Monday, August 16, 2010

Study System Followup

Well, I did some brainstorming on my study system and have come to the conclusion that I'm really making matters more complex than it needs to be. As for documentation, the only things I really need to keep track of and will be having a hard time retaining are the various steps of my conceptual exercise and the symbolization for my notes (to indicate the nature of what is being written). I have the essence of the thing down, but concretes will have to be fooled around with, and I'll have to figure out what to do with one essential practice, food preparation.

Essentially I plan on reading lots of books and taking notes, doing homework where thought possible or given the opportunity. The venue of heavy reading may sound limited, but the purpose of my study system to begin with is to foster active thinking during the process, rather than passive reading. I would be open to other venues if I judge them valuable, only there seems to be next to none. I am not aware of any cooking science podcasts, for example, and the most informative thing I can think of video-wise is the television show Good Eats. As such, the only things I can think to do are read, write, and practice, with reflection (i.e., thinking) throughout.

For reading, I'm a bit mixed up. While I recognize that note-taking is a good device for integration, identification, and memorization, I'm a bit conflicted as to how to employ it. On one hand constantly breaking myself from reading in order to write might make it harder for me to maintain concentration, but on the other hand I could practice it for so long that it becomes a natural habit that practically maintains itself. I don't know, but I'll opt for the latter in practice and see where it takes me. Good habits are the key to a healthy intellect.

The style of notes to take is another thing that perplexes me. Should I be formal by documenting key concepts, writing summaries, copying definitions, and so on, or informal by writing down thoughts and questions as they occur to me? Is it best to be as succinct as possible in one's writing in order to encourage referencing, or to allow as much writing as possible in order to encourage the greatest volume of thinking? I'm currently leaning for the latter in both prior sentences. I like the informal style since the notes are for my eyes only after all, and I like encouraging the greatest volume of writing since I think it encourages the most rigor. To elaborate on that last point, by putting my thoughts on paper I'm subjecting them to the strict rules of expression (grammar and syntax), especially that of logic. By doing so, I theorize that I'm encouraging myself to flesh out my thoughts as much as possible by forming them into coherent sentences. I've been surprised before at how ungrammatical and undeveloped my thinking processes were, and how I sometimes even had thoughts that had no coherent grammatical expression. The purpose of such lengthy writing is to eliminate that.

The symbolization itself is quite easy. A dash is used to indicate working notes; a number followed by a page number (e.g., 1. p. 254) is used to indicate commentary on specific content in the text; a circle indicates a vocabulary entry that utilizes my conceptual exercise; an X indicates a word, concept, or symbol that's difficult to retain; a square indicates a copied definition (but not in the form of my conceptual exercise); a section identification title (chapter name, number, or whatever) followed by the word "reflection" indicates an end-of-section summary of my thoughts; a question mark indicates questions I have, whether as a point of research, something to retain, or something to tease out my thinking. Three significant changes have been made, deviating from my past efforts. First, I'm trying to incorporate my conceptual exercise as something to *constantly* do, rather than something to participate in as an isolated activity. I run into concepts all the time that I do not fully understand, so it's overly restrictive that I did the exercise with only five or so concepts every two or so days. By constantly doing it I'm constantly refining my understanding. Secondly, the section division (the one symbolized by X) for hard to remember symbols, concepts, or words is in order to combat my selective memory. (I had totally forgotten about that venture [natch].) Sometimes I run into concepts or words (in the case of names) that I find hard to remember, or at worst don't register it at all. For example, people with foreign names. Because those names have origins in unfamiliar languages I often find my eyes skim over them and don't register them at all, so when I read/hear the names again I get confused as if I never heard them before. In practice in my notes, what I would do is simply write down the unfamiliar word in order to call attention to it, and write what it means if need be, whether it has meaning as a concept or as a symbol for a specific person. Thirdly, I'm integrating Leonard Peikoff's question method into my notes. If I have trouble with my thinking, then, like Leonard Peikoff, I'll try engaging myself in a series of questions to see if I can clarify matters that way. I am uncertain about the practicality of this last point, but I'm willing to try it.

To summarize, what I want to accomplish in my note-taking is to encourage as much active thinking as possible. In reading it can be much too easy to simply "say the words in your head" and then forget about them when you put the book down. It certainly couldn't be further from my intentions to forget what I've read; I aim to retain as much as possible for as long as possible. My note-taking methods will definitely be refined, both in adding and subtracting particular practices, but for now this is what I view as a good starting point.

Writing outside of taking notes, I think, needs no tampering. The more intellectually active I become the more naturally intellectual my thinking becomes, so I think informal intellectual essays would be a logical consequence of my personal studies. Of course, I would post my essays to my blog since I like having an audience, but further thinking still needs to be done anyhow as to how I would go about that process. Right now my current thought is to simply make my writing just a tad bit more formal by being more meticulous about constructing outlines; it is often the case these days I just rush right into my blog posts after a bit of contemplation. The last thing I want to become is some amateur academic that preaches on subjects he doesn't have a firm grasp on, which is how I view my writing over at Benpercent, minus a few favorite entries.

Food preparation is where things get tricky. I'm working with a highly restricted budget while my project is in progress -- which may only get more restricted as I finish my project -- so I don't know how to make it work given my financial concerns. Plus there's a concern with my kitchen that further undermines my efforts with what I can do, but I'm not going to elaborate on that. I imagine myself ideally taking a Thomas Edison approach to food preparation: experimenting all the time and having multiple experiments going on at once. I don't think that's possible given my current finances, but that's what I'd like to achieve; there is but one life to live and so much learning we can do. Maybe at this current time the best I can ask of myself is to resolve to try one new dish each grocery day and to figure out how to get the most knife-handling practice I possibly can. I estimate the knife skills to be most essential.

Outside of the above specified methods and practices I also plan on having a routine math exercise regiment. It would be a value for not only cooking measurements, but also in scientific calculations themselves. (I'm interested in both food science and technology, not just the preparation of cuisines.) My deficiency right now leaves me far too dependent on the calculator. I would like to develop myself so that I can do equations in my head, both as complex and quickly as possible. I've found some good JavaScript programs to that effect, but there are some limits. I'll talk more about them below.

In a nutshell this is the current study system I have planned. Sorry if it seems a bit messy. Perhaps being from my studies for so long has intellectually weakened me? If so, I'll soon be on the fast track to restoring my powers. Aside from the kinks mentioned above, like my uncertainty of whether a certain method is practical, I still have some significant questions to answer:

1.) What's my optimal sleep regiment? I've noticed once or twice that by going to bed mentally exhausted (through mental exertion) I have gotten my best sleep and woke with improved cognitive powers. Might it be best to sleep only when tired, including naps, or to have established bedtimes? I definitely want to give further testing to my neurological theory that mental exhaustion signifies coming improvements and that sleep speeds up the process.

2.) Will it interfere with memorization to deal with too much content in too short of a time period? This has made me wonder whether there's such a thing as studying for "too long." Maybe napping in between substantial subjects will help?

3.) What should I do with the excess food my food preparation practice generates? Refrigerators and pantries are only so big.

4.) What are the best, free online math programs that allows one to generate math equations for solving? Here's an example of what I mean. In the past what I tried to do before is set an egg timer and solve as many problems as I could in my head within the time limit, not typing anything down until I got the whole answer. The program has limits, however, in how complex the problems can be made and what types can be generated. I want a more versatile program, or programs if need be.

These questions need not be answered immediately, but they are food for thought. I guess the next step now, aside from waiting for input, is to pick out the next thing to study. More later.

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