Learning Scrapbook

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Thinking Tools / Learning /

Ironically the Learning Scrapbook follows a module on Learning Levels (Soft vs. Hard Learning) but precedes any module on Learning. When I make one it will go above: here in this post.

Learning Scrapbook, c. 2001

Existing learning limits new learning.

Bucky Fuller told me a story I’ll repeat here. He told me that the Army had some committee that had some slush fund, a few extra million dollars beyond anything needed for payroll, tanks, or ammo. The army committee wanted to use its extra cash benefit genius: the army recognizing that success was somehow correlated to intelligence, and “genius” we all know is some super form of intelligence. Now the military had already influenced millions and millions being donated to MIT, to Stanford RI, etc. This time they wanted to try something different. So the Army used part of its millions to hire consultants to advise them on the disposal of their surplus. The consultants researched the problem. The consultants went to recognized geniuses, people with patents the Army respected for example — maybe some guy with a better transistor — and asked outright: “how come you’re so smart?”

The consultants concluded that the common thread seemed to have something to do with small Liberal Arts colleges and with anonymous instructors, not with tenured faculty. In other words, the Army got more than one answer that went something like, Well, I went to Hamilton College, and I remember one day in Freshman English the instructor, reading Frost’s poem about snow in the woods, said …

So what did the Army do? They gave another couple of million to MIT and SRI!

Bucky grinned.

“They refused to learn what they had learned.”

2013 04 14 Just rereading Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman:

I often liked to play tricks on people when I was at MIT. One time, in mechanical drawing class, some joker picked up a French curve (a piece of plastic for drawing smooth curves–a curly, funny-looking thing) and said, “I wonder if the curves on this thing have some special formula?”
I thought for a moment and said, “Sure they do. The curves are very special curves. Lemme show ya,” and I picked up my French curve and began to turn it slowly. “The French curve is made so that at the lowest point on each curve, no matter how you turn it, the tangent is horizontal.”
All the guys in the class were holding their French curve up at different angles, holding their pencil up to it at the lowest point and laying it along, and discovering that, sure enough, the tangent is horizontal. They were all excited by this “discovery”–even though they had already gone through a certain amount of calculus and had already “learned” that the derivative (tangent) of the minimum (lowest point) of _any_ curve is zero (horizontal). They didn’t put two and two together. They didn’t even know what they “knew.”
I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way–by rote, or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!

2002 03 03 Does “God” learn?
Does evolution learn? Do species?

(See how much easier the question is if it’s phrased in lower-case?)

If God is perfect, then what is there for him to learn? Ditto the biosphere, ditto the universe.

Lacking a sophisticated sense of topology as well as cosmology, theology has hitherto been a profession for dimwits (i.e., some of the smartest people in (ahem) civilization).

The idea that learning may be appropriate (and possible) for more than babies undercuts Manichean-Christian dualism more deeply than even Bishop Wilberforce (or Huxley), even William Jennings Bryan (or Darrow), realized.


Now, very fast. Learning0 is learning that the genome has accomplished: the female bird knows how and when to make an egg; the male mosquito knows how and when to find a female …
Learning1 is accomplished by the phenotype: how to tie your shoelaces, how to read …
Learning2 is as different from Learning1 as depth is from length. Meta levels are mutually orthogonal. Learning2 is learning-to-learn. No, it’s not what you do in school: that’s 99.99% Learning1.

Gregory Bateson’s example is exquisite. Animal handlers had taught a female cetacean a bevy of tricks. Accomplishment, and thereafter, repetitions, were rewarded with fish. One day the handlers wondered if they could get the porpoise to do something new. They signaled for the tricks, got them, but gave no reward. The porpoise got so agitated (wouldn’t you?), they put her back in her pen. After a time her agitation there increased dangerously: they let her back into the big tank: where she performed a series of new behaviors including behaviors never before observed. That porpoise was a Newton.

I attribute Learning2 to Newton, to Shakespeare: on occasion. Mostly I see such geniuses as having been exceptionally good at Learning1. I attribute Learning2 to myself on occasion. (You of course may have your own opinion.) I certainly attribute Learning2 to Gregory Bateson.

Learning3 would be learning-to learn-to learn. Who or what does that? “god”! Evolution! (Perhaps.) Perhaps the biosphere itself. Jesus? Jehovah? I doubt it.

I agree with Bateson that schools harm us and themselves by imagining that Learning2 is what they engage in. Jared Diamond spends his career in Borneo. He has a post at the University of California. He publishes scintillating new theories. Who should take credit? UCA? Or god? Or Diamond (and Darwin) alone?


Bateson’s levels of learning and Bateson’s soft vs. hard learning also get mentioned at
Macroinformation.org. (See my blog of that name while the domain remains censored.) I’ll be giving them more and better treatment there before I return to make many improvements here, much of the two sites destined eventually to merge.


There’s always one important question in evolution:

Will learning take place in time?

Refused to Learn What They Had Learned
2016 05 17 There was a news article at Yahoo the other day, some woman is the one living person old enough to have been born in the 1800s. They interviewed her. She said that the secret to her longevity was that all her life she had eaten two raw eggs a day. The journalist went on the recommend that if you try to follow the ancient’s advice that you cook the eggs. Journalist followed with orthodox ideas about the benefits of cooking!
Imagine if they interviewed me as someone conversant with God, and I say, God’s true name is Fred, be sure to call him Fred, and the interviewers said, Yes, and be sure to call God Jehovah. Refuse to learn what you learn. You’ll go far, till we’re all dead, of terminal stupidity.

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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