This site is supported by Nobility Studios.

Limitations of the Autodidact


17 posts in this topic

Posted

In today's culture that's quick to criticize or debunk any form of authority, this form of skepticism towards authority is healthy, especially in politics, but it's a problem when it comes to learning.

In order to learn you must have some sort of humility first. We have to admit that there are people out there who know more about our field than we do. Their superiority is not the result of some talent or privilege, but time & experience. Therefore, their authority in the field is not based on something bogus like politics or other forms of charlatanism.

But I have been uncomfortable with this fact, and in general I feel mistrustful of any authority. That meant I succumbed to the belief that I can easily learn something on my own, and that being self-taught is more authentic.

I tried to justify this as a sign of independence, but it actually comes from a generic form of insecurity. In some way perhaps unconsciously I felt learning from a master and submitting to their authority was an indictment on my natural ability. With the art teachers I've had in my life, i tend not to pay attention to their advice, and preferred to do things my own way. I actually thought that being critical of a master or teacher was a sign of my intelligence and being a submissive student was an admission of weakness.

But this was horribly inefficient. In the early stages of acquiring practical knowledge, the most efficient manner possible is having mentors whose authority we recognize and submit. This admission of need doesn't say anything essential about us, but only about a temporary condition, one that the mentor will help overcome.

Mentors are effective, because of the main reason: life is short and we have a finite amount of time & energy to afford.

Learning what I need from books or my own practice and some advice is mostly a hit & miss process. Because the info from books is not tailor-made to my circumstances or individuality. It's abstract, and being young and inexperienced, we have trouble putting this abstract knowledge to practice. I learned from my experience but it took years to really understand the true meaning of what happened.

I practiced on my own but I didn't get enough sustained/narrow feedback.

Mentors aren't a shortcut - they actually streamline the process. They had mentors of their own, as well, and the following years of experience taught them more lessons and strategies for learning.

3 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

I've been thinking about this recently, too. Although it may be frustrating to go through a formal or informal course of study if, as an autodidact, a person has ostensibly already learned something, I think there is a good deal to be said for forcing yourself to conform at least a little to the requirements of taught study. After all, a reluctance to do so may be covering up insecurity, as you note, but also a person could very well be wrong about ideas they have previously been dismissed as uninteresting. However, the biggest problem in my view is that the autodidact can be trying to learn about too much at the same time, which may lead to a superficial understanding. This is where a mentor can help, of course.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

I would welcome an opportunity for more organized study, especially if someone who knew what they were doing was involved. I’ve been studying by myself for a couple of years now-- ever since I left my university studies, basically-- and it’s hard not to take on too much at once. Measuring progress can also be difficult.

My problems with formal education weren’t usually with teachers-- with math, chemistry, and biology, the fields most of my classes were in, questions of authority don’t have much opportunity to arise-- but with trying to balance personal interests with practical ones (another culturally-loaded area of concern). I had long since given up on trying to reconcile them, since it had seemed like every time I did become interested in an assigned project, I would get carried away and completely forget about requirements which didn’t match with the end I had in mind. It just seems to be an annoying temperamental quirk that no amount of disciplined study has managed to rid me of.

In a way, then, the free-wheeling, autodidact approach, inefficient as it may be, is actually a pretty good fit for me, even if I did come to it mostly for want of anything better. But a mentor could be the best of both worlds. There’ve been many times I would have gladly done with some feedback, or just appreciated having a knowledgeable person around to ask about possible directions of inquiry.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

People are individuals as you said, Heretic. In your case, it may be that you have the temperament of an explorer and therefore your primary needs are to develop the ability to be self-sufficient, to be able to find your way unaided etc.. Therefore your early rejection of teachers/authority may have been a perfectly natural and healthy response of an explorer’s mind.

This rejection may have happened for other or additional reasons. I disagree that we live in a society which is quick to debunk authority. In my view the situation is quite the reverse i.e. we are taught to trust authority unquestioningly and behave as such. Did you choose to go to school or did you have to go? You can be taught by fundamentalist Christians that evolution is nonsense. Conversely, you can be taught by scientists that evolution is a proven fact. Then again, you can be taught in some societies that life is a dream and that beliefs in evolution are indicative of a state of mind of the dreamer and nothing to do with reality. There are many more views of the world – take your choice. What you end up learning is an accident of birth location. Do you simply accept whatever authority you happen to have been born under?

