Some words on education

Education lie close to my heart. It may not come as a surprise then that i think about it often. Education is about learning how to act in order to maximize your and others well being. It is about finding habits that improve the experiences of conscious beings. It is in other words about finding out what is and understanding how to reach what ought to be. Education should therefor be about acquiring knowledge about the world and understand what decisions lead to a world who’s conscious beings are happier.

The task is to find an educational system that regardless of available resources and teaching skill will drive pupils towards this goal. This is not to say that if you have the resources, you shouldn’t use it. It justs means that we should standardise the general principles of good education while freeing the means on how to actualize them. The means must be adaptable to environmental changes such as the creation of new technology as well as the individual needs in order for everyone to learn as well as they can.

Let me put forward some principles that might sound obvious when you think about about them but whose absence in the Swedish school system concerns me. These are not truths, just timeless ideas that I would like to see tested in an actual school if current legislations allow for it.


1. Divide and Conquer

I am borrowing the well known term from computer science which refers to the algorithmic approach of splitting a problem in to chunks and solving the problem for each part iteratively. The essence of improvement, both psychologically and in terms of efficiency, is to divide a problems in to manageable parts and learn och do each part without needing to think about the whole. Psychologically because it is easier to motivate one self to do one small task at the time rather then to embark on the whole project at once. It is also more efficient, if each step down in specificity yields insight that can be used for the next level. As an example, to understand what life is we can divide life in to 5 types, animals, plants, fungus, bacteria and other types of life. Knowing that animals have a digestive system as well as complex sensory to motion capabilities will help understand what a horse is as well as a frog. We have to include the possibility for life to be something else to ignite imagination, but also because we might be able to create new lifeforms this century that do not fall into the first four categories.

Imagine also the case of trying to learn a new sport. Having learned gymnastics earlier facilitates your learning of beachvolley because both share the common grounds of motoric control – the ability to move your body to desired configurations at will.

I suggest that we divide learning in to 5 steps:

  • Motivate
  • Observe
  • Reason
  • Practise
  • Convert to value

The motivation is the ideas that makes students willing to learn. Why is this valuable for me and if I am more altruistic, how can learning this yield value to those around me. Each person have there own idea of what value is, so examples of subjects gaining value by learning what you are about to teach should be many. We want many examples of personalities so that as many students as possible can identify themselves with someone. Students now have a goal in mind: Knowing this will make me be able to do that, or learning that would give me this value.

Then comes observation. Use your senses to perceive how things work by empirical investigations, or by osmosis by following mentors that you look up to. It is important to train your senses to be more aware of what is going on in your surroundings. Learn by osmosis because if it worked for them it can work for you. Failing is an important part of improving but learning from the mistakes of others is event better.

Next comes reason. Your feelings are not a perfect reflection of reality and even if something feels good now it doesn’t mean that it will bring you most value in the long run. Reason about who to follow, why is that person someone to look up to, are my circumstances similar enough in order for me to best learn in the same way as my mentor. Is my interpretation of my observation reasonable? Is this piece of information subjective or objective. If objective, what reasons do you have for believing in the information you obtained. If subjective, imagine your self in that persons position, what would you have thought that same?

Every skill and knowledge requires you to spend many hours practicing before it can generate value. That is, we must be patient – appreciate all steps towards expertise, not just the goal. Eventually anything you learn can be turn in to value either by teaching it to others or in the form of services or products. This is also true for remembering facts that you find important. Memories always fade away if not rehearsed, however for each time you remember something that memory grows stronger in you and will stay reachable longer. One can optimise efficiency by having student repeat knowledge just before they forget it. There are available tools that can help out tremendously in this area. But let us save that for another discussion.

Finally we must pick the fruits of our work. We must se what value learning brought me either through the appreciation from others or from our self when we realise that we are moving forward. This will boost further motivation and inspire others to learn what you learn. At some point you may become a mentor which will yield tremendous value to those who follow you.


So what do we need to learn? How should we divide our work in order to always build upon earlier knowledge. Let me give my view and if you do not agree be free to argue against it.

