Learning to Run Before I Learn to Walk


published 2023-05-17 02:39

updated 2023-05-17 03:21

I've noticed a peculiar problem that I frequently encounter and was wondering if others experience something similar, so here I am writing about it. Being someone with a penchant for getting ahead of myself, an enjoyment of difficulty and a very high tolerance for failure, I gravitate towards the experimental, esoteric and strange. The bleeding edge as it were. Often such things are the reason my attention drives me towards the field at all. This leaves me in a difficult place. Surrounded by people who are often experts, speaking jargon I can hardly understand, about generally technical topics I have not even learnt the basics of.

To tackle this problem, I use a sort of reverse black boxing, where I'm trying my best to categorize concepts based on complexity and proximity to a specific "root" concept that I vaguely understand but am highly curious about. Forming a sort of web or map in the darkness of my ignorance. I firmly believe that Relation is more primary than Relata, and nothing can be understood in isolation.

Doing so, has led to me developing particular skills and lots of heuristics for critical thinking and understanding. To be able to pick out flaws or disagreements in esoteric knowledge, requires a certain degree of familiarity. You learn to pick out the shape of concepts along with the patterns with which they are spoken. I've noticed that lots of these patterns are cross functional. You can use patterns from vastly different fields of study to understand concepts you're currently learning about. With enough concepts, I can manage to abstract away the basics. It certainly feels quite exciting to be able to speak meaningfully with experts from vastly different worlds than myself. In order to get really fast at this, one must being able to identify which contexts one is missing. You have to think about Unknown Unknowns, we've already marked, placed and packaged the known unknowns as black boxes that are not quite contextually important enough to thoroughly understand just yet. Since I'm not pretending to be an expert, and am totally okay looking like an idiot, I'm very happy asking seemingly incredibly simple questions, amongst all the more "intellectually rigorous" assessments. I think it's from this I've gained some strong intuition for ways in which people are being manipulative, or maybe it's just because I have heaps of Pisces in my astrology chart ♓🤷🏽

However, this strategy as it were for understanding things comes with significant downsides as well. For one, in doing this categorization along the axis of "simple" and being prone towards "complex", and often downplay the importance of the basics and avoid becoming proficient in them. Which is often a big problem, the big things tend to rely on the small. Also, most people just assume if you know something detailed and abstract, you must understand the basics. Without even meaning to, I get assigned to high authority positions. It seems most people view "skill" as highly linear within a particular field. I make big, wandering, aloof maps across many metaphysics. Not a topological survey.

To give you an example of this, I was at one time attempting to build a CLI Habit Tracker in Clojure, except I decided the best way for me to do that would be to use ink which is React that can be run in the terminal, and could be compiled with nbb from ClojureScript. Now, despite being familiar with Clojure on the Backend, I had no experience with JavaScript, or React, or TUIs in general. I had added layers of complexity hoping that I would not need to peel them away[#]_. I was at least 3 layers too deep to be able to actually make this application. I barely knew how to make HTML elements, and I wanted to use a transpiled React from a transpiled ClojureScript in an environment I knew nothing about?! Good luck, crazy human.

It was only after attempting the absolutely absurd a number of times that I've begun to understand the importance of the basics. It's often a struggle to get through, I'll skip through things that I believe I understand because on the intended path of learning I already would've, but I didn't take the intended path. With enough persistence though, linking and understanding the topic is a lot easier. You had to chart out the map of this territory yourself.

.. [#] Reader, I did, in fact, need to peel the complexity away