Tag Archives: Learning

The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming

“After more thought I decided that since I was trying to teach “style” of thinking in science and engineering, and “style” is an art, I should therefore copy the methods of teaching used for the other arts – once the fundamentals have been learned. How to be a great painters cannot be taught in words; one learns by trying many different approaches that seem to surround the subject. Art teachers usually let the advanced student paint, and then make suggestions on how they would have done it, or what might also be tried, more or less as the points arise in the student’s head – which is where the learning is supposed to occur! In this series of lectures, I try to communicate to students what cannot be said in words – the essence of style in science and engineering. I have adopted a loose organization with some repetition since this often occurs in the lectures. There are, therefore, digressions and stories – with some told in two different places – all in the somewhat rambling, informal style typical of lectures. I have used the “story” approach, often emphasizing the initial part of the discovery, because I firmly believe in Pasteur’s remark, “Luck favors the prepared mind.” In this way I can illustrate how the individual’s preparation before encountering the problem can often lead to recognition, formulation, and solution. Great results in science and engineering are “bunched” in the same person too often for success to be a matter of random luck. Teachers should prepare the student for the student’s future, not for the teacher’s past…Therefore, style of thinking is the center of this course. The subtitle of the book, Learning to Learn, is the main solution I offer to help students cope with the rapid changes they will have to endure in their fields. The course centers around how to look at and think about knowledge, and it supplies some historical perspective that might be useful. This course is mainly personal experiences I have had and digested, at least to some extent. Naturally one tends to remember one’s successes and forget lesser events, but I recount a number of my spectacular failures as clear examples of what to avoid. I have found that the personal story is far, far more effective than the impersonal one; hence there is necessarily an aura of “bragging” in the book that is unavoidable. Let me repeat what I earlier indicated. Apparently an “art” – which almost by definition cannot be put into words – is probably best communicated by approaching it from many sides and doing so repeatedly, hoping thereby students will finally mater enough of the art, or if you wish, style, to significantly increase their future contributions to society. A totally different description of the course is: it covers all kinds of things that could not find their proper place in the standard curriculum.”

PS – The book is expensive and hard to find but here is a PDF copy of the book and if you’re more of an auditory learner, here are Hamming’s “Learning to Learn” lectures

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Summary

  1. The story of Jonathan Seagull, the seagull who dared to be different and push the limits of flight, learning about himself, mastery, and perfection

Key Takeaways

  1. And then a hundred other lives until we begin to learn that there is such a thing as perfection, and another hundred again to get the idea that our purpose for living is to find that  for us now, o show it forth. The same rule holds for us now, of course: we choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, a ll the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.
  2. No, Jonathan, there is no such place. Heaven is not a place, and it is not a time. Heaven is being perfect…Perfect speed my son, is being there
  3. You can go to any place and to any time that you wish to go, the Elder said. I’ve gone everywhere and everywhen I can think of. He looked across the sea. It’s strange. The gulls who scorn perfection for the sake of travel go nowhere, slowly. Those who put aside travel for the sake of perfection go anywhere, instantly. Remember, Jonathan, heaven isn’t a place or a time, because place and time are so very meaningless
  4. To fly as fast as thought, to anywhere that is, you must begin by knowing that you have already arrived. The trick, according to Chiang, was for Jonathan to stop seeing himself as trapped inside a limited body that had a forty-two-inch wingspan and performance that could be plotted on a chart. The trick was to know that his true nature lived, as perfect as an unwritten number, everywhere at once across space and time
  5. I wonder about that, Jon, said Sullivan, standing near. You have less fear of learning than any gull I’ve seen in ten thousand years. The Flock fell silent, and Jonathan fidgeted in embarrassment. We can start working with time if you wish, Chiang said, till you can fly the past and the future. And then you will be ready to begin the most difficult, the most powerful, and the most fun of all. You will be ready to begin to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and love.
  6. For in spite of his lonely past, Jonathan Seagull was born to be an instructor, and his own way of demonstrating love was to give something of the truth that he had seen to a gull who asked only a chance to see truth for himself.
  7. Each of us is in truth an idea of the Great Gull, an unlimited idea of freedom, Jonathan would say in the evenings on the beach, and precision flying is a step toward expressing our real nature. Everything that limits us we have to put aside…Break the chains of your thought, and you break the chains of your body too
  8. He spoke of very simple things – that it is right for a gull to fly, that freedom is the very nature of his being, that whatever stands against that freedom must be set aside, be it ritual or superstition or limitation in any form. Set aside, came a voice from the multitude, even if it be the Law of the Flock? The only true law is that which leads to freedom, Jonathan would said. There is no other.

