I heard a child education expert comment that we are always learning. If a child is playing Legos he’s learning. If he’s playing a video game he’s learning. If he’s building a fort and having pine cone fights with his friends–he’s learning. We can’t NOT learn. It’s how we’re hardwired. Even if a kid is glued in front of a television channel flipping–he’s learning. Not all our learning is good/productive/healthy–but we are learning something all the time.
Annie Murphy Paul author Brilliant, The New Science of Smart reminds us that each of us have a learning quotient:
“How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do. Our knowledge and our abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process: call it our learning quotient.”
Professor Randy McKay at the DNA Learning Center has this to say on the subject:
“…So, on top of the basic biology, there’s a huge flexibility and it’s that interaction that makes the nervous system such a powerful device.”
Why do we remember certain things we learn and why do other bits of knowledge (such as information we regurgitate on a test and then dump before we get our grade) disparate?
Two reasons (this is totally me coming up with this part)
1) Information you need (for your job, your interests) that you will continue to use and reapply
2) Information you acquire out of need/curiosity, that is also cross-referenced and overlaid with other pertinent information.
I offer this personal example. My book is based heavily on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. In gathering my research I took the following actions: (not an extensive list, just what I can remember quickly):
Perused the ‘net for quality information–separating it from “junk.”
Found the mother-lode at http://www.vangoghgallery.org. This is the official site affiliated with the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Researched authors who had written on Van Gogh.
Bought (collected) relevant books ranging on everything from the diseases that plagued him to studying his color theory to his numerous letters to his brother and others, to the women he loved.
Began a checklist of visiting every museum possible to view his work.
Emailed/spoke with experts on various sub-set subjects related to Van Gogh.
Painted replicas of his work so that I could get into his head/heart and experience these works of art for myself.
Visited Amsterdam/Paris/South of France–locations where Vincent lived, worked and died.
That was the gathering phase. Since then, my studies led me down many fascinating rabbit holes. Here’s what I’ve learned. Some subjects I took to a deep level of learning and others are merely skimmed, cross-referenced and applied as needed for my book.
I made a list of the books and music Vincent read and enjoyed and read them/listened for myself.
Bought Rosetta Stone and brushed up on my French
Mapped where Vincent lived and traveled and made my own creativity trek
Studied the science of turbulence found in his painting Starry Night and learned about the mathematician that founded this area of math and physics–after Vincent naturally painted it.
Studied the provenance of many of Vincent’s works from the 1880s to present day.
Studied how a painting is valued, and why art is stolen.
Studied how art was confiscated particularly in World War II (rent the film The Rape of Europa–appalling).
Studied temporal lobe epilepsy (what physicians/psychiatrists have given as Vincent’s diagnosis).
Studied the history of syphilis (Vincent and Theo, his brother) both contracted this STD)
Studied the lives of fellow artists and Vincent’s mentors: Millet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Lautrec, Cezanne, Pissarro…the list goes on.
Studied the art periods that preceded and followed after the Post Impressionists (Vincent’s era)–Impressionists, modern/abstract art.
Studied the history of photography of the 1800s.
Studied asylums in the 1800s and the use of hydrotherapy.
Studied the discrepancies of Vincent’s final days–did he really commit suicide? What did his last cryptic words mean?
Studied the Salon des Independents.
Studied the history of Arles, St. Remy, the history and layout of the city and surrounding area and why Vincent was attracted to this “certain slant of light.” That led me to study the Roman influences in this area as well as the L’Occitane language.
Studied Joanna Bonger-Van Gogh, Theo’s wife and the person most responsible for sharing Vincent’s works with the world after the two brother’s deaths (they died six months apart.
Collecting, studying, and preparing historic recipes from France in the 1800s.
Studied the history of absinthe and its scientific properties and how it affects the brain.
Studied the history of gypsies and Sara the Gitan, patron saint of the five gypsy tribes of Europe
Studied the golden mean as found in sunflowers and other natural forms–which led me to The Power of Limits–an amazing book that looks in depth at this mathematical and architectural influence.
I could go on but perhaps this fascinates me more than you.
I encourage you to take whatever interests you and make a list of what it has led you to–the people, places, books that you’ve naturally gathered along your way.
The word I just used–naturally–is key.
Natural learning sticks.
Cross-referenced learning is applied learning.
Finding what you love and allowing yourself to gather, sort, process and apply without pressure, just because you’re curious, with your own set in challenges, is true learning.
I am no smarter than you. Trust me on that one. But I am curious and I’ve learned to indulge my fascinations. My life and my home now reflect my passions.
Did you know that Leonardo Da Vinci was known for not finishing things? Do we really care? The man serious must have had OCD and ADD–but who gives a rat’s patootie? He dabbled in nature, cut up corpses to study human anatomy, created weapons, studied engineering and applied what he learned to Florence and other cities, drew, painted, sculpted. The world is a far more beautiful place because of this one man. I, for one, am grateful that he cast a wide net when it came to learning. (Follow through might just be overrated!)
I ask you–and I hope you’ll share:
What subjects interest you?
Have you started collecting information?
Do you go internet diving on these subjects?
Do you allow yourself to follow whatever questions arise?
Does your home, your conversations, how you spend your time reflect your interests?
How has this impacted the quality of your life?
Even if it’s just for you, if no monetary gain, no fame or fortune befall you, would you still be glad you spent your time on these endeavors?
Read more on how we learn at: