Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning – Tom Vanderbilt
Thoughts: Not bad. Beginners discusses why it’s worth developing new skills as an adult, and includes some tips for how to acquire these new skills. Didn’t take that much from it.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering. I read this as an e-book, so page numbers are as they appeared in the app I used, Libby.)
Vanderbilt, Tom. 2021. Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning. Alfred A. Knopf.
Prologue: The Opening Gambit
Chapter One: A Beginner’s Guide to Being a Beginner
- 23 epigraph: “A man… progresses in all things by making a fool of himself.” - George Bernard Shaw
- 26-27: declarative vs procedural knowledge
- 32: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities…. In the expert’s mind there are few.” - Shunryu Suzuki
- 34: “As a sometime travel writer, I have a strategy: Take the most notes on the first day. That’s when you see the most. In the clumsily self-conscious early stages of skill learning, it can be hard to remember to take note of your surroundings.”
- 40: “The skill of having perfect pitch, for example, which not only is exceedingly rare but has long been thought to be impossible outside a narrow band of childhood, can, as research from the University of Chicago has shown, be trained—if to not quite as high a level as those possessing ‘true’ perfect pitch—in some adults.” (!)
- 45: “The linguist Michael Ramscar argues that some of what looks like cognitive decline in laboratory tests is actually just a function of learning. He has shown that when you ask younger and older subjects to memorize bunches of word pairs like ‘baby-cries’ and ‘obey-eagle,’ older adults do worse at the pairs like ‘obey-eagle.’ In a test result, this looks bad. ¶ But older adults, he maintains, have simply learned that over time we tend to hear words like ‘baby’ and ‘cries’ in the same sentence and tend not to hear ‘obey’ closely linked to ‘eagle.’ That latter phrase seems less important, so our brains don’t waste effort encoding it to memory.”
Chapter Two: Learning How to Learn
Chapter Three: Unlearning to Sing
Chapter Four: I Don’t Know What I’m Doing, But I’m Doing it Anyway
Chapter Five: Surfing the U-Shaped Wave
Chapter Six: How We Learn to Do Things
- 197-198: “While we tend to think of feedback as a diagnostic tool for fixing mistakes, a growing body of research shows that people not only prefer to be given feedback on their successful attempts at a skill; they seem to learn better this way.”
Chapter Seven: Meditation with Benefits
- j: drawing could be a skill worth cultivating
Chapter Eight: The Apprentice
- 233: “Swimmers, as one long-term study found, lived longer than people with a sedentary lifestyle. This you’d expect. But they also seemed to live longer than walkers or runners, for reasons that aren’t clear.”
- 262: “In science, if you know what you are doing you should not be doing it. [In engineering, however,] if you do not know what you are doing you should not be doing it.” - Richard Hamming
Posted: Sep 10, 2023. Last updated: Sep 10, 2023.