That deals with knowledge, but there are also skills and abilities. Whether playing a musical instrument, writing a book, practicing a sport etc., etc., we are taught a very limited range of ways of doing these things, and these ways are designed to get one heard/published/winning the cup etc., etc.. None of them allows for the enjoyment or creativity of the individual. The truth is e.g. that there are as many ways to write a book and as many kinds of book as there are individuals, but heaven help you if you think outside the box! I am reminded of an old song: “And they all get put in boxes, little boxes all the same….There are green ones and there’s blue ones and there’s red ones and there’s yellow ones, and they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.” And then there is the Pink Floyd song Another Brick In The Wall – these are the truth of our society. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “Be different and be damned!”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

During childhood we're inculcated in culture via a long period of dependency. In this period we pick up language, writing, math, reasoning skills, etc. This happens under the watch & guidance of parents, teachers.

But when we get older, we emphasize book learning, or absorbing information about various subjects. However, this knowledge is abstract, and the process of absorbing information is passive. At the end of this process we're thrown into the frying pan of the real world.

After leaving the youthful period of dependency, we are not trained or prepared for the transition to a period of independence We still carry the habit of learning from books or teachers, which isn't suited for the practical & self-directed phase of life. We're socially ignorant of the power games people play.

So we adjust over time, but by making mistakes we make too many problems for ourselves. We end up stuck in emotional issues and that doesn't leave room for detachment to reflect & learn from experience.

Yes, while the second period must be conducted by each individual in his/her own way, and to follow exactly the advice from others or a book is self-defeating. In this phase of independence we establish who we are, but there are always lessons that will benefit us, and guide us away from common mistakes and save valuable time.

Life is short, and my time for learning and creativity is limited. Without guidance, I wasted valuable years trying to acquire knowledge & practice from various sources (pop culture, how to draw books, etc). The great artists and scientists from all eras had mentors themselves. They internalized that knowledge and moved on.

Therefore it is not wise to do away with the benefits of a mentor, due to wasted time in finding and shaping what I need to know.

OTOH i made a virtue of necessity by developing self-reliance, and became my own teacher & mentor. I try to learn from every possible resource, and read more books than those who went to art school, and made it a lifelong habit. I tried to apply this knowledge in experiment and practice.

"To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyze and account in detail for its effectiveness. By watching the master & emulating his efforts... the apprentice unconsciously picks up the rules of the art, including those which are not explicitly known to the master himself." -- Michael Polanyi

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

That deals with knowledge, but there are also skills and abilities. Whether playing a musical instrument, writing a book, practicing a sport etc., etc., we are taught a very limited range of ways of doing these things, and these ways are designed to get one heard/published/winning the cup etc., etc.. None of them allows for the enjoyment or creativity of the individual.

I have a few problems with this. To use a simple example: there are good ways and bad ways to run. Knowing how to pace your breathing, how long to make your strides, and what to do with your arms can increase your efficiency and lessen your chances of injuring yourself-- which results in a more enjoyable experience, whether or not you‘re running competitively. You can figure these things out by yourself, through trial and error, but a coach can tell you all that, too, without the hassle. I know I’d rather experiment once I’ve got a base to work from-- I’d rather be taught the things that can be taught. There are unpleasant learning experiences, of course, but those happen because of bad teachers, or too slow a teaching pace, or other external circumstances, and not because learning itself is somehow deleterious to enjoyment and/or creativity.

As for creative activities-- I tend to be suspicious of the talk that surrounds creativity nowadays, much of which treats it as some sort of outstanding achievement to be sought after, rather than as part of a process. Wanting to be creative mostly seems to stand in for having something to express, or communicate, or whatever-- an actual goal. Creativity alone is unlikely to do you much good: you need experience and knowledge, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

TZV, you said it.

I am reminded of a story about Frank Lloyd Wright, the great architect.

In 1888, 28 year old FLW was an apprentice draftsman at the esteemed firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee. He had been there for a year, and learned plenty about the tricks of the trade, but he was getting bored. He already could envision a radical new style of architecture, but he didn't have the experience to set up his own practice. Silsbee was a clever businessman who thought he was better off sticking with the Victorian style of architecture his clients loved. FLW hated this style, for this antiquated design principle offended him.

One day a bird told him that the famous architect Sullivan was in need of a draftsman to help him complete drawings for a certain building. It wasn't a good idea to dump Silsbee after a short time, or burn bridges, but working for Sullivan would be far more enriching for his development as an architect. Sullivan was one of the leaders at designing skyscrapers with the latest in materials & technology.

So FLW charmed his way into the position, got an interview, and showed Sullivan some of his more interesting drawings. After a few months on the job, Sullivan made him an apprentice draftsman. With FLW's talent and Sullivan's blessing, he became the head draftsman of the firm, and became the "pencil in Sullivan's hand." However, by 1893, Sullivan fired him for moonlighting, but at that point FLW already learned everything he needed, and was ready to step out. In those 5 years, Sullivan educated him in modern education no school could ever pull off.