  • Self – Understanding your own body and mind
  • Culture – Understanding other minds and societies through out the ages
  • Science – Explaining the world around us and finding out what is true
  • Language – How to convey and store subjective or objective information

Understanding one self is one of the hardest problems in the world. How does our senses work together with the brain to produces conscious experiences. No one is close to answering this question, but in a world where meaning comes from experiences what can be more important to investigate. We should observe our thinking and feelings more often. Kids should investigate themselves early on. Investigate what it means to be a human, what is it that makes me feel angry. How do I feel at this particular moment. We should have much larger vocabulary on different emotional states. Not only the brain should be investigated, also our bodies. How does my knee work, what are muscles, why do I need them. How can a learn to control my body. Can i lie still for 2 minutes, why not? We should devote much more time on teaching students to observe themselves and by doing this it is much easier for them to move to the emotional state that they want to be in. You will also be able to communicate your feelings better and also understand how others might feel. It leads to a happier and more empathic society, I believe.

Culture on the other hand is important in the sense that if we do not know where we have been or where we are, how can we know where to go. To build trust and understanding of each other on such a diverse planet we have to understand each others cultures. What are the conditions from which you come from and how can I understand you if I do not know the history of your country or the customs of your town.

Science, the mother of improvement is a mind set that should be a part of all education. It is the means to an end, it is what works, it is used to differentiate facts from fiction and it is the tool to navigate our moral landscape. We might not think that we can get an ought from an is, but if we just agree upon that moral is about increasing the well being to conscious entities and reducing suffering, there must be scientific facts about morality.

Language is all means to convey information subjective or objective. We should teach kids to express them selves in many different ways, like body language, sign language, natural language, written language, tactile language maybe even smell. Hormons that are sent out from your body contains a large amount of information that we can pick up subconsciously and act upon. We also have many different types of canvases to transfer our thoughts and feeling on to. These are external devices that can convey information to anyone that reads the language you have used, for instance a note sheet, document, instrument, food plate or even your own body. We should learn the common grounds of language and then build upon that before we distinguish math from music or dance from say programming. In this sense nothing seems unfamiliar. Trust me, they share more then you think. Depending on the situation, what is the best means of instructing someone? Should I use music or food, body language or text messages to get my feelings or thoughts across? By getting something across I mean to sync our minds so that our experiences matches.


2. Play!

It is well known that playing is one of the most developing activities for your brain, especially at a young age.  Playing deserves to be one of the principles and it should be a part of most of education. Most of us forget about playing when we grow up. We stop imagining and lower our creativity. I do not mean that we should play video games or board games all the time, I am just suggesting that we do stuff for the joy of doing them. For humanity to solve the problems we will face in the next decades we need to boost our creativity and think more and more outside the box. We have to go outside the norms to create novel values and go out of scripture to reach new insights. Let us put more effort into strengthening the skills that computers still lacks. In this way we will complement the technology in the quest to add value in the world and thus feel as a part of the movement.


3. Adapt

We have to be able to adapt to the rapidly changing world. Kids are taught things that were important skills 100 years ago. The school is changing, but not as fast as the society changes. To solve this problem we should teach first and for most how to learn, learning is universal and what ever the world is like, learning will always be useful. Learning how to drive however will probably be unnecessary with in 20 years, due to the rise of autonomously driving cars.


4. Share and cooperate

Both schools among other schools and students among their peers have to cooperate. Ideas that show fruitful in one school should be shared and tested by others. If something worked for you, maybe it will work for your friends. Teach students to be susceptible to help. They do not need to do everything themselves, it is okay to seek help. Cooperation is what makes us human, it distinguishes us from our non-human ancestors. Cooperation can be trained through theater, games, sports, role play and other kind of team work. It is good to take on different roles in this plays so that one gain perspective. In my view, gaining perspective equates with gaining understanding.


5. Width first

Finally I would like to borrow another term from computer science. It reflects the way one can search through a tree node structure – before going too deep into one branch we should explore the other branches, that is, searching the width first. In other words to learn as efficiently as possible we should not just plow through the data like you probably read a book. An example on how NOT to learn is to be super good at multiplying numbers but not being able to divide or not being able to play fore hand in table tennis but being an expert in back hand. A better way is first get an overview of what you want to learn and then go in to ever greater detail. This yields perspective and motivation. Eventually we want to learn the details and having a broader understanding of the concept will help us to put these details in to the right slots. We can hang these facts on our earlier understanding of more general ideas or if it is about a certain technique we might see how to use this technique in other areas.

