Brain Upgrade

Brain Upgrade

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Smart and dumb learning

To build genius, your learning program must be based on high applicability of newly acquired skills and knowledge. If you memorize the whole phone book (i.e. a big set of facts), you won't be much closer to a genius mind and your problem solving ability will increase only slightly (mostly through the beneficial effect of memory training on the health of your brain). On the other hand, a simple formula for expected payoff may affect all decisions you make in problem solving and in life in general. It can, for example, save you years of wasted investment in lottery tickets. Millions of people are enticed with huge lottery jackpots, yet they would never agree to give up their whole income for life in order to get it back at retirement in one-off payment, which is a frequent probabilistic payoff equivalent of taking part in lotteries. Using the terminology defined above, you will find most benefit in mastering and understanding highly abstract rules of logical thinking and decision making.

To accomplish smart learning, you will need to constantly pay utmost attention to what material you decide to study. You must avoid short term gratification at the cost of long-term learning. It may be great fun to learn all Roman emperors and details of their interesting lives and rule. However, unless you study with a big picture in mind (e.g. in an attempt to understand why civilizations thrive or fall), your genius may benefit less than by slogging through less funny but highly applicable formulas of operation research (those can for example help you optimize your diet, investment, daily schedule, etc.). In other words, you cannot be guided just by the fun of learning but by your goals and needs. In time, you will learn to see the link between long-term learning and long-term benefits. You will simply conditions yourself to love beneficial learning. Hard study material can still provide instant gratification.

While you focus on your goals, you cannot forget about the overall context of human life. You cannot dig solely into studying car engines only because this happens to be your profession. This would put you at risk of developing a tunnel vision. Your genius could be severely handicapped. You might spend years improving liquid fuel engine efficiency while others would leap years by getting involved in hydrogen engines. Their decisions would not come from genius itself but from an extensive knowledge of the field, relevant sciences and the human endeavor in general. One of the main reasons for which companies go bankrupt is that their leadership fails to spot the change. As corporate darwinism eliminates short-sighted teams, future society will witness more and more intellectual darwinism. To understand the trends and the future, you need to study human nature, economics, sociology, history, neurophysiology, mathematics and computing sciences, and more. The more you lick the stronger your predictive powers and your problem solving capacity and creative strength.

A bright 25-year-old Microsoft programmer has suggested to me recently that I use wrong examples in my articles on learning. He specifically referred to the question "Which year was the Internet born-", which he classified as a piece of trivia. He implied I should use more "useful" examples to encourage readers. Here my own tunnel vision showed up as I found his position very surprising. I misjudged the concept of trivia in the eyes of people that do meet the criteria of genius. The term trivia excellently reflects the sort of knowledge we do not want to learn in the quest for genius. These are not-so-useful facts or rules of low applicability. However, the concept of trivia is highly relative. To a child in a kindergarten, the birth of the Internet is rather meaningless. At this stage of development, the child may find it difficult to grasp the concept of the Internet itself. Most of parents will wait until the primary school before showing a child a web browser (esp. that reading skills may be needed to appreciate the concept). The value of putting the date on the birth of the Internet probably develops only in the context of an effort to understand the history of technological development. In this context, 1969 may be as important as the years of Gutenberg. Only when multiple events of the 1960s and the 1970s dovetail together, the commissioning of ARPANET becomes meaningful. When we figure out that we landed the man on the moon before making the first connection via the net, 1969 looms larger. If we dig deeper, we may find it inspiring to know that when Charley Kline tried to log in on October 29, 1969, the network crashed as he typed the letter G. This little detail may still contribute to your genius! Say you work on commissioning a major installation you worked on for several years. You know that the installation implements revolutionary concepts yet it keeps on crashing. You are about to lose hearth. This may not necessarily be an emotional event, after all you also need to apply probability to deciding when to give up blind-alley pursuits even after years of investment. The juxtaposition of the small letter G and the groundbreaking concept of the interconnected world will help you see the big picture. If your concept is great enough, you will go on through another 100 crashes in hope of diagnosing the reason. If you win, your measure of genius will be enhanced.

Listen to other people's advice and valuations. The younger you are the more you should listen. In the end though, it must be you who determines the criteria for sifting golden knowledge from trivia. Only you can measure the value of knowledge in the light of your own goals.

Remember that not all knowledge can easily be formulated in a declarative manner. Remember then to use the power of your own neural networks: solve problems, practice your skills, compute, abstract, associate, etc. You and others may not be able to see or verbalize some rules but your brain will extract them in the course of practice. Once the rules have been developed, try to formulate them and write them down. This can be of benefit to you and others

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Donah Shine

Head Master

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