Basically a mentor is a stepping stone on the way. So we need to find appropriate teachers, get what we want out of them, and move on without shame. These mentors took the same path, and it is the way of life.

1 person likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Tzela Vieed said:

I have a few problems with this. To use a simple example: there are good ways and bad ways to run. Knowing how to pace your breathing, how long to make your strides, and what to do with your arms can increase your efficiency and lessen your chances of injuring yourself-- which results in a more enjoyable experience, whether or not you‘re running competitively.

Everyone knows how to run and any untrained child enjoys running. It is faults in our development toward adulthood that cause us to loose the simple pleasures. The issue about training is one of knowing one's limitations and of understanding how, healthy, natural development works. One is equipped to learn to run in a way that suits the individual. Training is, essentially, hot-housing which breeds weakness and ill-health. (Unfortunately, the effects are not immediate and not of the kind that are obvious and they may even seem to be unconnected with the training.) At the expense of a brief flare one in fact ends up doing oneself a damage and that damage, among other things, means that one ends up hating the skill that was hot-housed. One of the main things that humans enjoy is to understand, and one of the first caualties of hot-housing is understanding. This is such a problem, and training and hot-housing have been going on for so long, that people have actually lost the sense of understanding, and the understanding of the distinction between knowledge and understanding, and of how understanding works.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Everyone knows how to run

Looking at most of the people I've seen out jogging, and those I've jogged with, I'm going to have to say that everybody does know how to run, but most people seem to know only how to run with bad, inefficient technique. For example, they look at their feet, their arms swing across the front of their bodies, and their stride length can be measured in centimetres. Not only that, but they wear nothing but shorts and t-shirt, even in freezing cold weather, and begin each jog with a few quick static stretches.

Nothing described in the above paragraph is a good way to run.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

I wonder why no examples or particulars or evidence are deployed to support such assertions, and whether anyone really takes such sweeping generalizations at all seriously.

Dragon, argument by assertion do not fly here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

DaveT: that really depends on what you mean by a good way to run. You seem to think it's about efficiency and possibly about being a winner. This is not my view. My view is that life is not worth living unless you enjoy it, and enjoying life means enjoying all the things that life enables you to do and that includes running. So my primary concern is to be able to run with the simple pleasure of a child or a dog. When I let my dog out of the car he races round and round and obviously is revelling in stretching his limbs and just in simply running. That is the kind of pleasure one really needs. Running is a skill, and like all skills you just have to do it to get better i.e. every time you put fingers to the piano, write words on the page, run, or anything else, you simply get better at it. This is learning and it is a natural process and just happens - with skills. Thus if you enjoy running you can keep running and running and running and you will simply get better and better and better and if you are enjoying it, there will be no problems with burnout or boredom or any other lack of motivation, so you will be able to go on practicing throughout your life and just getting better. On the other hand, hot-housing is a bit of a killer. It puts all the emphasis on achievment, and that is not sustainable. Motivation will flag in the end.

The Heretic: I am not trying to persuade, convince, convert or otherwise get anyone to believe what I say. I merely express my opinions, but if anyone was intersted, they have only to ask - but I am talking genuinely interested here, friendly questions, not the kind of questions which challenge me to convince, to prove myself right which are actually hostile questions.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

DaveT: an after thought....

In a book I read recently about 16th century Japanese culture, a sensei (teacher) is asked by a pupil who is learning samurai skills and becoming impatient with how long it is taking "How long will it take?". The sensei replies that it will take 5 years. The pupil then asks, what if he works harder. The sensei repleis that it will take 10 years. The pupil then asks, what if he works really, really hard. The sensei responds that it will take 20 years.

This is wisdom.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

The Heretic: I am not trying to persuade, convince, convert or otherwise get anyone to believe what I say. I merely express my opinions, but if anyone was intersted, they have only to ask - but I am talking genuinely interested here, friendly questions, not the kind of questions which challenge me to convince, to prove myself right which are actually hostile questions.

Most of us rarely think before we talk or write. We tend to write the first thing that comes to mind and what comes first is something about us ourselves. We generally use words to express our own feelings, ideas & opinions, as well as to complain and argue. This is because we are self-absorbed, that is, the most interesting person is our own self. This is certainly inevitable, and throughout most of our lives, nothing is wrong with that. We can function like this.

But it doesn't work in persuasive rhetoric.