Let us apply this to principle on reading a non-fiction book. Frist of all, why do I want to read this book? Do I want to learn something or do I want to be entertained? Maybe both? Do I need to know all of it contents or do I want to get its core ideas and move on. In the analogy – is this a date, business meeting or a philosophical discussion. Always start with why as Simon Sinek argues. Once the why is established, you can work on the how. In our case our how is to look at the cover, glance through it content and see if it looks interesting. If it does you can get back to it later and read about the author and read the first and last paragraph in all the chapters. Dig in to the most interesting one and if it relates to any other chapters you might continue reading that chapter next. Don’t be afraid to read stuff more then one time. A book, like a friend needs to be entertained. Come back to it every now and then and read what you like and find out something new. It is better to have 150 books that you get back to in your life than having red 1000 books that you don’t remember much from. I pick 150 because it is the Dunbar’s number. If you are interested in reading more about that number check Wikipedia, but in short it is approximately the maximum number of friend you you gain something from having. After that your social brain wont cope they say.


 

As a final remark I would like to add that these ideas are what came to my mind when writing this and is not written in stone. So if you have other principles that you would like to add or some ideas that you must argue against, please do so. Next time I might put in som absurd idea just to provoke someone reading this, so be sceptic.

Until next post!

 

 

 

 

 

From Void To Language

It certainly is hard if not impossible to clear you mind completely, but let us imagine that you would be able to pull it of. You can’t talk nor walk and definitely not understand what’s written here. The only way for you to go on living would be to start learning, similar to the life of a new-born.

Driven by emotions and basic needs you would probably just crawl around while trying to associate actions and experiences with what emotional state they lead you to. If screaming gives you comfort from your mother you will more likely scream again whenever you feel uncomfortable. This is the workings of you brain learning how to act in order to feel better.

Initially, you will only be able to connect actions with outcomes overlapping in time. This is where language enters the scene; With it you can connect earlier experiences with later rewards by storing an idea that represents that experience. It is stored in the form of neurological pathways that when populated with electrical potential will reproduce some emotional aspects of the associated experience. The more these networks are fired up the more likely it will be for the neurons to fire again later.

Remembering in this context is the ability to steer the electrical potential in your brain into the pathways corresponding to the idea. However, if too many of these ideas are stored you will have a hard time trying to access them. The brain solves this by tagging ideas with associations where the tags themselves are ideas that can be tagged and so on.

These associations can be represented physically so that when perceived give predictable thoughts. If a set of such representations and their meaning are shared among individuals, we call it a language. By letting the language evolve by natural selection it will over time become easier to use and less ambiguous.

Imagine isolating a set of shared representations either by separating its users or by making clear distinctions between its usage in different situations. This could enable language speciation meaning that it will evolve to fit the needs of its user in each niche. We can include art as a set of languages that benefits from being subjective and pleasing for which the message is conveyed through the means of some abstract canvas, for instance a music instrument or the human body. Other languages may evolve to be more objective and precise, as in the case of mathematics; If you don’t know exactly the number of people in your family, someone sharing your genes might get left behind, which is very unbeneficial in the evolutionary sense.

Languages might also be distinguished by the sensory organ involved in the communication. Even though the meaning of spoken- and written words are similar, the way that they get transcribed in to moving electrical potentials is completely different.

This is how languages evolved from primitive and ambiguous to useful and precise. It is worth to mentioned that there is a trade of: What you gain in speed you loose in resolution. You can speak to complete strangers using mathematics and philosophy to convey a concept in detail, however with the natural language you might sync your ideas faster by giving up the objectivity in the idea.

More about language next time…

Life 2.0?

Are you fascinated by how you can translate thoughts to vibrations in your vocal cords that in turn produces pressure variations in the air? Variations that are isotropic and spread in three dimensions while losing intensity proportional to one over time squared. If someone is close enough to you the information, in the form of moving molecule density patterns, can be unconsciously transformed into charge anomalies in that person’s nervous system. When the electrical impulses reach the brain, the information can be converted in the meaning. Meaning in this sense is just a person’s additional nerve cell connections produced to alter the understanding of other packages of information processed by the brain. A different understanding of the world will make you react differently on it. A puddle of water will also react on the world depending on the information given to it. So, how are we different from a puddle of water you may ask? You can certainly say that a puddle is an entity, and it can lose some of its molecules and perhaps gain others, just like an animal. But, its reactions are not at all in line with self-conservation which in my view is what separates living from none living things.

