Let’s start with debunking the current world view, that intelligence is inborn. We are all born tabula raza… a blank slate.
Your intelligence depends on the number of large chunks, neural connections permanently formed in your brain firing together automatically. Those chunks are created in learning. Not learning about… no, actual learning a skill to unconscious competence. Driving a vehicle is unconscious competence for most. Reading and comprehending? not so much.
Reality is like an iceberg: the visible part provides clues for the invisible part: that there is something invisible yet real.
Depending on how you look at the visible part, through what vantage point, you are going to see different aspects of the invisible. One of the ways, one of the vantage points to look through is the learning to learn course. 1
The principle of intelligence is: the more problem solving chunks your brain has, i.e. the more neural connections you have, or speaking in transformational technology terms: the more distinctions you have, the more difficult problems you can solve, the more ease and grace you’ll have in your life.
Life is full of difficult problems that you can either solve or you suffer. The most pain comes from other people.
When I measure how many spiritual capacities you have active in your DNA, the correlation between the number of spiritual capacities, the number of distinctions, and success in life is obvious, although the why isn’t quite obvious… yet.
What qualifies a ‘spiritual’ teacher to teach, is that they are one step ahead of their students, one lesson…
At least that is what I thought until this morning.
So… I just finished the Learning How to Learn Course. I learned a lot. I also learned that as a How-to course, it teaches you ABOUT how to learn, but learning to learn is a whole different animal… unless you can turn the how-to into actual learning, learning will not happen.
But the tools and techniques in the course are useful, so someone, maybe me, can actually teach you to learn.
Gradually. Hopefully. Finally, for most of you.
So I have decided to set myself out on a path to learn to teach, to teach myself to teach: teach at least some people to learn. To create distinctions, neural islands of neurons that fire together, automatically. 2
In this context, I can measure my teaching effectiveness. I can measure it by to what degree the distinctions I teach you alter your personal reality, after all that is what they are supposed to do. But knowing about distinctions, maybe even be able to repeat them can’t be considered ‘knowing’ in the biblical sense. Unless they are unconscious competence, unless they work in you maybe even you knowing that they do, my teaching wasn’t effective: you didn’t develop the skill.
A distinction is a group of neurons, in the brain, that gets some work done, without you needing to be conscious of it.
Chewing, swallowing, throwing a ball, driving, are simple distinctions that you can, as an adult, take for granted. No conscious thought required. But when you learned it, it had to be first conscious, and then, through practice, unconscious.
Depending on how many neurons it takes to perform a task, the distinctions are simple or complex.
Distinctions are the key elements to intelligence, intelligent behavior. Like stone soup, it needs crucial ingredients.
What do you need for a good soup: water, salt, and vegetables. If you can, maybe even some noodles. Some chicken or some bones? The more ingredients you have the better the soup is. In intelligence the ingredients are the distinctions developed to the level of skill. Knowing about a distinction is like flying over a country: doesn’t count.
Here are a few examples pointing to missing distinctions, and the resulting lack of intelligent behavior:
1. This civil engineer…
…was visiting an environmental cleanup site. The stuff to clean up was very dry, and the wind blew.
Engineer or no engineer, our guy didn’t think of putting a handkerchief or a filter over his mouth and nose… so he breathed in the stuff that had been deemed an environmental hazard, that is why it was a cleanup site… duh. Now he is coughing, and he is worried.
He has distinctions about some stuff, but not about others. He never considered that if it is bad on the ground, it will be definitely bad in his lungs…
Intelligent behavior is impossible when chunks of knowledge are missing or are overpowered by some other concerns… Concerns like wanting to look like a hero, fearless… because that concern would call a dude with filter over his nose and mouth a sissy…
Diagnosis: distinction is either weak, or the concern is too strong… Causing lack of intelligent behavior.
The next thing to do, for this person, is to deal with both issues, missing distinction AND the concern.
2. This university student
has been in my courses, reading my articles for nearly six years, without it ever making a lasting impact on his life.
He comes up with new ideas about why that is, at least once a week. They all sound brilliant. Astounding. Yet, his results in life, in any area, are between zero and none.
Looking at his behavior through the distinction of the how to learn course, I suddenly saw something.
One thing has been bothering me about him for a few months now: even though he knows how to energize his water, even though he knows how important that is, his cell hydration, habitually, drops to scarcity level.
He doesn’t take care of it. He doesn’t drink the coherent water that would keep his cell hydration number above 30%, or maybe he simply stops making it? I haven’t asked. But it is obvious: cell hydration isn’t a distinction for him, it is not automatic for him to make and drink the coherent water… He has information but no knowledge.
In the past six years this student got a disproportionate amount of attention from me… and has managed to turn all that teaching, all that guidance into a big fat zero. His brilliance helped him dupe me… but didn’t help him to create a life worth living for him.
Somewhere in my reading, actually many places, animals use deceit to lure a predator away from their young. This student uses deceit to lure me away from that fact that he won’t learn.
As I said above, a distinction fully operational in your brain will work without your conscious thought… So until a distinction, in his case, making and drinking his energized water so his physical self is well enough to support what he is doing, we can safely say that he has probably no useful distinctions in his brain, no chunks, no useful learning has taken place, that would make him act intelligently in life.
He has the empty brain of a newborn. He may have rules from religion, from his parents, from himself, but they don’t form distinctions, they don’t physically manifest in his brain.
So what prevents him from forming those distinctions? If you think that the two cases are similar, you are right.
What prevents him from forming those distinctions is a concern.
This university student throws everything in the wind, so he can get his concern met: that he is viewed and that he feels brilliant. Not only brilliant, mind you, the only brilliant person in a class, in a conversation, anywhere.
That concern, even though it looks innocent, is the altar he sacrifices his whole life on… especially when it comes to learning.
All learning makes you feel stupid, slow, unequal to the task. Intolerable if you have a standard that you have to be brilliant all the time.
Result: he never actually learned anything to the level that permanent brain structures, neural changes would happen in his brain. He is a man without any intelligence.
3. A third student, also an engineer…
was showing no promising signs that she can be taught anything.
But in my little research into teaching has accidentally taken me to proximal whatever it was… that says that if you can teach what is very close to what the student knows, then it is possible to teach someone. While if you try to teach new things without leaning, building on existing knowledge, you’ll fail.
This student’s access to any and all knowledge is her deep and profound knowledge of horses. The care and training of horses, including turning a horse from disobedient or neurotic into a happy, productive horse.
Amazing, if you ask me.
She even recalls that all her engineering studies were built on this island of knowledge… the horses.
Our job, hers and mine, is to build all new knowledge onto and adjacent to the existing knowledge, so she can start living a life larger than what her current distinctions allow for.
Your existing distinctions delineate the area of life where you can become effective, intelligent, productive, and ultimately happy.
Learning and establishing new distinctions with this knowledge of proximity makes learning fast(er) and possible.
Teaching someone with no distinctions is quite a different bag of tricks… and I don’t know how to do it. Until one half-baked distinction becomes permanent, i.e. self-running, there is no hope to ever reach intelligence.
Every polymath, every productive person started out with one distinction that they deepened until it became a solid foundation for all knowledge to be built upon.
Building that first chunk, is the challenge. The stone in the stone soup.
And even if someone has some knowledge, like a degree, if it is not on the unconscious competence level, if it is not a skill, building a bridge to a new area is going to be a challenge.
I had a client once who had an MBA. But having a degree doesn’t mean you have any skills… It depends on the school…
He was a client for two years, and in the two years we weren’t able to build a bridge to being able to create a business that he wanted.
His identity is vested in being the person who can make something from nothing, like the dude in the fairy tale ‘Stone soup‘. For that stone to be the first chunk of a delightful soup, he needed to build a bridge… sell the idea. And that is where vision, creating a vision for the other comes into play… the secret of successful negotiation and sales. Creating a vision.
But very few people can create visions for others, or even for themselves. Why? Some concern stops them. The don’t want to… or they are afraid. Or they want it now…
Until you can conquer your concern, much of the time, you are like a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest… not very good.
The above student examples, the engineer who wants to look strong and fearless, the other guy brilliant, and the MBA guy… wanting to be a serial entrepreneur, they are all in for a long road to hoe.
Everyone has one main concern that they dance around all their lives… a concern is like having your foot nailed to the floorboards, so you can move ONLY around it… Winning, safety, looking good, being right, wanting to avoid responsibility, avoiding domination are the main and most frequent concerns.
Your favorite fairy tale can be a clue to your concern. Your favorite hero ‘script’, mine is ‘the hero who succeeds in the face of incredible odds’.
You may have no real intention to build intelligence. Why? Maybe you are all about immediate gratification for yourself. Maybe in your worldview it is all a zero sum game: where everyone needs to lose for you to win.
How can that context that is like a straitjacket be shifted?
One important way is by inventing a vision that can unhook you from that rigid zero sum game worldview.
In tomorrow’s Vision workshop we’ll test it out.
Having that zero sum worldview, where for you to win, others need to lose, as if possibility were a pizza pie, and if you eat the last slice, the game is over… comes, interestingly from the number two in your numerical makeup. But it is not limited to the two people…
The horse lady wants to win every argument… and she is a 3-zero. So no, not only twos live this way.
Whatever is holding you back from building a life you love, inventing a vision, like a blueprint for your life is an amazing experience. If you think you want more out of life than you have, and you feel you are willing to move your finger to actually do something about it (most don’t!!!) then the Vision workshop is for you.
Let’s work on a vision that lights you up!
- In this article I am illustrating my own method of how to learn something using the ‘zone of proximal development’ by connecting the new material to already strong distinctions. The zone of proximal development is the area where you already have scaffolding, furring strips for the new distinction to attach itself. Most people have very few and very sparsely… and the illusion of knowledge prevents them from actually creating those islands of knowledge…
- The book on Brain Plasticity: The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge MD. I read that book. It talks about learning that is not intellectual, therefore even YOU will get that knowing about it, practicing it a little, won’t create the neural automatic island of connection: it talks about blind people learning to see through a patch on their body, a paralyzed stroke induces arm or hand learn to do the movements it needs to learn, etc.
That book really pokes a hole into the worldwide myth that reading a book, watching a video, taking a course will create working knowledge in your brain. If for no other reason, read it if you can. I only have the printed version, so I can’t gift you with the book, sorry.