This is not a comprehensive guide to the mastery of any subject (as the title implies). It’s just a set of three principles that it’s good to keep in mind every time we try to acquire some new knowledge.
Learning principle number 1: Everything is connected.
Politics is really Psychology. Psychology is really Biology. Biology is really Chemistry. Chemistry is really Physics. Physics is really Maths.
Have you ever wondered why so many great minds are multidisciplinary? Take a look at Leonardo da Vinci: “Italian polymath: painter, sculptor,architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer”. Well, turns out, every area of knowledge is connected with all the others. maths can teach you how to paint.
This is especially evident with languages. The more languages you know, the easier it is for you to learn new ones. This is where I discovered the importance of learning all those technical names for the words we already know how to use.
This is why I find it hard to believe that some scientists subscribe to the argument “you can’t apply the scientific method to religion and morals, it’s based on faith”. You either apply the scientific method, or you don’t. There is no such thing as unrelated areas. If you can affirm something is true without evidence in religion, you may be just as willing to do that in physics (my advice: be consistent!).
Learning principle number 2: Background matters.
“I study and study, but I can’t possibly pass this subject! How can it be, if it’s my favourite?”.
While it is a fact that some people are smarter than others, I believe the most important factor that differentiates a dedicated C student from a dedicated A student is when they started caring.
The people who is doing best in my class these high school years happen to be the ones that were interested in the subjects since they were very little. They read books, they asked questions. They have been building a knowledge base for their lifetimes.
On the other hand, some students have recently started caring about the subject at the same level than their A-obtainer counterparts. They probably used to study by repetition, not really understanding the content. They lack understanding of the most basic concepts of the matter, and thus have it extremely difficult to understand the more complex ones.
According to the first principle, the base you need to build for a new area of interest must be wide and comprehend several other areas. For example, if you want to learn Swahili, it’s not enough to learn the basic syntax and pronunciation. It’s also important to learn the history of the language and the culture of the people who speak it, among other things.
Learning principle number 3: Learning is organic.
“School is like Britannica. Learning is like Wikipedia”.
The educational system we have is linear. That means that you start at one point and you follow a line of increasingly complex concepts until someday you know enough and get a diploma. The content is sorted in complexity order the same way the words are sorted in alphabetical order in a classical encyclopaedia.
There is no traced line from beginning to mastery of a subject or skill. You should not start learning by the basics, if the basics are not what interest you most. Learning must be a pleasant experience, always. Learning is like navigating Wikipedia. You see something you like, so you learn about it. While learning about it, you see related concepts that interest you, so you learn about them. Repeat.
When you learn in a non-linear way (organic if you will), the principle of background matters applies itself. You will not understand the most complex ideas so you will expand your knowledge until you do.
Note that this is closely related to “everything is connected” (as is should be, ’cause everything is connected ;))
I apologize for the made-up quotes on principles 2 and 3. I don’t know any quote that fits there! 🙂