Furthering Our Self -Education

“Never stop learning”. We’ve all heard this phrase before, and it sounds like a really great, noble thing. But how many of us can really say we continue learning our whole lives? Sure we hear about a new breakthrough, or a cool little fact now and then, but think back to being in school. A whole work day worth of knowledge packed into your head 5 days a week. Sure, not all of us may have paid attention through it all, and a lot of us probably skipped a lot of classes (though I do like to brag that I never skipped a class through all of high school!….okay, most people don’t brag about that, I know), but even those who did, still usually absorbed a huge amount of knowledge compared to those not in school, even if they didn’t realize it. But then we graduate and for many of us, the regular regime of learning stops. We get sucked into a busy life of work, family, and trying to find time to have fun. The days of sitting at a desk and having new information spoon fed to us are over and now if we want to gain knowledge, we have to make time and put in effort to do it. last year I faced the fact that, as much as I advocate knowledge and learning, I my self had fallen into a rut and wasn’t taking full advantage of the opportunities and resources sounding all of us. So I did something about it. I made a resolution to keep learning my entire life, and this is how I’m doing it.

Social media is an extremely powerful tool. It can sway elections, make nobodies celebrities and even fund raise. But did you know it can help you learn too? Virtually every organization, institution, group, person, robot, or puppet has some sort of social media account, if not multiple ones. So it’s no surprise that this would include things like science centres, NASA, historical societies and the Planetary Society. Even the Curiosity rover has a twitter account! All of these places often use things like twitter and facebook to post current events and breakthroughs in the scientific community. Personally, I don’t use twitter, and anyone who is friends with me on facebook knows that I don’t use that too often either (especially compared with some). However, I do follow the places I just mentioned, and some other on facebook because I find it a great way to have interesting articles and stories handed directly to me. I don’t always have time to reach some of the longer articles right away. If you were to look at my computer right now you’d see a que of tabs across the top of my chrome window, all articles I’ve recently been linked to by facebook pages (and yes, they’re all science related…those ones have their own window….I’m not that stupid). Some of the stuff I’ve learned from these articles is fascinating! Granted, some of them turn out to be not as interesting as I first thought, but others have blown me away and boggled my mind. Don’t get me wrong, most aspects of social media I hate…the status it hold in society concerns me, but that could (and probably will be) a whole other post. Social media does have some great benefits to it which can help spread knowledge and interest.

If you listen in to conversation pretty much anywhere as you (as I like to do from time to time), you will almost definitely hear someone talking about the latest TV shows. Whether it be cable, Netflix or public access, TV is a huge part of our culture. Shows (you know what, lets include movies in this too because they are very similar and include the same categories, but for simplicity, I’ll use the term shows) cover all sorts of subjects and genres. They can be funny, emotional, scary, child friendly, or they could fall into the category which seemed to unfairly have a reputation of bland, boring and generally bad. Documentaries. Ya, I get it. There was an era where documentaries were very one dimensional. The voice over was mono tone and dragged on with big words nobody understood and had terrible camera shots. We live in a world were everything has to be flashy, face paced and stated in the simplest of terms. But that wasn’t always the case, just a generation or two ago, people were excited by what we now find boring, so those “bad” documentaries were perfectly fine for people once upon a time. Even though that “boring” stigma remains, documentaries have actually kept up with the times. Take for example BBC’s Life series. One of the most expensive documentary series ever produced. It was shot entirely in HD with some incredible scenes of action, slow motion and events never before seen or caught on camera. Or look toward my favorite docu-series (which I have and will reference many times) Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Between the charisma of host Neil deGrasse Tyson, the incredible mix of animated, live action and stunning CGI, and the  compelling, true stories of both nature and society, even the most uninterested person would be pulled into it. If not other series, Cosmos is the one I’d recommend to anyone of any age or intellect. I think it truly appeals to nearly everyone. Then we also have series which aren’t really documentary series, but are still informative and educational. Brain Games actively engages the viewer through the whole show demonstrating how our brains work in every day situations. It’s one thing to hear about what peripheral vision is, but it’s so much easier to relate to when you’re actually experiencing the effects of it firsthand. Let your self slip into some of these programs, and before you know it you’ll feel like you’re right there, hopping along a mountain ridge with lemurs, soring from planet to planet or traveling back in time to an era where kings and queens fended off dinosaurs from their castles (That didn’t happen? I guess somebody’s been watching the History channel. Good job!). When you finally come out of it all, maybe you’ll have learned something.

Ever been walking through a store, saw a magazine rack and thought to your self “Who the hell reads magazine anymore?” I used to think that a lot. Not because I personally had no interest in them, but because it seemed odd to me that people would pay that much for a few pieces of paper, when the internet is so easy to get to. I was interested in some of the topics (I’d better be since there seems to be a magazine for every imaginable thing…), but I never bothered to actually pick one up and read it….but then I did. Now I get it. I understand why those magazine racks are still around, and in some stores they’re entire aisles. Sure the internet has more knowledge than you could know in  life time just a few clicks away, and the stuff you’re reading in this magazine is probably also available online. But a magazine give you your exact interest, you don’t need a plug or wifi signal, it’s easy to carry, and it’s much easier to flip back and forth through getting a good look at everything in just a few seconds.  Last year I subscribed to Sky News Magazine. Its a Canadian publication about astronomy and astrophysics. While I still get weekly emails from them, and access to their website, I look forward to the issues arriving in the mail because it’s a whole different resource. The magazine includes monthly star charts, notes (sometimes whole articles) about important or interesting events and helpful guidelines along with all the other articles.There’s no loading times, or having to navigate a confusing interface (I find books are pretty straight forward…or backward if you happen to be holding it upside down). If I have no interest in a headline, I flip to the next page. And best of all, the ads are all stationary and don’t make noise! In the end I guess it comes down to preference, but getting a subscription to an informative magazine (or even picking up single issues when one catches your interest) is just another way that knowledge is being handed directly to you.

