August 11, 2011
For context: Story Meditation is a meditation I created where a person sits and creates a story (a personal myth) based on a theme, where the theme is anything a person wishes to deal with. And then the person interprets this story in relation to themselves and the theme. I use it to solve emotional, intellectual, and physical problems.
Here was my learning problem that I solved with a story. For a long time I strove to cope with understanding in an almost purely intuitive sense. I avoided many quantitative tools for understanding. This was a compulsive behavior. I would look at the summaries of the concepts, and avoid the formulas compulsively. My brain would do a sort of switching off, and become exceedingly avoidant. My intuitive faculties became hyper-tuned, an I would often surprise people with understanding that they expected necessitated quantitative tools. But I also held myself back because I wasn’t developing other tools for learning. I was suspending my ability to observe the beauty of mathematical relationships. A mix of exceedingly bad teachers, the limitations of institutional teaching, and myself had put me in this situation.
For the past six months, I have been working on a new type of jet engine of my own invention. I have made incredible leaps and just this morning I hit a milestone that makes me certain I will soon have a self-sustaining engine. Simultaneously, my intellectual development in regard to jet engines has run in parallel. I know I finally have to get into the math of things. Nato Saichek loaned me a book called Aerodynamics for Engineers, and I started to read it. I realized I needed a story to reorganize my approach to learning.
Here is the story I imagined, based on the theme Understanding the Book Aerodynamics for Engineers.
A man wrote a formula on a chalkboard. It was a new equation of his own invention. He looked at it and was amazed. He ran home and told his life partner about it and she took it in stride. She was already aware of his genius, even before there was ‘proof.’ The next day, the man returned to his equation with worries he had accumulated in the night. He checked it against empirical data again. It seemed to work out just like yesterday. Suddenly, he was suffused with a euphoric glow and the certain knowledge that his equation was correct. He showed it to his colleagues and they marveled at its simplicity. They knew this was momentous. He showed it to his most liked student and his student said, now they could take out a quarter of the aerodynamics book. They hugged at the wonder of it all. The student was pridefully aware of his affiliation with human discovery. Sometime later, the man accepted an award for his scientific development. He glowed with pride and gave an inspiring speech about the necessity of the cultivation of virtue in all endeavors, even those that do not appear to necessitate it.
Though this story is very short and simple, it moved me deeply. I found myself reading the textbook with an entirely different sensibility. And when I felt myself not understanding and falling back on lousy behaviors that restrained my intellect, I was able to overcome them by remembering the story. In the story, I am the professor, the partner, the student, the colleagues. I am standing on a podium, and writing on a chalkboard. And each of those components of the story remind me that I can learn from the text I am endeavoring to understand. Not just concepts, but the exact way of speaking that the math describes.
When I learn, it has always been in the context of creating revolutionary new artifacts. When I used to learn math, I never brought that sense of myself to the learning experience. Now that I understand the story I wrote, the way I learn math and physics has changed. It is a simple thing.