The way knowledge is often tought at school is through memorizing and guessing correct answers AKA teacher’s “passwords”. In school teachers hands you a gold star for saying the answers that teacher heard a physicist emit. It leaves people with the impression that they have knowledge but what they mostly have are memorized words.
Real learning is about finding knowledge that controls anticipation. The key skill is about being aware of the difference between an explanation and a password.
What remains is not a belief, but a verbal behavior.
Explaining the guessing password process:
Suppose the teacher asks you why the far side of a metal plate feels warmer than the side next to the radiator. If you say “I don’t know,” you have no chance of getting a gold star—it won’t even count as class participation. But, during the current semester, this teacher has used the phrases “because of heat convection,” “because of heat conduction,” and “because of radiant heat.” One of these is probably what the teacher wants. You say, “Eh, maybe because of heat conduction?” This is not a hypothesis about the metal plate. This is not even a proper belief. It is an attempt to guess the teacher’s password.
Knowledge should be about controlling what you anticipate:
Part of unlearning this bad habit is becoming consciously aware of the difference between an explanation and a password.
Even visualizing the symbols of the diffusion equation (the math governing heat conduction) doesn’t mean you’ve formed a hypothesis about the metal plate. This is not school; we are not testing your memory to see if you can write down the diffusion equation. This is Bayescraft; we are scoring your anticipations of experience. If you use the diffusion equation, by measuring a few points with a thermometer and then trying to predict what the thermometer will say on the next measurement, then it is definitely connected to experience. Even if the student just visualizes something flowing, and therefore holds a match near the cooler side of the plate to try to measure where the heat goes, then this mental image of flowing-ness connects to experience; it controls anticipation. If you aren’t using the diffusion equation—putting in numbers and getting out results that control your anticipation of particular experiences—then the connection between map and territory is severed as though by a knife. What remains is not a belief, but a verbal behavior.
Maybe, if we drill students that words don’t count, only anticipation-controllers, the student will not get stuck on “Heat conduction? No? Maybe heat convection? That’s not it either?”
Excerpt: dialogue on how to approach learning
Maybe then, thinking the phrase “heat conduction” will lead onto a genuinely helpful path, like:
- “Heat conduction?”
- But that’s only a phrase—what does it mean?
- The diffusion equation?
- But those are only symbols—how do I apply them?
- What does applying the diffusion equation lead me to anticipate?
- It sure doesn’t lead me to anticipate that the side of a metal plate farther away from a radiator would feel warmer.
- I notice that I am confused. Maybe the near side just feels cooler, because it’s made of more insulative material and transfers less heat to my hand? I’ll try measuring the temperature . . .
- Okay, that wasn’t it. Can I try to verify whether the diffusion equation holds true of this metal plate, at all? Is heat flowing the way it usually does, or is something else going on?
- I could hold a match to the plate and try to measure how heat spreads over time . . .