There is also a source of knowledge close to everyone which people usually take for granted…other people. Everyone knows something you don’t It may be something small and trivial, it may be something very important, it may even be something most people consider common knowledge, but for one reason or another you never discovered. Whatever it is, I guarantee that every single person you speak to can teach you something. We, by nature, are arrogant. We like to think we know everything. Even I’ve found my self guilty of the folly of hubris. It’s hard to admit (especially to others) we don’t know something, but it is also the fundamental step to learning something. If we walk through life unwilling to admit our ignorance what happens when we’re faced with a question we don’t have an answer for? We begin to make things up to fill in that space. That will either result in making our selves look stupid, or allowing false information to leak into society’s collective pool of knowledge. But either way, we deprive our selves of information. If we could all let go of that, we have so much to teach each other. I’m a cook. I went to school and was taught by some of the best chefs in the country. Working at bars, I’v generally worked with people who have no interest in making a career our of this job. Needless to say I have much more training and knowledge than most of them. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t rub it in (or at least I try not to. If I’ve worked with you and you felt like I was rubbing it in, I’m truly sorry), but in that situation it’s hard not to develop an ego. I’ve finally found a job at a really nice hotel/spa and suddenly I’m surrounded by people who know at least as much as me. So it sometimes is hard to admit I don’t know something, or I’ve forgotten something since I was in school. I don’t want to look like an idiot. I know how to cook, and I’m pretty good at it. But I need more training. I know that. I want that. I’m excited to have all this know how in the kitchen everywhere I look, and yet I still let arrogance get the best of me from time to time. I know everyone reading this has been in the same position. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s natural. What matters is the ability to overcome that feeling, admit you don’t know something and ask about it. Don’t let all this information we’re drowning in go to waste. Find what someone is passionate about, and they will have no problem passing on as much as you can handle.

All this knowledge we’re gaining is a great thing! But we all know that the human mind [for most people] is not photographic (an no, being out of film does not count…who still uses film anyways? Maybe that’s your problem). We forget things….a lot. There are a lot of tricks you can use to help you remember things you study, but sometimes you aren’t prepared to learn something, and you surely aren’t planning to be tested on it. So you just say “huh…that’s pretty cool, I’ll have to remember that!” Then you promptly forget it. I had this problem all the time. As much as I loved the things I would learn while I was out and about on day trips to the museum or the zoo, I’d go home, get excited to tell someone, and not have any idea what I waned to tell them. Or I’d have learned so much, most of it faded out and only a few things stuck out. So I thought writing things down while I’m out and about would help. Then I had another idea…a couch with a built in fridge would eliminate the need to get up for something to drink! Then I had another idea…I want to continue to learn every single day, and I need somewhere to write all this stuff down. Why not keep it all in a journal so I can easily look back, and keep track of it day by day? And thus was born my learning journal. I went to chapters and picked up a moleskin (it had Batman on it!) as well as a couple mini moleskins, here’s why. My Batman journal stores everything I learn each day. I keep it very organized, dated and always have a book mark so it’s easy to find where I left off. But it’s big and not practical to carry around with me (especially when I have my camera and a five year old to keep track of), not to mention it’s not something I want to lose. But I’d still have the problem of learning something only to forget it by the time I get home to my journal. Well, remember those mini journals I mentioned? I always keep one of those and a pen in my pocket. When I hear something new and interesting, it’s easy for me to whip it out (lol), quickly scribble down this new delicious piece of information, and put it away again. Then, when I get home and have a chance, I simple copy it into my Batman journal all nice and neat. Sometimes I go back through it and read some of my bullet points. I’m amazed how much I’ve gained in less than a year. I truly think I’m a better person for it, and I know I’m smarter. Now, I’m sure I’m not the first person to ever have this idea. But I’m the first person I know of, so I’m taking all the credit it for it. You’re welcome world. I’m offering this as an invitation to everyone who reads this to join me in my journaling ways. Start your own learning journal. Challenge your self to become smarter and see how good it feel to learn.

The learning journal has only two rules. First of all, you must make an entry every day. No one is perfect, I admit since i started it I’ve missed two days. But push your self to learn something every day, even if it’s something small. Secondly, whatever you write down must be fact checked! If it comes from a reliable source, this shouldn’t be a problem. A lot of the articles I read are from science journals or institutes so they are pretty reliable. But sometimes I feel lazy and use a random fact app on my phone. Some of this things it tells me are unbelievable!…and with good reason. Did you know that only humans and dogs have prostates? You didn’t? Well that because it’s not true. And had i not double checked that, I’d right now think it is true.SO remember that while there is plenty of knowledge to be gained, not all of it is fact, and the facts are what you want. Usually a quick google search will be enough to find a reliable source to tell you if it’s true or not. So that’s it. Two rules. Anything else goes. If you want to add your own rules, go ahead. Maybe you have a goal of wanting to learn how to cook, so everything you write down has to be about cooking, or maybe you make it more of a challenge and write down two things every day ( there are many days where I’ve written half a page or more of bullet points). Have fun with it, but become smarter and see how good it feels.

I’ve said it before, society at large has become willfully ignorant. where knowledge was once the highest value a person had, we now see gadgets, looks and utter stupidity floating to the top. Lets all try and make a change for the better. Go out and learn something. Get passionate and have fun at the same time! As Sharon Begley once said “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known…” (this quote is often attributed to Carl Sagan, but is in fact from a Newsweek article in which Begley interviewed Sagan. I learned, fact checked, and wrote that in my journal!)


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