You cannot persuade without the ability to get beyond your skin and into another person and pierce their psychology. Persuasion isn't the words you use, or a husky tone of voice. It's a shift in perspective & habit. Do not write the first thing that comes to mind. The secret is to see words as tool not for communicating true thoughts, feelings, but for confusion, enchantment and intoxication.

The difference between normal language & persuasive language is the same as the difference between noise & music. Noise is a permanent static in our lives - something irritating we tune out. Normal language is like noise because readers may skim through your posts as you go about yourself, while their thoughts are a zillion miles away. On occasion they glimpse something that strikes a chord, but this is only brief as the post returns to another story about the poster. As kids we learn how to tune out this kind of noise (parents).

Music on the other hand is persuasive, seductive, and gets in our skin. It is intended for pleasure, for a melody or rhythm sticks in our blood for days and days, changing our moods, emotions, either calming or energizing us. SO in order to make music instead of noise, try to write things that are interesting, pleasing, attractive, anything that sways the reader's vanity. If the reader is burdened with problems, distract them by focusing their attention away from them with witty and entertaining stories, or something that promises a bright future. Language designed to move and lower the reader's resistance is designed for them, not directed at them.

Be a Mark Anthony, not a Brutus. :hand:

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

When have I said that the secret to long-term success and/or enjoyment of a skill is in hot-housing and taking shortcuts? Surely the aim of practising something isn't to simply bang away at the keys, move one limbs, or write anything at all, and hope that alone will make one better. Supposing it does (and, judging by how many words certain authors have written, it doesn't), do the people who just do in any fashion and think that's enough for improvement not think that maybe they could be doing something so they will see greater improvement?

As regards running, if one improves their stamina and running technique so they can run farther and/or faster before they gas out, that has a good chance of making running more enjoyable for them, at the least because of the sense of achievement and improvement.

I am a judo coach, and I know that if I just tell the people whom I coach to drill a specific technique or whatever, and don't interject or supervise them in any way, it's not only unlikely that they'll improve, but that there will be negative effects on their performance. Granted there are players who have mastered certain techniques, and all they need to do is keep working it so they can do it quicker or with more force, but most people who are trained need supervision, interjection, and advice.

As for your Japanese story (and I have to say I did find it quite patronising), I understand the virtues of patience when coaching, especially with children, but in training, it's not just about how hard one works, but how efficient one's training is. The student in the story could work extremely hard, but inefficiently, and it'll take 20 years for him to be good, or he could work very (but not that very) hard, but efficiently, and he could be good in ten years, or he could work hard and efficiently, and be good in 5 years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

The Heretic:

That was an extremely interesting comment. You beautifully illustrate the modern mindset that results from competitiveness. If you were fundamentally cooperative, you would find people a great deal more interesting and would not be tuning out what you call ‘noise’. The self-absorption you describe actually, in the long run, leads to autism. The main feature of autism is the lack of awareness of other people. In severe cases an autistic person inhabits a world where other people are, at most, mere shadows. If one is not to succumb to autism one must take an interest in other people, If one takes an interest in other people, then over time, one’s awareness of them, and sensitivity to them, increases. Under such circumstances, one does not wish to persuade anyone of anything. One is rather more interested in expanding one’s own mind and enriching one’s world by learning what and how other people think and feel. However, one is also perfectly prepared to share one’s own thoughts and feelings with other people and when one does so one is sensitive to whether or not one is being understood and is prepared to improve one’s communicative skills in order to make it easier for other people to understand one. But, I repeat, the last thing one would wish to do is to trick people into believing what one says. I do not admire Mark Anthony – and in any case, his better rhetoric did not save him from a sticky end.

DaveT:

The crux of the matter is the nature of the motivation. Unfortunately, we live in a competitive world which means that the primary motivation for doing anything is to be able to do it better than other people. There is an alternative which is to do a thing for the love of the thing itself and one certainly does not care whether or not one wins anything. One might even choose to keep one’s interest private because one is only too aware that, in this competitive world, one is liable to be criticized and told one should do it better in another way, and that just spoils one’s pleasure. Under these circumstances, “to simply bang away at the keys, move one limbs, or write anything at all” does, in fact, make one better. The reason for this is that one loves what one is doing and therefore cannot help being interested in it, so in a sense, one cannot just bang away at the keys; one is too aware of what one is doing and whether or not the banging is making a nice noise and too concerned to make the noise nicer.

(I don’t quite understand what you found patronising about what I said.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

Dragon,

Regarding what you've said on competition: while there may be people out there who make their lives miserable by turning everything into a contest that they have to win to be happy, and the modern world does tend to encourage that attitude, there are also plenty of people who enjoy being engaged in games and other forms of competition-- not just winning, but being engaged-- and who would find the scenario you consider ideal to be overly insular. Competition can be cooperation-- it’s not necessarily about being the best, but about bringing out the best in yourself, and in your fellow-competitors.

