Dear Mudge, How to learn?

Hey ‘Mudge,

Busy times. I suspect we’ve both had our hands full. Me, exhausted from learning a new software platform (Microsoft D365) and you, starting a new career with a whole universe of knowledge to master.

I hope there’s time, here and there, for you to share your experiences. Does such a grand adventure deserve its own venue? (Of course, you’re always welcome here.)

Regarding these latest endeavors, I’ve taken pause to reconsider the process of learning. I say ‘reconsider’ as I’ve (and perhaps we’ve) examined the aspects of changing one’s mind here in these posts. And learning, to me, is the epitome of “changing your mind.”

How do you learn? I mean you, specifically. Have you considered it in abstract form? Learning something new, both mentally and physically, seems straightforward. Take the new material, read it. Read it again. Discuss it. Use it in practice, bit by bit until it sticks. The same for physical skills: condition your body, muscle by muscle, motion by motion, until you no longer have to think to move—you just flow.

Muscle memory.

My pastime endeavor, learning to write well, is more problematic. Not only do I have to learn new skills, I also have to unlearn old ones. Break bad habits and replace them with good ones.

And so, as I’m wont to do, I analyze the process and communicate my findings here.

  • The most permanent lessons learned are those that caused pain. This is one of the reasons why, by the end of our lives, most of our memories are of traumatic incidents. Happy memories? Wiped away by age. Painful memories? Burned into our minds by our innate need to survive.
  • Holistic lessons are useless. “Be the ball.” “Be who you want to become.” “Fake it ’till you make it.” How? How does one specifically accomplish such things? Details. I need finite details to apply, in repetition, to alter my behavior, that is, change my mind.
    Sweeping statements provide no guidance. They only serve to obfuscate the process.
  • The mind’s storage ability must be taken into account: short term vs long term memory. Painful memories becomes permanent due to the fact that we dwell on the situation of the trauma. How did this happen? Can I prevent it in the future?
    Skillful memories become permanent through repetition. We must transfer our short term instruction into long term knowledge through practice.
    But such abilities must be discrete, singularly identifiable such that one can consider them in reflection. And, by reflecting upon them, commit them to permanent memory.
  • So, how can we learn a vast, complex skill like “writing well” or “vet-tech”? We must deconstruct the whole into its learnable components, pieces small enough to be practiced and mastered individually.

It is with such analysis that I am assembling this writer’s workshop. And indeed, how I continue to apply myself to this 10,000 hour, 1 million words endeavor.

I’m anxious to hear of your progress,


Writer’s Log: 2007 The Spiral

[REF: my comment on Zarah’s blog]

I’m of a mind that, like many endeavors, the process of learning to write is a spiral.
Learn -> apply -> review …

Hopefully, at each loop, one expands the spiral outward with the assembled knowledge and skill from the inner circles.

For writing, the complexity of the inner circles is limited: use proper grammar and spelling, use active voice, reduce the use of adverbs and dialog tags.

The further one gets from the center, the more nuanced the rules become — more like guidelines. Although the lessons become less specific, they become more challenging. One of those is finding one’s own voice.

What I find compelling about this visualization is that a spiral never ends: around and around we go, ever outward.

Lately, I’ve hardly written a thing: I’m in a wide curve, rounding from Review through Learn, approximately two-thousand hours from the center. (2000 on my way to 10k.)

This lull, I tell myself, is me digesting some of the more nuanced guidelines — like that of finding my own voice. That, as well as focus on the refinement of the writing itself. Story, not so much. Plot? Nope. Just the writing. The sound, the flow, the cadence.

Here’s some random exercises I’ve used to inch my way around the pivot-point:

Which one are you?

In ninth grade (freshman high school) I sat, dull-eyed, at a desk while the English teacher, a fellow who, I’ll admit, was pretty animated, proceeded to, oddly enough, perform a statistical test on the class.

“Who wants to bet that at least two of you (a class of 30) have the same birthday?”