What I got out of it

  1. Has been 15 years since the last time I read this book and it hit me even more this time. Go live, do, practice, aim for perfection, freedom, and truth. It is the most fulfilling way to live and will open up dimensions that you couldn’t even imagine before

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

Summary

  1. Epstein discusses the pros and cons of specialization vs. generalization and which environments/tasks/situations each is helpful in and why

Key Takeaways

  1. Tiger vs. Roger
    1. Begins with a comparison of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. Tiger singularly focused and was hell-bent on breaking all records and being the best in the world whereas Roger played every sport and his highest aspiration in tennis was to some day, maybe, playing Wimbledon.  
    2. There has been increasing evidence that a broader range of experiences and sports which delays specializing in any one field or sport actually improves performance.  It takes time and delays initial success but developing a broader range of expertise makes you better off in the long run.
    3. The most effective learning is in fact slow and seems inefficient but it helps you make connections and deeply ingrain the lessons. 
    4. The danger with becoming too specialize is that you become a man with a hammer where everything looks like a nail went all you need to do is stand up and look at the field right next to you to find your solution 
    5. The challenge is maintaining an interdisciplinary mindset breath and range in a world that demands and rewards high specialization. However, in our ever increasingly complex and fast-moving world, there is an increased need for people with “range” – those who are multidisciplinary and can see problems and solutions from many different angles 
  2. Kind vs. Unkind Environments
    1. Early specialization is effective in what is called kind of environments – those in which feedback loops are quick or instantaneous, the results are quite binary, and it is easy to pick up on patterns. Golf or chess are two examples of kind environments
    2. Unkind environments represent most of the world – the rules are unclear, feedback is slow or nonexistent, and it is hard to find the connections or patterns. In these domains, a broad range of experiences help with making connections and improving your pattern recognition 
  3. Flow & Deep learning
    1. A desirable difficulty is a scenario in which you don’t feel confident that you’re learning anything but you actually are interweaving different scenarios and options. It’s more effective than studying in blocks. You may not feel as confident, but when it comes to show time, you’ll be more prepared.  
    2. Deep learning is difficult and takes time and often very frustrating but it is the most effective form of learning. We should focus on these interwoven skills which are flexible and serve as scaffolding for later knowledge and skills.  
    3. The most complex skills take time and it is not easy to see or judge your rate of improvement or learning 
    4. The best problem solvers first spend time trying to figure out what type of problem they are even looking to solve and only then develop the strategy and tactics to solve it 
    5. Transfer is a mode of broad thinking which allows you to take the skills and knowledge you already have and efficiently and effectively apply it to new scenarios. This type of skill and knowledge takes a long time to build but it compounds on itself as it allows you to progress in many more domains.  Johannes Kepler was a master at this since there was no previous knowledge for him to build off of so he used analogies from far-flung domains in order to think through the forces acting on the planets and why they seem to move and act the way they do. He used the ideas of spirits, force, motion, magnetism, attraction, movement, light, smells, and more in order to finally arrive at his final conclusion. This reasoning by analogy to make the new familiar or the familiar new by combining it and thinking about it in a new light. It allows us to think through things we’ve never experienced before or see things which are invisible.  In today’s increasingly complex and fast-moving world thinking by analogy is increasingly important as we are facing more new situations that are at the service ever had.
    6. Match quality – the match between what you do and your talents and proclivities. Switching is difficult and a short term sacrifice but over time it is the best route as you improve your match quality. Switchers are winners and too much grit is harmful in this way if you stay too long in an area which doesn’t suit you. It is amazing how often people who excel don’t have long-term plans but instead take each opportunity to learn about themselves, grow, add value, and make the most of each opportunity as it comes. They switch often and over time this increases their match quality and gets them in a position to learn a lot quickly and excel. Rather than a grand plan find little experiments that you can test and iterate and learn from rapidly. This is how people learn from practice rather than theory and is far more effective than trying to think your way into who you think you are – do and then think. Don’t promise or plan anything for the future. instead, live in the moment and make the most of the opportunities given you 
  4. Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology
    1. Shigeru Miyamoto, the brains behind Nintendo’s smash hits, used an idea called “lateral thinking with withered technology.” He combined cheap, simple, readily accessible, reliable technology rather than be in an arms race with having games and gadgets that only used the newest tech. This allowed them to produce things cheaply, making their goods very popular and allowed them to combine disparate technologies and ideas into something new and innovative.  He purposefully retreated from the cutting edge and found new innovative uses for old cheap ideas which had been proven and we’re familiar to people 
  5. Experts
    1. Knowledge is a double-edged sword since it could help you do some things but it can also make you blind to certain solutions. This is where outside-in thinking really helps – where you take solutions, ideas, processes, etc. from other disciplines and apply it to your own 
    2. Expertise can become dangerous when you see every problem as a nail. A broad range of knowledge across several people who can collaborate makes for the best teams and predictors. Specialized experts can be an invaluable resource but you must recognize that they can have blinders on. Use them for facts, not opinion. The best teams exhibit active open mindedness. They view their own thoughts and beliefs as hypotheses to be tested and not facts which they must use to convince others. Instead, They seek to disconfirm their beliefs and prove themselves wrong. This is not a natural mindset for people but it is far more effective. Science curious rather than science knowledge. Not what you think but how you think
    3. Hedgehogs see things linearly and causally relative to the field in which they are experts in but foxes see the world for what it is – complex and messy and interwoven. Being a fox isn’t as satisfying, doesn’t make headlines, causes for much doubt, but it is more correct
    4. The most effective leaders and thinkers are paradoxical. They acknowledge the complexity of the situation and how little they know simply doing the best that they can as new information becomes available and dropping tools that are no longer helpful rather than sticking to something simply because they are comfortable or familiar with it. “The old man knows the rules the wise man knows the exceptions,” and you have to know when you’re dealing with an exception 
    5. The best teams have porous boundaries so that people with different skills can easily communicate, learn from one another, and break their own ideas.  Make sure to schedule in free time in order to let people’s imaginations run free. Give them time to pursue their own interests, even if the immediate benefit isn’t clear 

