Monday, September 16, 2013

The Autodidactism of Great (AND Productive) Men?

This post shall mark hopefully the first of a long ongoing process to figuring out the absolutely best way to teach yourself, to be an autodidact.

Now, autodidactism is a word I certainly use an awful lot. I'm rather infatuated with it since it denotes to me the mark of the best-minded person one could be, one who chooses to seek out and engage in learning on one's own terms, and to be dedicated to that process all of life, to contrast with the sordid popularity of going to school, getting a degree, and simply stopping any directed learning after that . . . for the rest of life. Any stupid person I met was always voluntarily like that, preferring the Ooze over the work of obtaining The State of Complete Vigor.

I like to consider myself an autodidact since my formal schooling failed me grandly. Because I have an accent caused by my hearing-impairment, the majority of my schoolteachers and classmates thought me to be mentally disabled or actually retarded, so most of my schooling was spent in special-ed classes either wiling the day away or else doing work several grade levels beneath my capacity. I dropped out of college after being horrified with the lack of an intellectual atmosphere, such as the professor who gave open-book final exams or to see my "peers" be intellectually idle. Since then, I've been trying to establish the right habits for lifelong self-initiated learning.

Yet, despite my years of bouncing the concept around, I was rather surprised to comprehend a few weeks ago that my view may be fundamentally flawed.


When we usually think of engaging in learning, we might think of pulling out big books and sitting down with them for hours at a time over weeks, taking academic notes on them, homework drills, and memorization. This is the way it's done in school, so it's easy to think those methods ought to be mimicked for autodidactism.

Yet, when I thought of the greatest men in history and those still living, there's a high probability, if not a certitude, that the majority of their integrative learning and skills develop has not developed out of such behavior. Those men are able to spend most of their life actually living and producing rather than being secluded at tables by bookshelves, so there must be a fundamental difference between their thinking and learning methods than the popular conceptions tout.

Such a thought struck me while I was thinking about the television show Mythbusters and contemplating the main hosts' abilities, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. If you've seen the show, they're incredibly talented and skilled individuals with seemingly no limit to their abilities. They're very expert and knowledged, yet to be so highly productive -- including Jamie Hyneman, who not only does the show but also runs a business on the side -- they have no time to carve out blocks for isolated learning: The way they live is what constantly expands their knowledge and skills repertoire.

For example, this dawned on me when I thought about an episode I saw -- I can't remember which -- where Adam Savage did a rather impressive mathematical calculation in his head, one of such complexity and a large number of digits there's no way I'd be able to do it at my current level. Yet, it's virtually certain that he doesn't do such things as sit in a chair for a half-hour to do math drills to develop his math skills in isolated periods, so what's the practicality in me doing math drills for myself which a much better way to save time and move further ahead?

The key element I'm after is what are the best ways to expand your mind AND live a full life of uninterrupted productivity, as opposed to becoming a reclusive bookworm in order to live a "life of the mind." Abstractly, I certainly do want to maxmize my own cognitive powers in my lifetime, but I want to be a hefty producer too, such as a small-business owner, book-writer, or whathaveyou, and it's tricky as to figuring out how to fuse autodidactism with productivity.

A worthy thinking subject for years to come, and in future posts we shall try to break down the components for our own practical use.

1 comment:

  1. Ben, autodidacts learn primarily by doing -- through practice. The great autodidactic painters of history learned how to paint primarily by painting . . . and not being discouraged by how amateurish their work continued to look after the first five years. ^_^

    I think Clarence Birdseye is a great autodidactic culinary entrepreneur to learn from. :-D

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