I believe life is an accident; it doesn’t need to exist, but when it comes to existence it will by definition stay that way. Life in my opinion is an entity that stores information about it-self and will interact with the environment in order to conserve that information. Since everything decomposes, the information will soon be lost if the entity doesn’t have the ability to copy it-self and store the information about it in the new copy. For sure, it is possible for an entity to contain the information about it and only replace its parts, but soon or later an accident will wipe out the whole entity. The later is a behavior that doesn’t conserve the information about it-self very well and should maybe not be considered as life. Life probably arose when an entity and its information, which we can call an organism, was conserved to such extent so that the copy also had the ability to copy it-self. As the organisms copied them self, information was inevitably distorted in some copies. Did the change of blueprint make a new form of life or a none-living entity? Well, it did both for sure, but only the living things prevailed. The natural continuation on this is that the organism evolved towards entities that had better chances of passing on its information.

After some time, the organisms became expert at passing on information, but the resources for making copies of them-self where almost used up and had to be shared among all the new individuals. If an offspring got a blueprint that made it a little more likely to drift away from the crowded areas it would definitely be more likely to survive. You can think of countless other properties that will give a branch of life an advantage in terms of finding resources necessary for reproduction. If one branch of life differs from another to a certain degree we say that they represent two different species. An organism could either evolve to make use of new types of resources or acquire the ability to move and detect resources elsewhere. Maybe this was how plants and animals got separated in the tree of life. In the later, motion and fast reaction to the world played an important role which lead to the evolution of sensory organs. The sensory organs must be able to take in information and use that information to move in some way. At first, simple chemical relations between input and output was made. But in order to have complex reactions, which optimized the search for resources, life eventually evolved a process center. We call this a brain and it gives an organism the ability to store earlier sensory information and use it later in connection to current input to form an output best suited for finding resources. Life doesn’t have to evolve to form larger brains but it did in some branches of life, so it must have been to some advantage. We are in the branch that took the brain
advantage seriously.

Our body process sensory information and influence our behavior more than we understand; this is probably because understanding hasn’t been around long enough. Some argue that only humans understand which would make this phenomenon a few million years old. Life has existed a thousand times longer on earth, so it’s not strange that we haven’t figured out how we work yet. Nevertheless, it is astonishing that we understand so much that we do. I think most understanding is based on knowledge, and since knowledge from earlier generations is passed on to their offspring, the amount of understanding accumulates over time. Our understanding evolves and is almost like life-form using the human brain as its vessel and the more you understand the more you want to tell, so it is a good survivor. Different branches of understanding or beliefs compete against each other and evolve on their own until one branch gains enough confidence to form a paradigm. In turn it knocks out most of the other belief systems and continues to evolve now in the minds of many more and at a higher rate. Could this be a hidden form of life that when fed with truths takes good care of us and when given lies ruins us.

What is Beauty?

You have probably heard that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I would argue that there is more to this than what meet the eye.  What meets your tongue could be consider beauty – why should beauty be restricted to those who can see? It is an overall experience you get when you perceive something you feel comfortable with. It might be a smell, taste, touch, sound or a view. It could obviously be a combination of them as well. Why do we perceive some sensations as beautiful and not others? How can we distinguish the feeling of experiencing something beautiful with the feeling of being attracted to, or enjoying something for that matter? Let me tell you about my thoughts on one type of experience which I feel is as close as it gets to what we think of when we hear the word beautiful.

When the physical fields around us are projected on our sensory organs, electro chemical signal are sent to the brain. With other words, only a small part of the information carried in the field reaches us. The brain has evolved to only take in the information that we can use to get a survival advantage. However, we need to but that information in to content in order for it to mean anything. We need to map the information in to something you have experienced before. One can say that the brain creates a mental model of reality from memory and whatever we perceive at the moment has to be fitted in to that model.

Beauty in my view is the experience we get if the newly required information fits well with our mental model. So what is beautiful for you depends on your earlier experiences and on how you create your mental model. To make a mental model of reality the brain uses as little energy as possible, so it will not generate an exact representation of what’s out there. It will rather take in the most important features and generate the spaces in between. If for example you look at a face which is roughly mirror symmetric, the brain will use information from the right side of the face to fill some features on the left side. The more symmetric your experience is, the less information is needed to recreate that experience resulting in less energy usage in the brain.