What I got out of it

  1. “Kind” vs. “Unkind” environments has a huge impact on how you approach a field. Most of the world is “unkind” where feedback loops are slow (or nonexistent), learning is tedious and unclear, and pattern recognition is very difficult. Since most of the world operates in this fashion, it makes sense to have “range” – to be a broad based, multi-disciplinary thinker. Look to find ways to get out of your own bubble – read, do things, meet with people who you normally wouldn’t overlap with. This process is slower and the benefits aren’t immediately clear, but don’t let this deter you. It is far more effective in the long run.

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

I have come to the point where I have simply decided that effortlessness would be my prime consideration, that anything not played from an effortless place is not worth playing. I don’t get my technique from studying technique. I get it from letting my hands and arms find their way without my interference. In doing so, I have unwittingly connected with the wisdom of the ancients. As I now read the writings of the great sages, I realize that I am on the same path, having the experiences they describe. Effortlessness allows us to become our own teachers, paving the way to mastery. If you get nothing else from this book, hopefully you’ll at least walk away with the realization that effort gets in the way of great playing. Effort and/or lack of preparation blocks true mastery.

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin by Charles Darwin

Summary
  1. The life and accomplishments of Darwin through his own eyes
Key Takeaways
  1. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
  2. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.
  3. I have heard my father and elder sister say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off and fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
  4. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours.
  5. I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.
  6. Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, and I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me.
    1. NOTE: recipe for learning
  7. I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, and I think that my disposition was then very affectionate.
  8. With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically—all that I cared about was a new-named mineral, and I hardly attempted to classify them.
  9. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science.
  10. I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous efforts to learn medicine.
  11. I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
  12. My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting-boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half a minute in putting them on in the morning; and on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate, on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the game-keeper the whole day through thick heath and young Scotch firs.
  13. After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman.
  14. Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman.
  15. But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature.
  16. But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.
  17. I have not as yet mentioned a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Professor Henslow. Before coming up to Cambridge, I had heard of him from my brother as a man who knew every branch of science, and I was accordingly prepared to reverence him. He kept open house once every week when all undergraduates, and some older members of the University, who were attached to science, used to meet in the evening. I soon got, through Fox, an invitation, and went there regularly. Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow;” and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner. His knowledge was great in botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. His strongest taste was to draw conclusions from long-continued minute observations. His judgment was excellent, and his whole mind well balanced; but I do not suppose that any one would say that he possessed much original genius. He was deeply religious, and so orthodox that he told me one day he should be grieved if a single word of the Thirty-nine Articles were altered. His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; and I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning and courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation and prompt action.
  18. Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them. Certainly I was not aware of any such superiority, and I remember one of my sporting friends, Turner, who saw me at work with my beetles, saying that I should some day be a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the notion seemed to me preposterous.
  19. During my last year at Cambridge, I read with care and profound interest Humboldt’s ‘Personal Narrative.’ This work, and Sir J. Herschel’s ‘Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,’ stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two.
  20. These gravel-beds belong in fact to the glacial period, and in after years I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful a fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.
  21. We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated
  22. The voyage of the “Beagle” has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.
  23. During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice.
  24. The above various special studies were, however, of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.
  25. Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, and I shot myself all the birds and animals for my collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport.
  26. As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science.
  27. I think that I can say with truth that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the approbation of such men as Lyell and Hooker, who were my friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books did not please me greatly, but the pleasure was a fleeting one, and I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course to gain fame.
  28. In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, and never ceased working for the next twenty years.
  29. Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour of sea-action; and my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
  30. No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this, for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South America, before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of living reefs.
  31. This excursion interested me greatly, and it was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or to take long walks such as are necessary for geological work.
