Personal Notes On Studying & Learning [Unofficial]

  • Real world Bookish knowledge
  • Get emotionally involved. Be passionately curious.
  • Learn in context. Always have past, future, goals, contexts, questions in mind.
  • Learning and understanding by developing models, knowledge ontologies, organized knowledge in context (e.g., understanding how a tool works in context of the problem it tries to solve).
  • Study the problem, not the tool. Design the best possible tool that solves the problem; and then study the available tool.
  • Study science of Engineering.
  • It’s not just “so this is how it works” but it’s also “how different could it be” (especially in engineering)?
  • As you continue building models, ask questions. Then study-think to find out the answers.
  • If you have very little knowledge about the subject matter, then first skim through to have a glimpse / overview of the subject matter, start building model, ask questions and find answers to fill gaps in your knowledge of the model.
  • Apply what you have learned. Solve problems, work on projects, teach someone.
  • “The most effective learning requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual, informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections of errors.” – Peter Norvig. “The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.” – Peter Norvig. [1]
  • Clock. Compete with yourself. Speed up the learning process.
  • Find out how the discoverer / inventor discovered / invented the theory / knowledge / concept / tool.
  • Understand the newly learned concepts “completely and clearly” in terms of what you already know. (Whatever you teach someone is not completely internally absorbed by him / her until he/she understands it in terms of what he/she already knows. A teacher should make sure that the student can describe whatever he/she has learned in his/her own words / ways.)
  • Organize your Models in your Knowledge Ontology.
  • Teach whatever you learn to someone or at least learn as though you have to teach it to someone smart.
    • Professor Anant Agarwal [2] mentioned that, one truly starts learning only when he has to teach.   



Tools

  • Systems thinking
  • Zooming-in, zooming-out (let’s name it the “lens tool”)
  • Find out how changes made to “part” bring about change in the “whole”.
  • Move up and down between different levels of abstractions. Breakthrough idea could be at any level. (Creativity, Problem Solving)
  • Understanding systems and processes “completely” in terms of what I already know (what Physicists try to do)
  • Ask Questions. (Fill up gaps in knowledge. Meta-thinking. Questions lead to answers and new knowledge.)
  • Abstractions (from computational thinking)
  • Generalization
  • Chunking

Studying – Learning

  • পড়ার সময় তাত্ত্বিক ব্যাপারগুলো Concrete example/ Application কল্পনা করে পড়ো। (Equivalent to doing science labs/practical) 
  • Whatever you are studying, build a model of what you already know. Then, as you learn more, place the newly learned concepts, processes in their appropriate position in the model. Ask questions, find out answers and fill the gaps in the model. Whatever you learn place it in “a single model”. Models of different things are connected (graph, hierarchical tree). 
  • Use visualization while you are studying. + Concrete example in real world context.
  • Get emotionally involved. Be passionately curious.
  • পড়ার আগে বিষয়টা সম্পর্কে কি কি এখনই জানো, কি কি জানতে চাও – ভেবে নাও। তারপর Curiosity নিয়ে পড়।
  • First imagine what happens in the real world. – Extract general principles/structures. – This is your own model. Then learn from learning materials. Integrate the newly learned concepts in your own model. Can you think of anything better than what is there in the learning materials? Ask questions – fill in the gaps of your knowledge/model. 
  • Understand the newly learned concepts “completely and clearly” in terms of what you already know. (Whatever you teach someone is not completely internally absorbed until he/she understands it in terms of what he/she already knows. A teacher should make sure that the student can describe whatever he/she has learned in his/her own words / ways.)
  • Teach whatever you learn to someone or at least learn as though you have to teach it to someone smart.
  • Be open-minded. Be prepared to accept completely new knowledge, new reality and revise what you already know / what is generally known. Don’t constrain yourself with knowledge you have gathered and theories you have learned thus far. People with knowledge/experience in a domain are usually reluctant to accept new knowledge outside their own models / common sense. One practice is to keep learning new things in new subject areas – that way you are prepared for surprises.
  • Start with deep level of concentration: meditation/deep breathing, solve problems.
  • As you continue building models, ask questions. Then study-think to find out the answers.
  • If you have very little knowledge about the subject matter, then first skim through to have a glimpse / overview of the subject matter, start building model, ask questions and find answers to fill gaps in your knowledge of the model.
  • Apply what you learn. (Solve problems, work on projects, teach someone.) “The most effective learning requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual, informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections of errors.” “The key is deliberative practice: not just doing it again and again, but challenging yourself with a task that is just beyond your current ability, trying it, analyzing your performance while and after doing it, and correcting any mistakes. Then repeat. And repeat again.” – Peter Norvig.
  • If you can understand and explain everything in terms of very few concepts and principles and structures-processes, then you can do a lot with “little knowledge”. (model: Physics)
  • Clock. Compete with yourself. Speed up the learning process.
  • It’s not just “so this is how it works” but it’s also “how different could it be” (especially in engineering)?
  • Better models?
  • Don’t start reading without any questions, curiosity in mind. Be curious about a topic, build a (possibly incomplete) model, have some questions in mind and then start reading. Always check if you have a model and some questions in mind while you are learning. Learn in context of the questions / incompleteness in your models.
  • Real world Bookish knowledge
  • Understanding a topic / problem / solution involves a lot of zooming in (for understanding the details) and zooming out (for having an overall idea). You must be comfortable at accessing all levels of details. Associate images, processes with concepts / methods / algorithms. Check your concentration level by finding out whether you can zoom in and zoom out with ease.
  • Find out how the discoverer / inventor discovered / invented the theory / knowledge / concept / tool.
References

