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”!