Why I give a shit about learning

Why I give a shit about learning

For the past few weeks, I’ve been deeply immersed in various subject matters that I consider to be extremely important, and the need to express those thoughts has become greater and greater until this morning I found myself sitting down to begin this paragraph. Instead of one huge rambling post (although I can’t promise it will be entirely ramble-free…), I’m going to attempt to tackle different topics in different posts for the sake of brevity.   The educational system – functional or flawed?   Today, I felt the need to discuss the education system and how it’s already evolved exponentially even within my own lifetime. I would even venture to say that in the approximately seven to eight years since I personally left secondary school, the landscape of education has already changed dramatically.   The strange thing about the traditional learning system is how much it seems to foster a dislike of actual learning within a not-insignificant portion of the students. This is something which, left unchecked, is obviously highly problematic in terms of student attitude and how much this could potentially have a devastating snowball effect on millions of still-unfolding lives.   Yesterday, I found myself watching snippets of the classic 1996 film “Matilda” (based on the excellent book by Roald Dahl, which I also re-read yesterday evening in a fit of nostalgia) and being particularly moved by the scene where Matilda, growing frustrated at the blasé attitude of her lazy and dislikeable parents, takes herself off to the library. (She’s four and a half at the time. Give her kudos for that.)   It’s a beautiful scene...
Backups, redundancy plans and kaizen – Part 1

Backups, redundancy plans and kaizen – Part 1

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this started, but over the course of the past few months, I’ve noticed myself getting more and more fascinated by the way people deal with the unexpected things in life. I suppose there’s a direct connection here with the fact that I’ve also begun to notice that I’m trying, more and more, to start attempting to build redundancy systems into my life in an attempt to mitigate for the fact that when life throws inconveniences your way, it always seems to be at the most inconvenient moments (of course). It’s at times like this when I always remember the phrase “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. It seems to be a rather solid philosophy upon which to build one’s life – a sort of practical, realistic optimism. More and more, I’m beginning to feel that the more prepared you are for the multitude of inevitable misfortunes that crop up throughout life, the more the outcome actually begins to get better – just as much, in fact, as directly trying to improve the outcome. It’s very much a reflection of Charlie Munger’s philosophy that doing the smart thing is, in fact, very often actually more a case of avoiding the stupid things. If you try to avoid the stupid things, you manage to guarantee some sort of baseline set of results upon which you can build in your pursuit of getting the eventual smart result. When I talk about dealing with the unexpected, I’m not necessarily talking about huge problems, either. I really do believe that an accumulation of small irritations can be just as...

Information overload, inversion, and redefining life

I’m going to state upfront that this is going to be a bit of an ADD post in that it’s likely to be a bit of a brain-explosion – all over the place and without any set structure or fixed moral at the end, so bear with me… [EDIT: It’s also a long one – around 2500 words. I’m not going to write a TL;DR. If you’d rather not read, the back button is a single click away.)   The Big Questions   I just had a chat with a friend of mine about the directions people tend to take in their lives and it really got me thinking, and thinking hard. I think it just resonated with me as I’m sort of entering what I’m semi-affectionately thinking of as my quarter-life crisis, and from the moment I wake up to the second I go to sleep, the question of “what do I actually do with my life?” is at the very forefront of my mind. The obvious answer is that there is no answer – there is absolutely no fixed way of answering this, and the only answer that there can ever be is: it depends. Depends on what? Well… that depends.   Mental Models and Information Overload   Being the unashamed nerd that I am, I’m constantly reading all manner of material that enables me to view the world in a different way. One of the biggest realisations of the past couple of years has been the discovery of “mental models” (which you can read about here) and one of the models that’s been coming up a lot in my recent...
Mental model: Environment design

Mental model: Environment design

Whilst reading this morning, I came across a great term which I’m going to steal, so I can name a mental model for which I didn’t yet have an actual name. The term was “environment design”, and this is what I mean by it. Our lazy default There has been significant research to show that when we’re feeling lazy and uninspired, we don’t necessarily do the things that make us happiest. Instead, we automatically revert to the easiest option; the path from A to B that will take the least effort. If you think about the last time you spent hours watching cat videos on YouTube – was that a conscious decision based on your carefully-deliberated choice for what would make you happiest? Did you sit there and say “For the next three hours, I will trawl YouTube for videos of cats stealing cushions from dogs?” The answer is almost certainly no. Instead, you chose the easiest available option to keep yourself doing something (as opposed to nothing) and at the time, the easiest option would have been to click the next funny cat video in YouTube’s “related videos” menu. Three hours later, the cumulative effect is that you’ve clicked through sixty cat videos. Why did you do that? Because simply clicking the next video was easy. Not because it was your highest priority, or the option that made you happiest, but purely because it cost you the least amount of effort to avoid simply staring at the walls. (I use the term “you”, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wasted my fair share of time on YouTube / Facebook...
Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

Foreign Language Fluency, Acquisition Methods and Psychological Bias

One of my recent personal projects has been to work on improving my fluency levels in both French and German. I would say I’m conversational in both, with my German being a little better, but although I can speak in both languages I am by no means at mastery level in either of them, or even at fluency depending on the situation. The criteria by which one judges a level of linguistic fluency is commonly measured in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which goes through six levels: Common European Framework of Reference For Languages   A1 – Complete beginner. Familiar with very basic expressions and can understand simple questions. A2 – Elementary level. Can communicate on a basic level with relatively familiar subject matter. B1 – Threshold / intermediate. Can deal with most situations likely to arise when travelling. B2 – Upper intermediate. Can interact with a level of linguistic proficiency that doesn’t hinder communication. C1 – Advanced. Effective Operational Proficiency. Can express ideas fluently and can recognise subtle, implicit meanings. Usually able to work in the language. C2 – Mastery. Can express oneself very fluently, and can easily understand almost everything that is being heard or read. Right now the only language I have at C2 is my native tongue, English. I’m unsure as to exactly what levels my French and German are at, but I took a brief online test the other day to try to place my language skills at an approximate level, and it put both of them at A2 level, which was extremely irritating because I thought my German at least would have been B1....
Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Brad Paisley gets pranked – and what you can learn from it

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been listening to more country than I probably ought to admit to. This morning, whilst listening to some Brad Paisley (Mud on the Tires, if you’re wondering), I remembered a great prank video involving him that I saw a couple of years ago, and decided to look it up again. I’ve embedded it below. It’s a very short video and well worth a watch: Brad arrives back home in Nashville on a jet, and upon landing, is “arrested” by the police, taken across the tarmac and put into the back of a police car. Only then, when his “crimes” are read out to him (“excessive noodling”) (“what? On the guitar?!”) does he finally cotton on that the whole thing is a prank. There were a couple of things about this that got me thinking. Firstly, my respect for the way he handled the situation is extremely high. Even though he obviously hadn’t done anything wrong, he was exceedingly polite, co-operated with everyone involved with an absolute minimum of fuss, and remained completely respectable throughout the whole thing. All this, too, at 3am. Can you imagine Kanye West reacting the same way? The second thing I noticed was that the entire time he was being marched towards the back of a police car, Brad stayed very calm, and I’m going to attribute this to something he tellingly said whilst being handcuffed: “I’ve never done anything wrong in my life.” Let’s not be too literal about this – I’m sure he’s probably done something negative at some point during his 41 years on this planet. However, it reminded...