  32. I saw more of Lyell than of any other man, both before and after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgment, and a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all possible objections to my suggestion, and even after these were exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men.
  33. “What a good thing it would be if every scientific man was to die when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose all new doctrines.”
  34. His knowledge was extraordinarily great, and much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a mistake.
  35. —reminds me of Buckle whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood’s. I was very glad to learn from him his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a full index, to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I asked him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable, and he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his ‘History of Civilisation.’
  36. During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, and received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting attacks being thus brought on. I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner-parties; and this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me into high spirits. From the same cause I have been able to invite here very few scientific acquaintances.
  37. My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort.
  38. I record in a little diary, which I have always kept, that my three geological books (‘Coral Reefs’ included) consumed four and a half years’ steady work;
  39. To understand the structure of my new Cirripede I had to examine and dissect many of the common forms; and this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I worked steadily on this subject for the next eight years, and ultimately published two thick volumes
  40. From September 1854 I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the “Beagle” I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense. It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants) could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life—for instance, a woodpecker or a tree-frog to climb trees, or a seed for dispersal by hooks or plumes.
  41. soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man’s success in making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me. In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out and still possess.
  42. But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance; and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution. This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; and this was long after I had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature.
  43. The success of the ‘Origin’ may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.
  44. I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory.
  45. Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that “I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.”
  46. An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value; but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can be thus connected together and rendered intelligible.
  47. My ‘Descent of Man’ was published in February, 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on the subject for my own satisfaction, and not for a long time with any intention of publishing. Although in the ‘Origin of Species’ the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work “light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” It would have been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect to his origin.
  48. During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my experiments, and my book on ‘Insectivorous Plants’ was published in July 1875—that is, sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person.
What I got out of it
  1. So many nuggets but Darwin’s recipe for learning is gold: concentrated self-study, keeping of a diary/journal, keeping indexed notes of relevant material, seeking to test and destroy beloved concepts by immediately scribbling down ‘unfavorable’ evidence/results and thinking through why this may be right, and learning lessons by heart

A Few Lessons From Sherlock Holmes by Peter Bevelin

Summary
  1. Bevelin takes quotes and examples from Sherlock Holmes as examples of several tools and techniques to improve thinking and decision making
Key Takeaways
  1. Observation and inference
    1. See things for what they are and report them truthfully
    2. Beware of first impressions – appearances can be deceiving
    3. More is missed by not looking than not knowing
    4. It is not the amount of information that counts by the relevant one
    5. Sometimes it helps to shift perspective
    6. The value of experience is not in seeing much but seeing wisely
    7. “By doing it many times over till it is done perfectly – for it is worth doing.”
    8. Checklist routines for critical factors to help
    9. Look as diligently for what is missing for what is there
  2. Deduction
    1. Reasoning backwards, working back from observations/effects to causes
    2. Use the simplest means first
  3. Analogies
    1. You cannot judge the relevance of an isolated fact. Experience has taught me, and must have taught you, that the most trivial, commonplace and seemingly irrelevant facts have a way of suddenly assuming a crucial importance by connecting, explaining or filling in the detail of later discoveries
    2. That process…starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support
  4. Test your theory
    1. If it disagrees with the facts, it is wrong
    2. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact
  5. Patience
    1. Distance gives perspective – sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the problem and get a fresh perspective
  6. Put self in other’s shoes
    1. If we could see the world the way others see it, we easier understand why they do what they do
    2. Don’t make the world fit your tools and use the right tool for the job
  7. Criticize self
    1. Have you tried to find evidence against what you believe? Why might we be wrong? What have we overlooked? What (new) information or evidence is needed to make us change our mind?
    2. When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted
  8. Learn from mistakes
    1. Update your beliefs in light of new information
    2. For one’s own training it is better to make an incorrect diagnosis than none at all – if you call yourself to account afterwards
  9. Know your limits
    1. Don’t think about how to get things done, instead ask whether they’re worth doing in the first place
    2. A lot of misery comes from what we allow ourselves to get dragged into
What I got out of it
  1. Really good, short read on some key characteristics necessary for deep thinking and better decision making