My Mental Toolbox

Power Tools From My Mental Toolbox

Self Management

  • Passion & Confidence, Faith. “The happiness advantage”.
    • Go through your accomplishments. Visualize. 
    • Always have context (Goal, Dream, Curiosity, Context) in mind. 
  • Meta-cognition (“Know thyself”). Reflective Thinking. Self awareness.
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Concentration. Meditation. Mindfulness (Reflective Thinking). Classical Music.
  • Killer instinct directed towards problem solving, creative purposes and accomplishments. See Steve Ballmer on stage. People who can’t use anger / aggression towards creative purposes / problem solving, “transfer the anger to his wife, children, subordinates, store clerks, waiters and other people who cannot defend them against him. This is the mechanism that lies behind scapegoating, racial prejudice, exploiting others.” [1] 
  • Willpower (Mindfulness). 
  • Big Picture Thinking. 
  • Collaboration
  • Creative Visualization (Always have goals in your mind. Start from goal – visualize backwards.) + Faith
  • Gamify the process of achieving goals. (Let internal feedback motivate you. Use feedback to your advantage.) 
  • Awareness of the ultimate reality.

Thinking Tools 

  • Learning and understanding by developing models, knowledge ontologies, organized knowledge in context (e.g., understanding how a tool works in context of the problem it tries to solve)
    • Study the problem, not the tool. Design the best possible tool that solves the problem; and then study the available tool.
    • Learn in context. Always have past, future, goals, contexts, questions in mind. 
  • Systems thinking
  • Zooming-in, zooming-out (let’s name it the “lens tool”)
    • Find out how changes made to “part” bring about change in the “whole”.
    • Move up and down between different levels of abstractions. Breakthrough idea could be at any level. (Creativity, Problem Solving)
  • Abstractions (from computational thinking)
  • Generalization
  • Chunking
  • Sequential Processes
  • Game Theory (Considering the opponents, co-operators)
    • Studying the psychology of everyone involved.
    • Big Picture Thinking.  
  • Visualization, Structures
  • Not constraining myself to a particular field of study; rather, analyzing and learning from everything. My breadth of knowledge helped me go in depth. 
  • Crossing my own limits by challenging myself
  • Problem Solving Strategies, Tools, Techniques 
  • Creativity Tools
  • Understanding systems and processes “completely” in terms of what I already know (what Physicists try to do)
  • Ask Questions. (Fill up gaps in knowledge. Meta-thinking. Questions lead to answers and new knowledge.)
  • Mathematics (reduces complexity by creation of abstractions, symbolization, structures, mechanization of procedures)
  • Data Analytics & Statistics
  • Algorithm, Computation & Automation
  • Larger Working Memory


Reference

Evolution of My Dreams and Realizations

My first ‘Aim in life’, as far as I can remember (It was 1988 / 89; I was 2 or 3), was to become a milkman. I mean, it wasn’t about being a milkman. I wanted to become the honest person appreciated by my parents – a milkman by the name Mubarak. (“I want to become Mubarak”, I used to say). So, what I truly wanted to become was a plain, simple, honest person. 

stock-photo-milkman-94006828

Next, I wanted to become a building mechanic. I used to stare at people who built houses in awe. My uncle sent me a toy Mechanical Tool Box.

My next major change in aim occurred when I wanted to join the Military (age: 4-5). Each night, I used to stay awake until the National Anthem with the National Flag was played on BTV and give salute. I watched a Television program depicting Military life. One of my uncles quipped: “The secret: Tahsin wants to become the President!”.

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My mom told me of an incident that took place when I was a baby of few months old (1986). One day, General Ershad was delivering a speech (who was then the President). My mom was studying for her exams. I was lying right beside my maternal Grandfather. My Grandfather suddenly started praying loudly: “God, grant my wish and guide my grandson to become the President and lead the Nation.” My Grandmother called my mom, “Come! Quick! Look how your dad is praying for your son!”     

During my First grade, a serial had an enormous influence on me: “The sword of Tipu Sultan”. Tipu Sultan and Hyder Ali were my childhood heroes. The serial drew me to History. I was deeply influenced by another historical novel during 3rd / 4th Grade – “Khun Ranga Path”. Besides History, books on General Knowledge were among my favorites from an early age. My father bought me my first “General Knowledge” book (Encyclopedia) around 5. Then I discovered “General Knowledge” books (Encyclopedia) in my aunt’s house. Later, I started buying Encyclopedia myself. I used to stare at the Globe of the world and fantasize (
Grade 3 / 4). I fantasized first becoming a King of Ancient Bengal, then King of Myanmar (Burma) and later lifetime President of Kazakhstan. 