So, the brain uses symmetry when it creates its mental model of the world. This means that symmetric things will fit better in to that mental model, which is why we perceive symmetric experiences as more beautiful. The more we experience the same thing the more accurate our mental model of that thing will become. This is why young people find beauty in people that are similar to their parents. Their mental model for faces is mostly made up of these faces. We also find beauty in songs that are rhythmical. We expect the beat of a song to continue with the same pace. When the beat then fits that model it feels nice. Wine or bear might not taste special in the beginning, but eventually we will build up a mental model of those drinks. When we get a drink that matches that model it is pleasurable. We might on the other hand be really sensitive to small deviations, now when our model is so precise.

Humans are driven by emotions. It gives us direct feedback which in a group would improve cooperation in many cases. The feeling of perceiving beauty is this positive feedback for creating accurate mental models which clearly must be preferable. But as with everything, there is always a tradeoff between accuracy and effort. Evolution has once again driven us as a species to that perfect balance. If only we could learn from Mother Nature and push our society towards some perfect balance!

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My view of life

I think life is about getting better at what you enjoy and try to make you doings valuable for others. It is about understanding what you can do and what you can’t.

I want to get a grip of who I am, where I came from and what I am capable of creating. I want to challenge my ideas in order to learn.

Then I want to create what I thought was impossible and do what I feared I could never do.

I am genetically programmed to preserve my genes. It happens though that most of my genes are shared by other humans and consequently I inherited altruism. It feels good to help others and more so to help those that share a larger portion of your genes. But this is not the only reason for adopting altruism.

To find out what I can do and to learn something new we are helplessly dependent on others. Of those that have been but also on those who are. You see, not even the most knowledgeable person knows how to make a simple pencil. One needs to know how to mind the metals for the eraser holder while learning how to harvest the rubber and process it into erasers. Especially if at the same time, one needs to know how to extract and construct the graphite, wood and yellow paint needed to make the pencil. So, in order to create we need each other. In order to know we need each other. In order to grow we need each other.

Why blogging?

I started blogging since I think it is a great way to learn to write. It is also a way to spread my thoughts and test them. I am curious on the responses and hope to develop ideas based on these! Any critics is more then welcome, I would love to learn from you!

Blogging or writing is also a way to challenge an idea. Many times I have had thoughts that appear clear at first but becomes fuzzy when written down. This can depend on the fact that language is discrete but ideas less so. The idea may fall in between the grid of the language that you are trying to describe the idea with.

About me…

Finally I started my own blog!

You can guess what my name is! I work in Stockholm as a PhD student and I have a master’s degree in physics and engineering.

In this blog I will try to share my thoughts on education, language and other philosophies. If you don’t agree with something I write, don’t hesitate to comment. I would love you to oppose my thoughts, that is why I am here. I want to teach but just as much I want to learn. Even without you I can learn from writing down my thoughts.

With this said, who am I? well, I can start by telling you where I am from.

I am from Gotland, you know it if you are a swede, if not – Google it. More precisely its southern parts, where I grew up with three siblings and two parents that right now celebrates 30 years of marriage. I was bullied some in school, but not enough to break me. It rather strengthen me, but then again, what do I know. I left at the age of 16 to stay at a boarding school in Sigtuna.

I have always loved math and finished the math curriculum earlier then most. I think I finished the ”gymnasium” math courses in the first year and commuted to Uppsala to continue on higher level math. I got through one or two courses but sports took over and I math become a hobby instead of a course. I did well in school and in the last year I won an award for producing the best math-text by secondary school students. I got a diploma for participating and I remember that I complained about the fact that it didn’t say anywhere on the diploma that I actually won the competition.

I just want to tell my story once. Patience!

After graduating from Sigtuna I spent two month travelling in the US and 8 month working in a company that almost did not pay me . I believed in the company, so I stayed, believing that the money would come. Well it did, but I could have gotten more from working at McDonald’s. During this time manage to play volleyball as well as injure my knee. I had a surgery and became better. In the fall 2007 I started the engineering physics program at KTH, continued playing volleyball and injured my self again. I worked hard both in school for good grades and in the gym to rehabilitate. I persisted and eventually I got back, not to volleyball but to beach volleyball.

I graduated from KTH in 2013 with 4.6 in average grades and at that time I was playing beachvolley at the elite level in Sweden.

Currently I do research in physics in relation to strongly correlated systems. Part of my work is to tutor in physics.

Okay, now you have heard enough. See you soon!