We all, as group, took the bet.

He then went around the room, alphabetically, asking each of us our birthday.

When he got to Billy Baker, Billy announced his date.

I was dumbstruck. It was the same damn day as mine. Now, Billy was somewhat of a student to be admired: played the trumpet, was good looking, clear skin, got straight A’s. I instantly thought to myself, “Whoa, that’s too cool. Me and Billy have the same birthday (and birth year), we’re exactly the same age! Neat-o!”

And so I blared out this fact to the class. Well, Billy sat just to the right of me and he immediately turned and shushed me down. “Shut up you fool. We can’t let this teacher win.”

Billy possessed the presence of mind to be able to react in a way that would no doubt favor him later in life. I, on the other hand, reacted with total, gleeful abandon, without any regard to the bet or the fallout of the experiment. I was oblivious.

So, class, which one are you?

A: Are you a Billy and on constant street-smarts awareness as to how any situation (and your reaction to it) might benefit you?

B: A foolish dunderhead who is just damn happy to have had some relation, albeit remote, to one of the cool kids in school? And generally incognizant of how to play the world to your advantage?

How smart are we?


Go lookup any standard distribution chart of IQ for the country (or the world in general). You’ll find the following obvious but alarming results. One half of the human population has an IQ of less than 100.

Just let that sink in.

Additionally, approximately 20% has an IQ of less than 90. In the U.S. (320M) that would mean 1/5 of people, ~64million people have an IQ less than 90. For the world? 1/5 of 7.4B = 1.48B.


One and a half billion people have an IQ of 90 or less. These aren’t magic numbers or fake numbers. These are approximate facts.

I’m not trying to stigmatize anyone here. In fact, intelligence, in my book, doesn’t mean squat. I would posit that there are more happy people at the lower end of the IQ scale than at the upper; ignorance is bliss and with power (intelligence) comes responsibility (and the associated problems). And, to me, happiness is the real gauge of a successful life.

That said, how many people do you know with an IQ less than 90? Yet they exist and can vote and have opinions (although, with a stereotypical bias those opinions might be mal- or un-informed.)

I don’t point this out because I’m an intellectual snob (far from it if you knew my history), only that I would offer that one might use such open and obvious information as the basis for understanding the country’s and the world’s opinions and predispositions.

I know this feels a tad distasteful. As if by discussing this we’re betraying a huge portion of humanity. However I want to continue to stress that this is a reality. It’s not a politifact or fake-news.

The other side of this coin is that just because one possesses a supposedly high IQ does not make one automatically superior in thought or opinion. Bigotry, misogyny, racism live quite well in many of the world’s smart people. Sure a greater intelligence may predispose you to a more open mind — but it does not guarantee it.

When I read or watch the news and see statistics and counts of people doing this or that I’ve tended to think that most people are like me: average intelligence, average beliefs, average faults and ideals. What a chart like this shows, what the knowledge of this disparity of intelligence should tell me, tell us, is that this is not the case. That “average” may actually have little bearing on what truly exists in the world regarding intellectual capability.

What do you think of this distribution of IQ? Does it challenge your assumptions about people?




[Pretty much <90 we’re dealing with people who, in general would have a hard time graduating high school, writing an essay, read and follow instructions for building a model toy, memorize 10 phone numbers. (my interpretation)]

Unexpected latitudes…

Unexpected latitudes…

None of Florida is in the tropics. And none of New Zealand. But half of Australia is. And parts of China too.

Iceland is not above the Arctic Circle.

Paris is farther north than Seattle.

Cambridge England is as far north as the northern most tip of Mongolia.

Edinburgh Scotland is farther north than the southern tip of Chile is south.

The southern tip of Africa is the same distance from the equator as Los Angeles.

Denver, Philadelphia, Madrid and Bejing are all about the same distance north.

Nice, France is farther north than Vladivostok, Russia. And is farther north than Tasmania is south.