Today we finish the remaining five elements of learning to Think like Einstein.
The first post of this two-part series discussed general principles of building one’s mind. This second part gives a step-by-step approach to developing a powerful understanding of a great many subjects. Each of the five remaining elements may appear complex, but they make a lot of sense to the discerning reader.
We Only Have “So Much” Time for Building Our Knowledge
They are built on my insight a few years back that each of us have time in life to read only “x number” of books and none of us are getting any younger. So whatever our plan, we better get “on it” if we are serious about learning and growing intellectually. Think of it this way, the average person reads almost nothing or at least nothing of real intellectual value. Of those who do read important things, their primary mistake (in my opinion) is that the read (a) the wrong things, (b) do so in the wrong order, and (c) exhaust the number of books they can realistically read before they know all they should-could have known.
So, let’s assume you can consistently read 12 serious books a year. If you live another 20 years, that’s 240 books. See what I mean? 240 books is about what you can get on a bookshelf. That’s it! My point is that with all of the books available, you must be unusually judicious on what you spend your time reading—otherwise, you’ll burn through your 240 books and have wasted (not invested) much of your reading time on trivial tripe.
Where Do I Start?
So, where do you start? Well, it’s not where you think.
Most people would assume “Oh, so I should go to the great classics and just read the top 100 or 200 or 300 classics of all time…,” and that’s what is called a “great books” approach. I think this is a healthy approach, but not the best one.
Below is my suggestion.
Summary Thus Far (Steps 1-5)
If you follow my advice, by this point (using steps 1-5) you will have:
1. Developed a commitment to really KNOWING and learning, not just “being familiar” with lots of things.
2. Identified the major area(s) you are interested in knowing about
3. Discovered the best resources in each area(s) of knowledge you want to discover or master
4. Studied the “large general fields of study” from a Christian perspective. Meaning, instead of studying “details about” or “different disciplines within the major area of knowledge” you begin to study summaries of the entire body of knowledge in that area… LIKE “theology” ITSELF (summaries of what ‘theology’ is) and LIKE “philosophy” ITSELF… NOT areas WITHIN theology or philosophy or what have you.
5. You then, having a good Christian perspective (if you are a Christian and, in fact, if you aren’t I’d still suggest it), study these topics broadly through other authors.
Now What? (Steps 6-10)
6. Begin Studying the Major Areas Within Each Area of Knowledge. Now that you’re “beginning” to understand each major subject area (theology, philosophy, history, leadership, management, psychology, whatever), now (since you actually understand what these subjects ARE), begin to study each major secondary area or “sub-set” of these subjects. For example, in Philosophy—you’d only now begin to really study the major areas within philosophy, such as: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. In Theology, you’d begin to study those major areas, like Biblical, Historical, Philosophical, Systematic, and Practical Theology. And so on. Of course, you might ask—how would I even know these major areas within my fields of study? Well, if you have done steps 4 and 5, you will already have an intimate knowledge that these are the major areas of study within that discipline. But, if you don’t take this approach, you could read 40 books and maybe never realize these truths. See what I mean?
I know… this isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who are serious about knowledge at a high level, keep reading.
7. Now Focus Your Study on Each of Those Primary Branches “In Detail.” Meaning, take your growing understanding of each of these individual fields (like biblical, historical, systematic theology… and so on, or metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and so on) and CRUCIAL, begin to identify the major movements, power brokers/idea makers/books & eras/time periods of those branches. In fact, why not work to memorize these—commit them to memory? Need an example? OK, let’s take Existentialism. Here, you might study each of the major Existentialists and their works—like Jeremy Bentham, Soren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mills, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, and what each wrote.
8. Now Begin to Focus on Each of Those Fields and Think About The Differences Between The Major Thinkers, Books, and Movements. For example—If you were studying the philosophical area of Existentialism, ask yourself—among those major players (identified in #7 above), what were the major differences between each of their works? Let’s say that they all agreed on 90% of their ideas—but what distinguished them from one another? That’s what I mean. And you could do that for each of the major areas that interest YOU and that YOU really want to learn about in detail.
9. Now, Finally, Begin to Read Individual Books Written By Specific Authors of Interest. Now, think of it… after all this, you have a SIGNIFICANT BREADTH AND DEPTH of understanding of all areas of your field of study… and know you are getting into the nitty-gritty of these areas.
10. Document Your Knowledge. Now, having invested this time—do whatever it takes to help others understand what you know. Make and record, in retrievable form, summaries of these ideas and people and books –record insights, draw images with diagrams and tables and graphs, then identify and record relationships between and across fields of knowledge.
Finally, most important in all of this is an often-forgotten idea: Slow Down – and THINK more than you read. Most people spend all their time READING and little or no time THINKING.
The result of all of this?
You will develop profound and intimate knowledge into the deep nuances of your field of study—you are becoming an EXPERT… because you have done what others have not done.