About the Manuscript
This manuscript evolved as the result of my desire to communicate all the things that I was left to learn the painful way when I was a student. It's often said that until you blunder and make a painful error, you can't see the value of many things, and that you can't have the motivation to learn a better way. As a result, students are often left to learn the hard way. I refuse to accept that the hard way is the only way.
This “experience is the best teacher” approach is what it is because it’s immediate consequence is actually easier for the faculty and easier for the student, even though in the long run it is surely the hardest and most painful way to learn. This course takes the opposite approach. It's goal is to provide what is best in the long run. Unfortunately the immediate consequence of taking this course is that it requires that you have a willingness to learn what is necessary
so that you will take the appropriate action in the future
and secondly, it requires that you work through complex and subtle issues now
as a student when no-one's life depends on it.
The immediate consequence of teaching this course is that it requires that very complex and subtle issues be communicated in a compelling way.
I've tried to provide you with examples of important issues in such a way that it's easy to care about the alternatives and easy to see which is the correct answer. From there, it's generally also easy to deal with complex cases. As a result, the style of the manuscript is informal with many examples and analogies. The intent is to show you why it matters enough for you to take the extra effort to do it right; why doing it right is exactly what it is; and how you can avoid the errors made by basically good people whose only fault was not realizing what could go wrong with what they thought in their “hearts” was right.
Some parts are intended to prompt your imagination or insure that you are able to see an issue from a particular point of view. Try to allow yourself to get "into" the examples. With any luck, it will make the manuscript more enjoyable as well as informative. I agree that some of the examples have obvious solutions or are simplistic, while the actual issues are subtle or are very complex. The underlying rationale for the presentation comes from the fact that in order for many of us to build our personal wisdom, we often need conceptual or motivational scaffolding. Once our world view is formed we can discard the scaffolding, but it is nevertheless important for the construction. I also accept that this manuscript is not perfect. I revise it every year. I see things to fix every time I read it, and it is more in the form of lecture notes than prose. However, to simplify your task of learning, see this manuscript for what it can do for you, rather than for what it has not yet done. The bottom line is that it is critical for you to begin coming to grips with the general forms of the issues presented in this manuscript. Sooner or later your career will depend on how successfully you can cope with each problem. As we cover the material, consider alternatives to the positions expressed and the relative cost benefit ratios of the various approaches. What could be gained? What could go wrong? I believe that with these techniques you can learn for reasons other than the removal of pain, and that you can be motivated for reasons other than avoiding the repetition of a mistake you once made.
A critical, but often overlooked, problem with learning new things is that the most important aspect of what is to be learned is the concept or the organizing principle. This task is much like coming to see the hidden element in the picture below. All the “facts” are obvious. Your real task is to find and clearly see the organizing principle which brings order out of the seemingly random facts.
Once you see it, it's obvious; before you see it, all you can do is to repeat the words you are told. I believe that my task is to help you to actually see the motorcycle (the organizing principle), not to simply teach you to mouth the words “there's a motorcycle in the picture.” Even though it would take me only a few seconds of lecture time to cover the issue “there is a motorcycle in the picture,” and it would take you only a few minutes to memorize the fact that there is a motorcycle in the above picture, neither of us would have accomplished anything meaningful. The task of science is not to gather blind adherents, but rather to inform people of the nature of reality and to provide them with the very complex skill of separating reality from illusion.
With some issues you'll get the organizing principle right away, and will wonder why others are taking so long to get it, or require so many examples; other times your roles may be reversed. In either event, always keep in mind that your task is to understand for yourself the issues we cover, not simply to learn to mouth the words. It is empty pedagogy for me to simply teach you to say words whenever you confront a problem. Ask me whatever questions are necessary as many times as necessary until you understand. With anything less, we are all on a fool's errand. The manuscript is intended to help you see the “picture,” not to just lay the facts before you and move on, leaving you to learn the hard way after you graduate.
