How to Learn Anything
- Decide what you want to learn. But you can’t know exactly, because of course you don’t know exactly how any field is structured until you know about it.
- Read everything you can on it, especially what you enjoy, since that way you can read more of it and faster.
- Grab for insights. Regardless of points others are trying to make, when you recognize an insight that has meaning for you, make it your own. It may have to do with the shape of molecules, or the personality of a specific emperor, or the quirks of a Great Man in the Field. Its importance is not how central it is, but how clear and interesting and memorable to you. Remember it. Then go for another.
- Tie insights together. Soon you will have your own string of insights in a field, like the string of lights around a Christmas tree.
- Concentrate on magazines, not books. Magazines have a far more insights per inch of text, and can be read much faster. But when a book really speaks to you, lavish attentions on it.
- Find your own special topics, and pursue them.
- Go to conventions. For some reason, conventions are a splendid concentrated way to learn things; talking to people helps. Don’t think you have to be anybody special to get to a convention; just plunk down your money. But you have to have a handle. Calling yourself a Consultant is good; “Student” is perfectly honorable.
- “Find your man.” Somewhere in the world is someone who will answer your questions extraordinarily well. If you find him, dog him. He may be a janitor or a teenage kid; no matter. Follow him with your begging-bowl, if that’s what he wants, or take him to expensive restaurants, or whatever.
- Keep improving your questions. Probably in your head there are questions, that don’t seem to line up with what you are hearing. Don’t assume that you don’t understand; keep adjusting the questions till you can get an answer that relates to what you wanted.
- Your field is bounded where you want it to be. Just because others group and stereotype things in conventional ways does not mean they are necessarily right. Intellectual subjects are connected every whichway; your field is what you think it is. (Again, this is one of the things what will get you into trouble if you try to go for degrees.)
“The way human beings speak is so heartbreaking to me—we never sound the way we want to sound. We’re always stopping ourselves in mid–sentence because we’re so terrified of saying the wrong thing. Speaking is a kind of misery. And I guess I comfort myself by finding the rhythms and accidental poetry in everyone’s inadequate attempts to articulate their thoughts. We’re all sort of quietly suffering as we go about our days, trying and failing to communicate to other people what we want and what we believe.”
The faster one goes, the more strain there is on the senses, the more they fail to take in, the more confusion they must tolerate or gloss over - and the longer it takes to bring the mind to stop in the presence of anything. Wendell Barry, "An Entrance to the Woods"