Recently I came across a book named Ultralearning by Scott Young in which he gives his tips to learn many types of skills in a short amount of time. As a live example he gives his challenge of completing a four-year MIT course in just a year. So, doing what most people do in four years in one year.
This made me think about how to allocate time. Clearly by doing something in one year that other people do in four years is a huge time saver. Now, multiple things can be said for this. The question we can ask ourselves is: do we really save time this way? At first sight it might seem that doing a four-year course in one year is a good deal, but when we evaluate it with hours spend getting the result it might be different. If, for example, the four-year course takes 2 hours of your time every day for four years, then that would mean that in one year, you would have to spend 8 hours a day on the subjects to get the same result. The question we should ask is: does it save us time to perform ‘ultralearning’?
Young gives 9 principles which should help you succeed in the subject you want to ultralearn. From first learning how to learn a particular subject, to asking for reviews on what you have done or created. The premises in themselves are pretty decent tools in order to being able to learn better and faster. So, just by applying these principles you will be able to learn faster. I perform my university courses with some of these techniques and have enough spare time to learn how to digitally paint, write fantasy novels and go to the gym. Learning about how to learn is used to use less time to get the same result.
In my view, it doesn’t take much time to become pretty decent in something, putting you in at least the top 10% of people being able to do that skill. Take drawing for example. Most people don’t draw. So, if you put in 20 hours of learning how to draw and go about is smart, then you’ll be a better drawer than most people who have never picked up a pencil in their life. 20 hours isn’t that long. That’s half an hour a day for 1,5 months. You can do that. Easy.
The thing with knowledge is that it is everywhere. If you are reading this, then you have the ability of surfing the web and look for things that interest you. The hard thing to do isn’t any longer getting knowledge, the hard thing is to find relevant information for you. Sometimes information just isn’t useful for you. If you work as a cab driver, then Google Maps will be crucial for you; but you won’t really care about Einstein’s theory of relativity, at least if you don’t have a personal interest in the subject.
We should be selective with the information that we consume. Since every website wants to grasp our attention and give us the information, we believe we need, it is quite hard to find good information. How to get good information is something for another article. The question here is why we should bother to learn things anyway. With all the information out there, why even care?
I would like to acknowledge that there are multiple forms of knowledge. Aristotle famously wrote about the different kinds of knowledge in his Metaphysics. The important ones are episteme, which means knowledge and techne, which means craft. For Aristotle episteme was greater than techne because it isn’t used for practical things. Techne is to be able to know how to do things, like build a house. The builder has the techne to build a house. The one with episteme knows what it is to be a house. There is an even greater form of knowledge called Sophia, which translates into wisdom (the word philosopher translates into lover of wisdom), which asks the questions of being and this is pursued because of in itself.
Nowadays the role of episteme is redundant. The knowledge is all there. But in order to achieve sophia we still need to use that knowledge; all we need to do is to be able to find the particular information we need. We need to know what kind of wisdom, sophia, we want. So, in order for ‘ultralearning’ to be something useful, you have to find the sophia you want. What kind of wisdom do you want to achieve? According to that answer, you can learn whatever it is you want to learn. I want to become a philosopher so reading philosophy is sure to help me. What is your sophia?
We need to learn how to use knowledge and how to synthesize it. Machines already know more than we will ever possibly do. What they can’t do, is use that knowledge with intention to create something new and creative. The quest won’t be to know a whole lot, it’ll be to be able to use the knowledge we have the best. Nietzsche would say it isn’t knowledge that is the goal. The goal is self-realization. Becoming who you are.