Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Study Conundrums

In my last weekly summary I noted that I need to undertake a reassessment of my study methods in order to try and improve my habits, as I haven't been very studious these past weeks and have for a long time been beneath my ideal level of functioning. While I consider my system good in theory and always improving due to constant introspection, I am in doubt as to whether I understand fully my own personal style of learning and may also still be prone to learning fallacies instilled in me from a bad institutionalized education.

Simply put, these past few weeks I've hardly been engaged in my books, and I'm also worried that I may not be learning in the most effective manner. Ideally I should be spending a good portion of my week engaged in my studies, at a rate of completing at least one subject item per day, and should be working better to push myself to my limits, as I have a personal hypothesis that pushing myself to mental exhaustion most quickly leads to cognitive improvements. (This latter point is substantiated by anecdotal evidence, where I'll be mentally exhausted one day and wake the next with improved faculties.)

There is no excuse for the behavior I have been practicing these past weeks. Before I thought the collapse of some suppressions (I am mistaken in that link by having written "repression") is what led to my lapse in my ability to concentrate, but after demonstrating an ability to concentrate on some endeavors without having had to reestablish concentration training I see that isn't the case; my ability to concentrate is still intact.

Furthermore, the Circumstance, which has actively hindered my studies in the past, is continuing to grow more recessive and is less likely to interrupt, if at all. Previously it used to be very frequent and I could do little about it, but given some recent developments I've been able to have long stretches of hours without any environmental distractions. Given some distraction filtering practices I could probably even reduce the distractions to zero. Consequently I can no longer cite the Circumstance as an excuse for being distracted from my studies, due to both the facts I had an experience that has largely cleared my mind and that the Circumstance is becoming recessive. It is true that part of the distraction in the past was that I anticipated being interrupted and so only allowed weak concentration on the subject at hand, but it is no longer reasonable for me to persist in such an expectation.

Given all this, I think it may be entirely possible now that I could reattain a near-ideal state I had achieved in the past, where most of my days were oriented around my intellectual pursuits, and I grew so attached to the practices that I hardly enjoyed daydreaming and actually felt uncomfortable if I weren't mentally stimulated to some degree. Recreation too was heightened in my ability to enjoy it, as after a long day of hard studying my mind and brain got increased pleasure from rest; my brain even once throbbed in erotic anticipation of a simple episode of Mythbusters. I don't plan on spending my life in a state of reclusive study, but I certainly need to do better in nurturing a love of learning and a life of the mind. My culinary interests may in the long-run make me primarily a man of action rather than one of thought, but I still must never neglect thought and should always strive to keep intellectual pursuits a part of my life.

So what's hindering me now if not the Circumstance or an inability to concentrate?

While I'm pleased with the general skeleton of the study system I have come up with, I think there may still be some serious flaws which could be leading to serious conflicts with my own preferred style of learning. I might be stubbornly maintaining some practices which don't lead to actual learning given my own nature and am forgoing chances to practice better methods. The conflicts with my personal learning style may not only be leading to ineffective/null learning, but also a lack of motivation which causes me to view my studies with an aura of disdain. I want to be able to devise a system of study that allows for a nurturing of love and excitement in the learning process, and right now I view my studies as nearly the equivalent of a chore.

The primary problem could be in my note-taking. I don't have strong views as to why I should take notes, and old fallacies I adhere to may be leading to irrational practices. As far as my thinking goes now, I'm utilizing note-taking as a way of formulating the information I'm ingesting into my own words and thus am making it a more creative process rather than one of passive absorption. Additionally, the act of writing in proper sentences forces one to think in complete sentences with no allowance for half-digested thoughts or uncompleted formulations. Writing won't necessarily make me reach definitive conclusions, but it will at least prevent me from thinking in half-sentences or stopping in the middle of a thought to daydream. I even find the very act of cursive writing makes the endeavor more pleasurable.

However, I haven't been doing well to exercise good judgment on which information is worth documenting or in what way I should document it. Further complicating matters is that I don't write my notes with the intention of looking at them ever again; my intended purpose is for the act of writing itself to help with my learning. As such, these past months I've been writing my notes as a series of disconnected sentences that often serve as commentary to specific sentences or paragraphs in the reading. Combined with the fact that I've internalized that I should write a few notes as I can for the sake of essentializing, I've ultimately been writing very little of value.

