25 November 2016

Learning is by Reflection - Mind-mapping & Scientific Methods - DaoDeJing 47

Most learning that is taught is "Monkey see monkey do" kind of rote learning by repetition and memorizing. That is easy but not true learning. Reflection and re-organizing enable learning with meaningful understanding and extension for application all areas. Lao Zi shows us in DaoDeJing 47.
DaoDeJing Chapter 47 Text and Translation:

Never go out the door and yet know all things in the world.

Never look out the window and yet see the laws of heaven.

The farther one travels, the less one seems to know.

Hence, the sages don't travel and yet know.

See not and yet understand. Not stressing and yet accomplished.

How do we learn?
The most basic level of learning is to memorize. Monkeys see and monkeys do. It is called rote learning. It is purely memory-based learning. Other parts of the brain are not fully engaged. The learning is not digested. The knowledge is captured as a linear list of items. When the list is short, it is ok. If the list if very long, we will soon run out of the ability to retain them for long. We cannot apply the knowledge when the situation is a little different from the items in the list. This is the key that explains why certain students study hard and yet fail while some bright students seem to study little and yet score high in tests.

Reflect and Re-Organize the Knowledge to See the Patterns 
True learning comes from exercising the mind to process the linear lists of facts. We must re-organize the list into a tree or a network of patterns, grouping those that are similars and differentiating the differences and understanding the purpose, parent-child relationships and other aspects such as the 5W1H questions. Once we can see the patterns, we can predict the missing information. We can go up the tree to see the parental groups or down the branches to see the various sub-species. Once you tell me that a Dolphin is not a fish but a mammal, I can immediately figure that Dolphin has lungs instead of gills. Have hair instead of scales. It gives birth instead of laying eggs. You can see the power of a digested knowledge mind-maps.  See my Thinking Frameworks and the series on mind-mapping for the details.

Going Beyond Surface Observations
With that understanding above, we can understand what Lao Zi has written. We are to go beyond what our observations have shown us and understand why they are so. It is the scientific approach to learning things. Once you grasp Newton Laws, we can use it to make all kinds of machinery that do wonderful work for us. Once you grasp Einstein's theory of relativity, we can better understand the universe and know how to send our rocket and spaceship into space. Similarly, when we truly understand Dao, we can apply it not just in our physical world, but for our social and spiritual world as well. 

Lim Liat (c) 25 Nov 2016

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