you’re a dedicated and tenacious person, even in the face of constant boredom and years of suffering.
You then, in your work environment, begin the true method of learning. You start with what you know. Then you start pushing the boundaries of what you know. You begin to expand your reality outward. The branches of knowledge inside your head begin to grow and expand and one day, if you’re lucky, one of those branches connects with this other tree that you’ve grown in a vacuum in school.
And suddenly it all makes sense! That other tree isn’t in a vacuum anymore, there is a context now. There is a connection with reality.
But often, by the time you’ve reached that tree, that tree has been un-nourished for years and the leftover is a rotting husk of information that isn’t of very much use anymore. And then you have a sense of “man! I wish I can go back to school or take a course and re-learn statistics.” There is a connection with reality now and you recognize the value of what you were learning and wish that you still retained all that knowledge, now that it can be of use to you.


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