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

Summary
  1. An exciting and inspiring book which lays out a detailed process for how you can effectively improve and push past your potential in anything you want to undertake
Key Takeaways
  1. Mozart had something called perfect pitch but it is not some magical gift, rather he acquired it through extensive training and a very flexible and adaptable brain. We all are born with this gift to some degree. The brain can rewire itself based on the inputs it receives, though some of this flexibility disappears over time. This is an incredible thing! There are no predetermined limits and teaching and learning now becomes about reaching your full potential
  2. Ray Allen on people saying he was born with a beautiful jump shot – “Do not undermine the work I put in every day. Not most days. Every day.” Hard work alone does not lead to improvement. The right kind of practice over a long enough period of time leads to improvement – deliberate practice. Genetics of course plays a role, even to the amount somebody can sustain deliberate practice
  3. Principles of deliberate practice are the same regardless of which field you apply them in – harnessing the adaptability of the mind and body to incrementally do what you never were able to do before. Deliberate practice is all about creating efficient mental structures to help you deal with increasing amounts of information and better detect patterns
  4. Normal route of practice takes you to automaticity and at this point you stop improving unless deliberate practice is utilized
  5. Purposeful practice – having clear goals and a specific way to get there. Baby steps. Not as effective as deliberate practice. You must be willing to go outside of your comfort zone.
  6. Full focus and immediate feedback are two other key components of effective practice.
  7. When you come up against obstacles and things which push you out of your comfort zone, it’s important to try new techniques rather than bumping up against the same wall every time. Teachers, coaches and mentors are crucial at this juncture.
  8. Maintaining motivation, whether from intrinsic or extrinsic means, is important to long term success
  9. Creating mental structures to deal with large amounts of information (chunking) is crucial. Meaning aids memory
  10. As younger brains are more malleable, the earlier training starts, the more profound effect it will have
  11. Deliberate practice, unlike other types of practice, looks to push you beyond your potential by getting you out of homeostasis and forcing your brain and body to adapt
  12. There is no such thing as developing a general skill. You must train with specific movements, goals, outcomes, etc in mind
  13. Through training, experts have simply built extremely refined and specialized mental structures which help them absorb much more information than amateurs and this lets them focus on the truly important details. They can see patterns others cannot see as quickly
  14. Clear and effective mental representations help you recognize mistakes and correct them more quickly. Reducing the number of times you commit the same mistake is an important part of improving quickly 
  15. Skill and mental representations form a virtuous cycle. As one gets better, so does the other and on and on
  16. Solitary practice, sleep and afternoon naps are key differentiators between the good and the great. Both groups found the practice daunting, tiring and often not much fun. There are no shortcuts to greatness in any field no matter how talented you are
  17. A clear set of guidelines as to what constitutes superior performance and a good teacher who pushes you past your comfort zone is the difference between purposeful and deliberate practice. Informed and guided practice
  18. Subjective fields (wine experts, business managers, consultants…) are prone to biases and many “experts” in these fields are actually not when tested on objective criteria
  19. Conversing with experts in any field is helpful to try to understand how they approach their skill, training, obstacles and more. Understanding the differences between yourself and a superior performer in these ways is a great way to start your progress
  20. Knowledge vs skills. Must be able to act on your knowledge and this is part of what separates deliberate practice from other techniques. Author believes it will be necessary to replace knowledge-based training programs with skill-based programs in most fields in order to see drastic improvement
  21. It is much more effective to go 100% for a short time than 70% for longer
  22. 1 hour per day of full focus on whatever you want to improve is the minimum
  23. For children, it is important for sports or other skills to start out as fun and a game
  24. The author dispels the notion of savants and evidences that even those with great natural ability refine their skills through long, difficult, deliberate practice
  25. 3 F’s of improvement – focus, feedback, fix it
What I got out of it
  1. Ericsson’s findings are so exciting because it means that with the right mindset and training regiment, you can reach and push beyond your potential in any given field. Innate talent will only get you so far

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

Great read on how to apply universal learning techniques to any endeavor. You must learn the fundamentals so thoroughly that they become ingrained, allowing the brain to fully focus on minute details which help separate you from the rest of the competition – making “smaller circles”