I see no reason to dismiss a person’s enjoyment of an activity as being somehow less genuine because it includes their enjoyment of their own progress in that activity. You can love the thing itself while also being motivated by other factors. The two aren't incompatible. And in any case, worrying about the purity of your motivation is not, generally, conducive to enjoyment.

2 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted

That was an extremely interesting comment. You beautifully illustrate the modern mindset that results from competitiveness. If you were fundamentally cooperative, you would find people a great deal more interesting and would not be tuning out what you call ‘noise’. The self-absorption you describe actually, in the long run, leads to autism. The main feature of autism is the lack of awareness of other people. In severe cases an autistic person inhabits a world where other people are, at most, mere shadows. If one is not to succumb to autism one must take an interest in other people, If one takes an interest in other people, then over time, one’s awareness of them, and sensitivity to them, increases. Under such circumstances, one does not wish to persuade anyone of anything. One is rather more interested in expanding one’s own mind and enriching one’s world by learning what and how other people think and feel. However, one is also perfectly prepared to share one’s own thoughts and feelings with other people and when one does so one is sensitive to whether or not one is being understood and is prepared to improve one’s communicative skills in order to make it easier for other people to understand one. But, I repeat, the last thing one would wish to do is to trick people into believing what one says. I do not admire Mark Anthony – and in any case, his better rhetoric did not save him from a sticky end.

Boy, what a load of rubbish.

It is you who illustrate the modern mind - whereas the portrait I illustrate is as old as the hills. Where the modern mind attempts to appear civilized and decent and democratic, and fair, yet whosoever plays by those rules, take them literally, will be crushed by those who aren't as foolish.

The Modern mind disdains competitive, power games as something evil or anti-social or a relic of the past, and assumes the game can be opted out by subscribing to a behavior that have nothing to do with power. But those kind of people only express such opinions outwardly and yet are the most adept players of the game. They use strategies that cleverly conceal the nature of the manipulation involved. They often display weakness or lack of power as a moral virtue. Then again, true powerlessness, sans all motives of self-interest, would never publicize its weakness in order to acquire sympathy or respect. Making a show of weakness is actually another strategy in the game of power - a subtle and deceptive one.

Your remark of Brutus and Anthony is yet another sign of the Modern mind that purports to avoid the game of power by being perfectly honest and straightforward. Perfect honesty inevitably hurts & insults people in general, and they will return the favor. Nobody believes honest statements are ever completely objective or independent of personal motivation, and they are correct: the use of honesty is a power strategy that is intended to convince others' of one's noble or good-hearted or selfless character. Honesty is therefore a form of persuasion, a subtle form of coercion.

Regarding my remark, allow me to explain:

After the murder of Caesar, Brutus tried to address an angry mob. He tried to reason with the crowd, and explain that he tried to save the Roman Republic from dictatorship. The people were temporarily convinced - Brutus was a decent person. Then Anthony took the stage and gave an eulogy for Caesar. He was overwhelmed with emotion in speaking of his love for Caesar, and of Caesar's love for the Roman people. He mentioned Caesar's will, and the crowd demanded to hear it, but Anthony refused. For if he read it they would know how deeply Caesar loved them and they would learn how horrible this murder was. The crowd became more insistent. Instead, Anthony held up Caesar's bloodstained cloak, pointing at its rents and tears. This is where Brutus stabbed him, and this is where Cassius stabbed him. Finally, Anthony read the will, which informed the crowd how much wealth Caesar left to the people. That was the strong finish - he turned the crowd against the conspirators who went off to lynch them.

Anthony was a clever man who understood how to stir a crowd. Plutarch said "When he saw that his oratory had cast a spell over the people and that they were deeply stirred by his words, he begun to introduce into his praises [of Caesar] a note of pity and of indignation at Caesar's fate."

You, like most people, use symbolic language, where words stand for something real, feelings, ideas and the beliefs they really have. The alternative is diabolical language - words do not stand for anything real, for their sound and the feelings they evoke are more important than what they stand for.

There's no point in trying to opt out of the game of power, because that will render you powerless. Instead of struggling against the inevitable or arguing & whining and feeling bad, it's better to excel at power. The better one becomes at dealing with power the better friend, lover, husband/wife, and person one becomes. Others feel better about themselves as one becomes a source of pleasure to them. If power is inescapable, it is better to be an artist than a denier or a bungler. :finger:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now