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Notes on creative learning

Creative learning refers to the act of learning that is driven by the purpose of creating something. How to stay in flow state while learning creatively? I recognise the following patterns that work for myself. Maybe they work for you too.

Articulate the why.

While learning creatively, the backdrop is your drive to create something. That something may be vaguely defined or clearly defined - this does not matter much. What matters more is the why that underlies the drive to create something. The why is personal and idiosyncratic. It helps to articulate the why at least to yourself. It helps to rearticulate it regularly in light of new information gained about yourself.

Identify mental inhibitors, such as ego and fear.

Ego can be a powerful inhibitor. Ego can say “that discipline feels inferior to this discipline that I am already expert in, and so I am not going to waste my time there.” In Chinese this is sometimes called 鄙視鏈 among disciplines. Ego can overpower reason and curiosity.

Fear can be a powerful inhibitor. Fear can say “that discipline feels superior to my discipline and likely more complex, and so I am not going to bang my head against the wall there just to embarrass myself.” Fear can overpower reason and curiosity.

Avoid BHAW

Avoid Banging the Head Against the Wall (BHAW) situation. The reasons behind each BHAW vary and can be personal. Figure them out. Sustained BHAW kills curiosity.

Identify getting low on abstraction relative to the complexity of subjects. Reload.

Abstraction is a primary ammo for learning creatively. Having insufficient abstractions for a given problem eventually leads to BHAW. My mental model for this one is: thinking in N-dimension could get nowhere if the problem is N+1 dimensional. A common symptom of being low on abstraction is trying to (almost dishonestly) fit square pegs into round holes, where square pegs are new problems and round holes are old familiar concepts. Another way to call this is the danger of metaphor (<- this assertion embodies said danger). Do not get stuck there. Go back to studying and reload on abstractions. Go up in dimensions.

Be water. Disregard interdisciplinary boundaries.

Powerful abstractions and thought patterns exist in many disciplines under the guise of different terminologies. It is helpful to disregard boundaries between disciplines when studying. The World Wide Web combined with GPT means almost the entire treasure of human knowledge is available at your fingertip.

Be honest. Detect bullshit, particularly those generated natively.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” In creative learning, the major trouble would be BHAW. Sometimes the issue is not about loading up more abstractions, it is about correcting abstractions that you kid yourself you really understand them. Mental inhibitors may be at play here.

Sigmoid curve hopping (S-curve hopping) aka serial rabbit holing fuels continuous curiosity.

Curiosity and growth carries the most momentum when you start on a new subject. A new subject can be something grand and well-defined like CS 101. It can be something precise yet disciplinary-spanning like Hamiltonian. Or it can very well be something abstract like the concept of consensus. Either way, starting on a new subject is starting on a new sigmoid curve from the bottom left, both psychologically and epistemically. You get exposed to a lot of new concepts at once. New synaptic pathways fire up. You feel high and invigorated. You have fell into a new rabbit hole.

Hopping from one sigmoid curve to a new one keeps your curiosity fueled.

Switch between logical reasoning and poetic association depending on the situation.

Sometimes relentless logical reasoning is needed to reduce entropy and reach clarity of thought. Sometimes poetic association is needed to find new directions and possibilities. Given a situation, one can be more important than the other to make conceptual breakthrough. Both are essential.