Enjoying The Journey: Being Patient While Realizing My Dreams

August 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wanting to prepare for my upcoming classes, I’ve taken the time over the past couple of weeks to do a bit of research on each subject. I’ve found some great websites and especially books that I can draw on as I tackle the topics that are likely to pop up. The past couple of weeks have been spent reading these books with mixed results. On the one hand, I’ve acquainted myself well enough with the subjects that I at-least know where to look should a particular issue or question arise.

On the other hand, much of the material I’ve read just isn’t sticking. I’m left with a vague understanding of how congress works here and a basic understanding of the principles and criticisms of utilitarianism there. I feel the amount of information I’ve absorbed is not desirably proportional to the amount of  time I’ve spent reading.

In comes a couple of great resources. The first is a website entitled Study Hacks by a chap who claims to be a 29 year-old computer scientist. The website appears to be a pet project centered on attempting to understand why some people succeed and others do not. It has given me some food for thought regarding my own approach to study and I’m left with the undeniable conclusion that I must develop a set of habits and a lifestyle that will be most conducive to both happiness and success. His nuggets of advice includes tactics on avoiding deep procrastination and keeping course-loads small. I’m sure not all of his advice will apply to me so I must be critical about whatever I read, but the website is an indispensable resource nonetheless.

The second resource is a book that I’ve had for quite awhile and even read once before! It is called “How To Read a Book” by Mortimer Adler. Don’t let the title fool you, it is not as simplistic as it sounds. In the first chapter, Adler distinguishes between reading for knowledge and reading for understanding. Reading for knowledge is nothing more than acquiring facts while reading for understanding is achieving enlightenment. Reading for understanding thus requires more engagement on the part of the reader who must be more active to better receive the information being given by the author.

“Achieving enlightenment” may sound mystical and spiritual but I am not talking in a Buddhist sense. I’m talking in the sense that Adler does. Being enlightened means more than just understanding the facts. It means understanding why the facts are as they are, what their relationships are to other facts, what their similarities are, what their differences are, etc. In order to get to the point of understanding, a person must first not understand, which means approaching a book that is difficult to read first and then working to understand it through analysis and study. If I read a book that is so easy that I follow along with no trouble, then I am only gaining facts, not understanding.

He makes another interesting distinction, one that I would like to remember. Being widely read, and being well read are very different. I’m left with the impression that reading few books well and understanding them well is better then reading many books no-so-well.

Adler also distinguishes between unaided-discovery and aided-discovery. Unaided-discovery is learning independently. Think scientists using experimentation to increase our understanding of our universe, or mathematicians using logic to establish new theorems. Aided-discovery is learning as a pupil to either a present teacher (like a professor) or an absent one (like an author.) Reading is technically aided-discovery since understanding is being acquired with the help of another person. However, it retains an extremely important trait of unaided-discovery: one cannot ask an author to clarify points that are not yet understood. If I am standing in front of a professor, I can ask them a question directly. Any questions I have while reading a book I must answer myself by using the same kind of analytic skills used by scientists and mathematicians. I must be active.

The book is an enlightening read. I have two weeks before classes begin, and I hope to spend that time learning to use my effort as efficiently as possible to make good grades and have a happy life. Both of these resources, I hope, will help me work toward that goal.


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