I remember playing computer games at one of our relative’s house during Fifth grade. Almost everyone around me wanted to become a Computer Engineer at that time. So I thought I should try to become one myself – a Computer Engineer. 

During my middle school years, I was a voracious reader of novels. Reading novels was the most fun activity I could think of. I could understand different writing techniques employed by novelists. Becoming a novelist, writing great novels was my dream during 7th to 10th grade (1999 – 2002). For living, I would become a Physician or Engineer or Architect. That was my plan.

During 9th / 10th grade, I made up my mind to study Medicine (there was huge encouragement from my parents) and become a Physician besides writing novels.

When I read a book on Psychology (my mom’s book on Educational Psychology from her M.Ed. course), I understood that an intense interest in the workings of the human mind was the chief reason I wanted to become a novelist. Moreover, Literature could only depict subjective human experience, but the objective theories of Psychology applied to all humans.

I thought that I could become a Physician and specialize in Psychiatry or Neurology.

Studying Psychology helped me understand the essence of Science: To understand experimentally provable General Rules that govern everything we see around us.

Studying Psychology books gave me the confidence that: I can come up with original ideas, and that I should question what is written in books.

Trying to understand the theories of Psychology in terms of my own experiences and what I see around me, made me aware of the connection between Real World and the world of Books and Theories.

As I later diversified and ventured into different branches of Science, these realizations and understandings proved invaluable.

One day, as I was preparing for my high school (11th grade) Entrance Exam (later it was decided that Entrance would be based on results of matriculation exam), a Chapter on different forms of Energy from my Physics book grabbed my attention. I thought: maybe I could work on both Psychology / Neurology and Physics. I went through my 9-10th grade Physics book. I bought and read other books (Undergraduate level Physics Textbooks, Stephen Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time and others).

I thought and wrote down my understandings and realizations. I tried to come up with new Theories myself.

Physics taught me to understand “everything” in terms of fundamental constituents and few fundamental laws that govern things we see around us.

Physics made me realize the necessity of learning Higher Mathematics.

Mathematical Olympiad was gaining popularity in Bangladesh at that time (it was 2003). I bought Books and started solving problems.

One of the books published at that time was “নিউরনে অনুরণন” (“Resonance in neurons”). The idea for the name: it’s better to create resonance in your brains’ neurons by solving Mathematical problems rather than leaving the neurons idle!

I found out: the more I worked on problems, the better I could think! My Neurons really were resonating!

My interest in Psychology helped me appreciate brain function improvement and Mathematical Problem Solving. I discovered ways of improving brain function myself.

It was an amazing realization – I could become anyone I wanted if I worked in the right way.

Other Sciences started grabbing my attention.

Psychology drew me to Neuroscience – the Biology of what happens in the mind. Physics led me to Cosmology (the study of the evolution of the Universe) and some of the books described evolution of our planet and Biological evolution. Evolutionary Biology was among my favorites.

At that point, I saw my future as a Scientist: trying to understand the truth and decode the Laws of Nature.

I became interested in Computer Science and Engineering as I read an article portraying the field of Artificial Intelligence. The article was written by Dr. Ali Asgar included in one of his popular science books (Grade 11). I bought Undergrad Texts on Artificial Intelligence and started reading.

Psychology and Neuroscience always grabbed my attention. So when I found out that there is a subfield in CS that tries to emulate intelligence on computers, I got hooked instantly. 

Later, I participated in International Mathematical Olympiad, and met people who were serious participants in programming contests and I felt that I really liked contests and competitions. Besides, computation seem to be everywhere – required in almost every branch. I could do Physics and Biology on Computers. I read an inspirational book (“Medhabi Manusher Golpo” – Prof. Dr Kaykobad) which depicted lives of eminent Computer Scientists and students of Computer Science. The choice was either Physics or Computer Science and Engineering, but my parents wouldn’t let me study Physics. Choosing Computer Science and Engineering also made sense when I considered practical aspects. I thought: I could still pursue my multi-disciplinary interests besides studying CSE at college. 

The Majors I considered at that time included: Computer Science and Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Nanotechnology / Nanoengineering & Bioengineering / Biomedical Engineering.

[If you find my life and my understandings interesting you might like Looking back and connecting the dots.]

Lets move a few years forward … During March / April 2013, I thought, I should analyze and understand and learn from and codify everything I see around me – just as I did with the sciences and engineering. I started with the political situation in Bangladesh. I wanted to figure out what would happen if I start my own Political Party. Next, I applied my analysis to other domains: Mechanical Engineering, Economics, Computer Science.

I discovered new thinking tools along the way. Previously, if I found something interesting, I used to look it up on the Web or download a book. But now, whatever I try to understand, first I develop ‘a model’ in my mind just by thinking and then fill out the blanks in my model by asking questions and reading and learning.

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I come across new understandings and realizations almost on a daily basis. I look forward to share my newer understandings at sometime in not too distant future: “Living to tell the tale”, truly!
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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.