One reason for my disdain of notes is the fallacy I've held from my institutional education that one should merely copy down the concrete information presented with no effort towards creative thinking. That makes for nothing but wasteful hand movements, which has made me believe that notes are a waste since I can simply look up the concrete facts in my reading. This fallacy has made me look towards my studies with a sense of disdain since I view the note-taking itself as a chore; I have little problem doing the subjects in which I strive to do pure readings of.

It's quite perplexing as to how to fix this since a creative element entails a greater quantity of writing whereas succinct documentation of concretes requires concentrating information through essentialization. The former encourages the most amount of writing while the latter encourages doing the least by necessity, though that conflict only arises if one chooses to emphasize one in neglect of the other.

The solution may lie in better symbolization of my notes, which would allow me to better practice each methodology. As has been mentioned in several posts, I have taken to symbolizing my notes so that I can know at a glance what type of content a specific passage composes of. For instance, a number next to a page number will indicate that I'm writing commentary that I couldn't fit in the page margins on a specific passage in the reading, and a X will indicate a word I either have a hard time pronouncing or remembering. There are more, but you get the idea. Through consistent practice I have learned which symbols I use the most and which not at all, so I think I could make my system more efficient by paring down the symbols to bare essentials. My system may be too cluttered: all I really need are symbols for working notes (plus sign), essentialized concretes and integrations (asterisk), conceptual exercises (uppercase O), definitions (either copied or formulated) (square box), hard to remember/pronounce words (uppercase X), and passage-specific commentary (a reference number followed by the page number). Everything else, such as documentation of percepts I need to look up or quotes I want to remember can be subsumed under this or otherwise noted by all capital letters exclamations.

I think this may, in a way, allow me to have my cake and eat it too. With this minimized symbolization I'll be easily able to distinguish the content of what I'm writing, so I'll be able to write as much creative thinking as I please while still doing as much essentializing as possible in terms of concrete documentations. In the end, when I view the creative and concrete writing separately, they both should amount to only as much writing as is needed, the concretes being as short as possible and the creative being as long as possible. I'll employ these essentialized symbolizations the next time I take to my notes.

This does, however, prompt the question as to whether I would find it of value to consult my notes in the future. Right now I never take to looking at my notes again, as I only write for the writing act itself and never refer back to previously written notes. Is this rational? In addition to the fallacy above of only documenting concretes, I have also fallen prey to the notion that most learning can be done through rote repetitions of the material being considered. That is mere memory, not learning. I used to think that repeating the information rote did encourage learning and so practiced it for years, but got discouraged when I found I would soon forget the material. As such, I tend to view referring back to old material and writing as the equivalent of doing rote repetitions, so I end up lacking motivation to do so. This needs to be fixed.

In regards to notes, what I'll do is practice the note symbolization I have noted above and will try to keep in mind that I may refer back to this material and will try to construct my formulations accordingly. If I am successful and do end up encouraging a more learning-oriented active mindedness, then I may kindle a motivation to reassess old writing to fuel new thinking or to reinforce my memory. I am still debating with myself of the value of such a practice, but I should at least write my notes so that there's an open door for the practice in the future.

Outside of the form of the notes I'm taking, I could also be doing better to employ practices that encourages the most productive thinking. From reading The Journals of Ayn Rand and listening to some of Leonard Peikoff's podcasts I have learned of the question method of note-taking, in which one writes down questions and then attempt to answer them. In my own realm I have found this extremely helpful, as it works to expose exactly where the gaps in knowledge are or where the essence of the issue lies. To better my creative thinking I think I should take a more Socratic approach, by which I mean I should intensify the quantity of questions I ask. Heck, I should probably start answering questions with even more questions. Questions really help in digging down to the depth where my thinking really needs to be, so perhaps I haven't been taking full advantage of the question method.

