Physics 9

Preliminaries 19
with your hands or mind or both – you need it all! Remember, just as is the case with physical
exercise (which you should get plenty of), mental exercise gradually makes you mentally stronger,
so that you can eventually do easily things that at first appear insurmountably difficult. You can
learn to learn three to ten times as fast as you did in high school, to have more fun while doing it,
and to gain tremendous reasoning capabilities along the way just by trying to learn to learn more
efficiently instead of continuing to use learning strategies that worked (possibly indifferently) back
in elementary and high school.
The next section, at long last, will make a very specific set of suggestions for one very good way
to study physics (or nearly anything else) in a way that maximally takes advantage of your own
volitional biology to make learning as efficient and pleasant as it is possible to be.
How to Do Your Homework Effectively
By now in your academic career (and given the information above) it should be very apparent just
where homework exists in the grand scheme of (learning) things. Ideally, you attend a class where
a warm and attentive professor clearly explains some abstruse concept and a whole raft of facts in
some moderately interactive way that encourages engagement and “being earnest”. Alas, there are
too many facts to fit in short term/immediate memory and too little time to move most of them
through into long term/working memory before finishing with one and moving on to the next one.
The material may appear to be boring and random so that it is difficult to pay full attention to the
patterns being communicated and remain emotionally enthusiastic all the while to help the process
along. As a consequence, by the end of lecture you’ve already forgotten many if not most of the
facts, but if you were paying attention, asked questions as needed, and really cared about learning
the material you would remember a handful of the most important ones, the ones that made your
brief understanding of the material hang (for a brief shining moment) together.
This conceptual overview, however initially tenuous, is the skeleton you will eventually clothe
with facts and experiences to transform it into an entire system of associative memory and reasoning
where you can work intellectually at a high level with little effort and usually with a great deal of
pleasure associated with the very act of thinking. But you aren’t there yet.
You now know that you are not terribly likely to retain a lot of what you are shown in lecture
without engagement. In order to actually learn it, you must stop being a passive recipient of facts.
You must actively develop your understanding, by means of discussing the material and kicking it
around with others, by using the material in some way, by teaching the material to peers as you
come to understand it.
To help facilitate this process, associated with lecture your professor almost certainly gave you
an assignment. Amazingly enough, its purpose is not to torment you or to be the basis of your grade
(although it may well do both). It is to give you some concrete stuff to do while thinking about the
material to be learned, while discussing the material to be learned, while using the material to be
learned to accomplish specific goals, while teaching some of what you figure out to others who are
sharing this whole experience while being taught by them in turn. The assignment is much more
important than lecture, as it is entirely participatory, where real learning is far more likely to occur.
You could, once you learn the trick of it, blow off lecture and do fine in a course in all other respects.
If you fail to do the assignments with your entire spirit engaged, you are doomed.
In other words, to learn you must do your homework, ideally at least partly in a group setting.
The only question is: how should you do it to both finish learning all that stuff you sort-of-got
in lecture and to re-attain the moment(s) of clarity that you then experienced, until eventually it
becomes a permanent characteristic of your awareness and you know and fully understand it all on
your own?

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