Letter To Princess Shamita Tahsin – 10

Today the topic of our discussion is “Meta-cognition”

The Greeks used to say “Know thyself”. 

I started to know myself a little bit better in Grade 10 when I started studying Educational Psychology books which belonged to my Mom (from her M.Ed. course). 
I didn’t just read. Rather, I tried to figure out whether the theories written in books were correct by thinking myself. 

And in the process, I started “knowing myself”. 
Few months forward and I got excited about Mathematical Olympiads. I started solving problems and importantly, I started reading books on Mathematical Problem Solving. I learned techniques of how one could become a better problem solver. It was Mathematics of course. But it was more than that. It was Psychology too. 

I started to know myself better. 
My fascination with Computer Science started with Artificial Intelligence – the study of how you would make computers do things that require intelligence. The study of Artificial Intelligence helped me appreciate the intricacies of intelligent behavior. I mean, computers are really dumb in the sense that you have to define each and every tiny instruction that you want the computer to perform. So, making computers do intelligent stuff is hard. And importantly, you learn precisely what is required for intelligent behavior. 
If studying Psychology and Mathematical Problem Solving made the Greeks happy (who insisted on “Knowing thyself”), then my study of Artificial Intelligence should have made the Greeks delighted!
Now, all of these forms of Knowing thyself is called “Meta-cognition” or “Meta-thinking”. It means thinking about how you think. 
You might have come across other “Meta”s – “Meta-Programming” and so on. “Meta-Programming” refers to “programming” your “programs”. 

For instance, in C Programming Language, you use the “define” macro.

#define MAX 99999 
Now, in your program wherever you use MAX, it will be replaced by 99999. 

So, the define statement essentially programmed your program. 

Lets get back to the  “Meta” we were talking about – “Meta-cognition”.
You solve a problem successfully and you think the strategies you followed, tools and techniques you used, the way you thought that helped you solve that problem. Next time, you apply all those you learned to solving new problems.   

Let me give you an example from my life.

Last year (2013), when I came back to America, I thought about what would happen if I start my own political party in Bangladesh. I analyzed the politics of Bangladesh, the possibilities for a new political party, the problems we have to overcome if we want to win the election. 

Along the way, I learned a lot about Politics of Bangladesh in particular and Politics in general. 

Now, I did all these in my head and I thought I did pretty good. 

So, I said to myself, I should try to analyze everything I see around me and learn from everything.

Previously, my learning was “book and Web centered”. I started with books and applied my own thinking to find out what happens in the real world.

Now, with my political thoughts, I started with thinking and then went to books and Web whenever it was required.

Gradually, I learned more thinking tools.

Now, all of these happened, because I thought about how I was thinking. Otherwise, no improvements in my thinking would have taken place.

That’s the power of Meta-cognition.

So from now on, do a lot of Meta-cognition. Think a lot about how you think and become a better thinker.

I am waiting excitedly to see the new “Thinker Shamita”!  

Studying Medicine [Letter to Younger Siblings]

I have always spent a great deal of time on learning “how to learn” and studying “how to study”. #MetaCognition
These days I am jotting my ideas down. I thought about messaging some advice to my brother and sister both of whom are studying Medicine. This is what the advice looked like.

1.  Imagine your Dream coming true. Feel happy! Think how becoming a great Physician can help turn your dreams into reality. (Say to yourself: Yes! I can turn all of my dreams into reality!) Now stop doing everything else and start studying! Motivate yourself regularly.

2. Ignite curiosity. (Say to yourself: hey I understand only a few isolated concepts about how we see things [with eyes]! Now, I really want to understand the Visual System as a whole thoroughly!)
As you read, never lose sight of the concepts you wanted to know and the questions you had in mind – when you started out. As you learn, pose questions to yourself and study-think to find out answers to those questions. Write the questions down if necessary. (Say to yourself: So now I understand how Image forms on the retina, but how does the signal reach the brain?)
Get excited! (Wow! I never knew that there was a primary visual area and a secondary visual area!) Feel proud of yourself! (Say: Yeah! Now I understand the visual system better!) Become passionate!

3. Just as we build model of a person (he is such and such), build Model of each of the systems of Human body and integrate “every” fact and concept you learn to those models.

4. Build models of Systems and Subsystems: Cardiovascular system (subsystem: heart), Nervous system (subsystems: spinal cord, eyes-vision, brain, etc.). Integrate whatever you learn about a system in that system’s model. Visualize – try to see everything in your mind’s eyes. As you learn new concepts, integrate them into respective models. Draw Pictures, Diagrams. Write on those pictures, diagrams.

5. Consider Hierarchy of Systems (how cells make different tissues, tissues make different organs).

6. Learn how Systems Interact (e.g., stress triggers hormonal responses {endocrine system}). Visualize – draw – use graphs/networks (diagrams with lines connecting different systems).

7. While learning pathology, build Models of Diseases. Now model how different systems (cardiovascular, immune) work/dysfunction (as a result of e.g., a particular class of virus / bacteria) to give rise to diseases and the treatment plan. (Say, so this is why the treatment plan for this disease is that!)

8. Can’t find answer to one of your questions? Can’t understand something clearly enough? “Google”!  

9. Never forget to Visualize! When you visualize / draw diagrams, you can take in a lot of information at a time, organize all the knowledge and all the facts you learn seem real.