Outside of note-taking itself I think I have been maintaining some deleterious psychological practices, namely failing to uphold my integrity towards myself. By that I mean I'm not taking my thoughts seriously, and many times when I make promises to myself I break them. For instance, each day I write down a set of goals I would like to complete by the end of the day if nothing else were to be done, and too often I don't strive to my fullest extent to complete the entire list and will go to bed or engage in recreation before all the tasks have been completed. Maintained in the long run this will lead to a very weak dedication to putting my thoughts to action: I'll think something, won't take it seriously, and will ultimately betray it in action. I know people who are notorious for engaging in hypocrisy on a nearly daily, almost minutely basis. They're always saying things and then immediately acting otherwise. If you don't take your thoughts seriously and strive hard to put them to practice, then how can you take full advantage of your potential and realize it? The ultimate, tragic consequence of this behavior will be to have lived life recognizing the ideal in the abstract but having strayed so far from it in practice, maybe passing from this world having betrayed it in every degree. The mere thought that I am eight years away from being thirty is sufficient for me to feel like I'm close to death, and I intend not to waste any time in living my life.

The majority of the problem may be that I think too carelessly. That is, I'll do just a little bit of thinking and then mentally commit myself to some action, but since my thinking was so short and weak I won't truly feel dedicated to the action and will likely betray it. For instance, if out of anxiety I have overeaten I might quickly swear to fast the next day in order to give my stomach a rest and to reestablish comfort, but if I make that decision too quickly with too little thought then I'll succumb to the least temptation the next day and quickly break my promise. In the short term this weakens my resolve to seriously put my thinking to practice. I need to be more careful, thorough, and meticulous in my thinking so that I'll feel the brevity of the thought and have greater energy to practice my thinking.

All I need to do is take my time in my thinking and to be more conscious of what I'm committing myself to, rather than letting thoughts run on the whim of the moment and quickly making decisions as I feel pushed. Given extended practice my ability to stay true to my thoughts should be easier and more natural to my deposition as I'll have the backing of my deepest emotions behind every decision. To be clear, I am having no problems maintaining my integrity in the moral realm; it is the realm of productivity that's the problem. All I need is a little more patience.

Now, what of my studies in general? While the above methods may increase my ability to learn and my resolve to continue pushing on, they do nothing for my actual goals in life. My central purpose in life is related to science and culinary pursuits, and right now I'm not studying any culinary texts nor engaging in any serious cooking. Despite how deeply I claim to hold culinary values, they are the values that have been most severely neglected. I need to alter my studies to include culinary education of some kind.

Truth be told I've been neglecting serious culinary endeavors because I've been scrimping financially for my Project. I am loath to spend money when I'm so eager to oust the Circumstance from my life, so I've been eating a monotonous, though still varied, diet so that I may maximize my finances and better the chances for the completion of my Project. As such, for a long time now my culinary indulges have been restrained to my chocolate eating and reviews, Good Eats, browsing around in the grocery store, and daydreaming. Honestly, it's been painful to neglect my interests like this, and I've been desperately longing to be on the other side of my Project so that I can chain myself to the stove.

However, as recently mentioned my Project has once again hit another setback. I was going to try and implement it early despite there being risk since I know the completion of the Project would lead to great psychological benefits and an overall increase of my emotional health, but my eagerness is wasted since my planned means are prohibited to me. I would like to get done, but the necessary actions aren't possible, so I'm stuck waiting whether I like it or not. As such, perhaps I should review my financial practices in order to break free from my monotonous eating and get back to culinary experimentation.

Since I anticipated getting my Project done by the beginning of next year I wanted to clamp down on my spending so that I'd be extra prepared, but now that I know that the requirements are different I can perhaps loosen my spending a bit or be wiser about it. It might even increase my ability to make money, as the old adage "You need to spend money to make money" goes. I need to reassess my grocery habits and see how I can best alter my practices.

I could have all along been engaging in more varied meal preparation since even my restricted finances would make allowances for such, but I have been neglecting doing thinking on that since I was so concerned with my Project. I hate the Circumstance so much that it has become a primary concern with me, but I'm stuck with it for much longer, so I might as well endure it the best I can. Furthermore, I could be employing some note-taking of the sorts to further enhance the benefit I get from my culinary education, and so should even be able to enhance my learning and motivation.