A second critical but overlooked problem is that learning has more in common
with building muscles or learning to play the piano than with a glass of water
being filled from a source of water. Learning comes not from what I give you,
but from what you do for your self.
This course has evolved.
When I first taught the course, I spent my time explaining what the
author of the textbook must have meant. After a while, I found myself simply presenting and explaining the important issues and disregarding the text. About that time I also discovered that people were too busy taking notes to think about what I had said. They never had time to think about the problems for themselves. This led me to hand out an outline of those issues and present additional material in the lecture. This only led to more note taking. I then added that lecture material to the notes and presented different material in the lecture. I shouldn't have been surprised that that led to more note taking. I have now come to the conclusion that if it's important enough for you to know, then it's important enough for me to give to you in advance in writing. Said from the opposite perspective, this means that the lectures will rarely cover material not already in the manuscript. My view is that it's senseless to hold back important information so that you can be busy writing while in class. That's when you should be asking questions and considering the issues raised by other students.
The manuscript is in a “lecture notes” style. Occasionally, there will be only a few words or even simply a place holder rather than a complete paragraph. This manuscript is a work in progress. Secondly, my writing style is my speaking style. When you read it, try to hear it. It's not written to be read in a monotone. Finally, please plan on reading the manuscript completely through at least twice. Many issues are more meaningful after you've been exposed to concepts fully presented later in the manuscript. Unfortunately, the manuscript must cover one issue at a time even though knowledge is much like a net. Knowledge works better if each idea is connected to every other node, rather than each idea only being connected to what went before in a single straight line, as it must be written. Just as a good symphony or a good pizza or an image in a picture is the simultaneous blending of many elements, wisdom is a perspective gained by correctly understanding how many important ideas fit together.
About Your Role as a Student
- I recommend that you think about your goals in life.
Next, consider your best bet to attain them. What is the thing most likely to allow you to succeed at attaining your goals?
Your answer will most probably be some form of "know what I'm doing."
Your obvious questions then, are:
a. “Why know what I'm doing?”
Because in order to earn a living, you will have to sell what you know to people who already have common sense or can get common sense advice for free from their friends.
b. “What is it to know what I'm doing?”
The ability to solve problems and guarantee solutions. In a phrase, the ability to separate illusion from reality. Considering the number of people who don’t succeed, that separation is not all that easy.
c. “How can I separate illusion from reality?”
By doing an experiment, try something and see if the results are real or illusory. It is nothing less than the most powerful knowledge-gathering tool known.
d. “Where or how can I come to know what I'm doing in the quickest most guaranteed way?”
Formal education, but only if it "pushes" you harder than simply being on the job eight hours a day. The fact is you will want to jump ahead of vocationally-trained people who have been laboring for 20-30 years. That means you will have to learn things 5-10 times faster than simple vocational experience. Amount learned boils down to the number of “great ideas” per hour times the number of hours studying. (It should be noted that college graduates that studied only 2-3 hours for each of 2-3 tests per course can be surpassed by a highly motivated person that studies 12 hours a day for only 3 weeks!)
e. “How does all that wisdom get from books and teachers into me?”
The same way that you would gain the ability to lift heavy weights or the ability to play a musical instrument or see the motorcyle-only by your own work. No one can pour muscles onto your body, or musical ability, or wisdom into your head. I am trying to do everything I can to help you, but I can only be your coach. Wisdom cannot be attained from passive reception any more than muscles can be grown by watching an exercise tape. Seeing the "motorcycle" must come from within yourself. Otherwise, someone else will own your key to success and you will have it only when they are willing to let you have it. You will forever be the child and others will be the parent.
f. “How do I gain control of my studying so that I can have a good career?”
By the same psychological processes that govern all behavior :
Understanding the temporal discounting function
I would like to thank the many students over the last ten semesters who have contributed to making this manuscript clearer with each revision.
Send comments/criticisms/speculations to
Date Last Reviewed : November 17, 2002