Thursday, September 2, 2010

Study Modifications

It's been about a week or two since I've implemented my formal note-taking system and I have indeed been benefiting from it, as well as enjoying it immensely. It is strange to think that such a thing as taking notes used to repulse me when I was a schoolboy, and now here I am as an adult doing it voluntarily and having fun at it! My theory is that, given a rational epistemology, the pursuit of knowledge becomes more enjoyable when one knows how to employ it in one's living and is actually able to achieve certainty. Becoming more and more certain that what I adhere to is true is quite comforting to my soul, and when I find out I adhere to something false or that I was ignorant of something then I know I have the ability to alter my thinking and actions.

However, there have been some concerns and consequent changes with my methods:

1.) I'm not doing the rereadings as I said I would. Instead I've been reading the assigned section only once and taking notes at the same time. I've found that I actually have an urge to take notes while I read, so it would be uncomfortable to try and delay it until the second reading. I've been able to adjust my habits successfully to encourage concentration, being meticulous in my writing when the reading is very formal and academic and leaving my notes alone when the reading is of an aesthetic nature, thereby allowing me to experience the "flow" of the reading.

I don't think doing immediate rereadings is all that beneficial anyhow, so I feel no guilt in quitting my aspiration to do so. I tried this method while I was doing a formal study of OPAR and found that it made things excruciatingly difficult. Since I tried to do the rereadings immediately I found that I "remembered" too much of the text and could hardly concentrate as a result, thus eliminating any potential benefit. Trying to do a third rereading was nearly impossible and resulted in lame homework questions.

The best course of action, I think, is to encourage as active a mind as possible during every reading I do and to space out the time in which I do another reading, if the material is of value enough and if I choose to do so. As such, right now I'll stick to doing single readings while taking notes.

(On a side-note, I used to formulate homework questions as a way of spurring thinking, but I quit it since it wasn't beneficial for me. I don't know whether it's inherently impractical or if I went about it improperly, but I found I often formulated questions that were too easy or that I memorized the answer for. Instead, in my notes I'll simply incorporate a questioning method that encourages me to dig deeper into my thinking, the same one Leonard Peikoff stated in his podcast to be his own method of taking notes.)

2.) My conceptual exercise has been an absolute pain to perform. I've modified it to be more efficient than the one listed in the link, but the sheer number of times I've been trying to do it has been horribly ineffective. I realized there was a problem when, while reading the Prologue of Good Calories, Bad Calories, I had spent over twenty minutes working on the first page. I'd never get done at that pace! It's apparent now that there's potentially an infinite number of concepts that aren't objectively rooted in my mind, not just a couple here and there. I could spend hours and hours doing my conceptual exercise if I tried to do it for every single concept I didn't fully understand. A new approach is needed.

First, I've modified the exercise to be shorter. In contradiction to the link provided above, my exercise now consists of three steps: write out the dictionary definition, including for unfamiliar words used in the definition itself; specify whether the concept is perceptual (represents something directly perceivable) or is abstract (represents a grouping of more primary concepts), and list some of the referents. This is all that I think is necessary, though I'm certainly open to changing it in the future. Given the immeasurable number of concepts I need to objectively root, each individual exercise needs to be as concise and efficient as possible.

Secondly, I've altered my habits and selectivity concerning what concepts to perform the exercise on and when to perform it. Originally I tried to have it that I would do an exercise immediately as I spotted an unfamiliar concept, but that's far too disruptive to my reading. Instead, I circle every concept that's unfamiliar, only break from my reading to do an exercise on a concept that's essential to understanding the reading, and then go back after the reading to do exercises on concepts I passed up the first time. Also, after the reading I only do an arbitrary number of exercises (at least five) since all the concepts I've circled still would take far too much time to all have their own exercises dedicated to them, regardless of whether it interrupts my reading or not.

Finally, I learned that I have been drastically wrong in my approach. This conceptual exercise needs to be a mentality, not just some written exercise I do every now and then. While doing the writing is certainly beneficial intellectually, especially for particularly difficult concepts, it is far beyond inadequate given the number of concepts I deal with in everyday life. I need to alter my thinking habits so as to make this exercise something I do everyday, consistently and constantly. I need to learn how to treat all concepts in this fashion, otherwise I'll never achieve certainty with the mere baby steps my writing exercise takes. This identification will make for a self-improvement goal, one I'll write more on later since I haven't done much thinking on it yet.

Given these changes and identifications, hopefully I can do better to integrate a healthy and objective epistemology within my mind.

3.) Lastly, I realized, partly because of the dispute with my conceptual exercise above, that I haven't been doing a very good job in integrating the material into a coherent whole. To state the problem with an old metaphor, I've been ignoring the forest for the trees. As part of the errors in my conceptual exercise, I've been concentrating way too intensely on the individual bits of information without tying it altogether into a whole that consists of its constituents. For example -- though I did correct this problem in mere moments -- one time when I went about my reading I noticed that I was actually concentrating on the individual words so intensely that I wasn't uniting their meaning with the unified sentence. The number of times that I was doing my conceptual exercise was causing me to simply focus on concepts divorced from their context to see if there were any that weren't immediately known to me at the time, making it so that I was treating the book as a giant collection of words rather than an integrated material.

Strangely enough, this is the reverse of an ongoing problem. My other problem is that I often read material and draw connections but then make the constituents go all hazy in my mind after I've drawn broad generalizations, conclusions, etc. I've never felt uncomfortable in doing this since I know that I've worked to objectively piece together the evidence in order to draw the proper conclusion that subsumes it, but forgetting the evidence that got my state of thinking where it is does not do well for objective certainty, arguing for my beliefs, or for being able to further advance my thinking in the future. In reverse, concentrating too intensely on the evidence separate from what connects it altogether will prevent me from drawing integrative conclusions and condensing my knowledge. I need to find a way to be able to switch my focus, to be able to see the forest and then the trees which compose that forest at my will.

The mere fact of my note-taking, I think, is sufficient for helping me concentrate on individual pieces of information, but I also need something to help me focus on the whole body of information at the same time. At the end of the reading I do summaries of my thoughts on the reading, but while helpful it's still insufficient since it comes too late in the study. To remedy I'm going to incorporate a new note-taking method to add to my previous stock of symbols. In addition to the system I already have set up, I'm going to add in explicit lines of integration ("symbolized" by the word "Integration") in which, time to time during my note-taking, I'll perform integrations of the prior written material. By both having my general note-taking as a means to concentration on pieces of information and an explicit strategy to periodically integrate the material, I should be able to better integrate the material later in my study as my integrations involve greater and greater amounts of information.

* * * * * * * * * *

This is my thinking as it stands now. Surely there will be more thoughts and changes as I go to employ this thinking.

Oh, and I finally decided upon what to do about my progress tracking. Since I'm not doing much in the way of serious cooking right now (what with the project and all), I'll construct weekly posts titled "Study Summary [date range involved in the study period]" that will detail what I've done in the way of studying and general intellectual advancement in the specified study period, which I'll post every Friday. The first installment will detail what's happened in the last two weeks, since I didn't do a summary for the start of the implementation of my study system.

Ah, isn't self-advancement great?

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