At present I think the best I can ask of myself is to try one new recipe each week. It's what I've done in the past and found extremely effective. As time went on, I started viewing foods more as individual ingredients rather than primary foods I didn't know what to do with except eat raw or heated, and I eventually learned how to better and better vary my meals as a natural consequence of exploring. The monotony in my diet should naturally vanish given a little introspection and experimentation.

When preparing my grocery lists, I'll work to include ingredients that will allow me to try one new recipe each week. Since I strive to grocery shop only twice a month in order to curb fuel costs, that means I need to plan for at least two new recipes each trip. That will give me plenty of time to think. Maybe I might even do well to reestablish planning my meals for the entire week, in order to increase both my efficiency and culinary introspection. I don't need to firmly commit myself to having a certain meal on a certain day of the week, but it would help to know what it is I could potentially make given the ingredients on hand.

As for recipes, what of documenting them? Finding them on the web is easy, but I've found keeping track of them is a pain in the rear. I noted that I was using a web service in a past entry, but I've since become disenchanted with it since there's no way to organize each recipe and it can be frustrating to try and hand type anything that the website can't automatically formulate.

The best solution I can come up with given my abilities is to utilize old fashioned notecards. I still think there's the potential for an awesome hi-tech solution for documenting recipes in a much more valuable manner, but right now I see nothing that lives up to my expectations. The next time I shop I'll pick up several stacks of notecards and start documenting my recipe database, as well as keeping tons of blanks around for new additions. Beyond that, I also want to develop a system for sub-recipes, so that I'll have a way to organize recipes that are but mere variations of other ones. Finally, I also need to think out a way to organize these cards into different categories and to set up dividers between them. I'll do my thinking outside this post and follow up on it at a later date.

As for note-taking on my culinary endeavors, I think I could utilize my new recipe system in order to maintain a diary of the sorts. On the corner of each notecard I'll write a number which will correspond to either a document or folder on my computer. If I only work with one version of that recipe or if variations of that recipe aren't significant enough to warrant creating a whole new recipe for it (such as alternating the filling in an omelet), I'll simply create a word document on my computer that will contain the number of the recipe card as its title and then will type up my thoughts and experiences with using that recipe on a particular date. If there are multiple variations that warrant different recipes, then I'll instead create a folder bearing the recipe card's number and will input separate documents that bear the variation identification (such as 1a or 3c), and will document the dates of each entry inside each variation document as I utilize them. This will not only mesh perfectly into my new recipe system, but will also work to make my cooking and baking a more intellectual endeavor. Additionally, this should play right into the hands of my desire for creative thinking in my learning and so will encourage me to do a lot of writing on my processes. Cooking and baking should become more exciting, and I should be able to further enhance my active mindedness through these methods. I still need to work out the specifics however, and will update in the future.

To summarize this article, my problems with studying have been poor note-taking methodology and irrationally held fallacies, a lack of integrity towards implementing my thoughts, and an absence of culinary endeavors in my life. It will be my next project to try and defeat these problems, and if I'm successful I should come out in the end a more competent and wealthier (in spirit and perhaps money) man. I might even be able to not only tolerate the Circumstance in better form, but may also be able to better defeat it.

As for my next actions, all I need to do is implement the symbolization system I have noted above, buy notecards and dividers, and contemplate how I'm going to go about planning my groceries and meals from now on. Additionally, I have also changed the word processor program I use to keep track of my lists, as Microsoft Works Word has been glitching and preventing me from being productive. To give an example, it won't allow me to open files by double-clicking them, so I've had to drag each and every file to the shortcut icon in order to get it to activate, which is a pain when you have as many lists as I do. Saving too takes way longer than it needs to, so I've ended up either evading my lists or leaving some of them open all day since I'm loath to close them. It's beyond time that I fix this problem.

The end result I'm seeking in all these endeavors is to make myself a more intellectually active person. I want to be able to study in the most efficient and effective manner and to reattain the attitude I had in the past, such as where I actually had a physical hunger for knowledge, and I want to get back on track with my culinary goals and to nurturing my love of cooking and baking, and to make myself more competent and knowledgeable in the endeavors I plan on dedicating my life to. I don't know how long of a time I have to live as par the norm of being mortal, and I intend not to laze through life taking the most comfortable routes at each path and to end with nothing of the ideal having been achieved.

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