Learning how to Learn

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One of the “meta” topics that I’m most interested in is learning. Learning about new subjects and learning new skills is great but learning how to learn is even better. If you know how to learn in a more effective way you can apply this skill to the learning of any new material. This provides flexibility and adaptability that are increasingly important in the modern world. When the future is uncertain and overwhelmingly complex it is hard to know what skills and subject matters are most important to learn. Will it be more useful for me to study small scale food production, wilderness survival, conflict-resolution, or self-defense? Or would I be better off focusing all my energy on the narrow subject matter of a particular career? In unpredictable and rapidly-changing times one thing is certain: being good at learning itself is a major advantage.

A look at human history and prehistory shows that the ability to adapt to new and rapidly changing conditions is one of the hallmarks of our species. It is likely that much of our biological hardware and cultural software arose to deal with the difficulties of an unpredictable environment and novel challenges. There are many debatable things about human evolution and human nature. However, one thing that is apparent is that we are born to learn.

If we are innately so good at learning how come we often find learning new things difficult, especially as we get older? Unfortunately, our culture, that all-powerful tool, often dictates to us what is possible and not possible. Recent neuroscience continues to show us the incredible feats of plasticity, connection, and memorization that the brain is capable of. Many popular beliefs and cultural assumptions about the limits of the brain have been totally blown out of the water. “An old dog can’t learn new tricks” is a good example of a cultural meme that is not based on brain science and can influence our capabilities. Luckily, we do not have the brains of dogs, and we are indeed capable of learning new tricks, new languages, and other new skills as we age. The burgeoning field of neuroplasticity continues to find evidence that the brain’s ability to learn and adapt is far greater than previously assumed.

I will be writing several entries about learning since it is one of the great meta-topics under which all of my other interests fall. I will get more into specific techniques for improved learning while delving into particular topics of study and also philosophizing about learning and knowledge in general. I will tie in current research in cognitive science because we are in the golden age of brain research. Everyone with a brain should be interested.

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Science Illustration

DSCN3562 Here is an example of one of my illustrations.

My diversity of interests, unique perspective, and holistic outlook have frequently complicated my search for a clearly defined career in today’s myopic and overspecialized world. I often lamented the fact that I could not pursue the multi-faceted life’s work of the renaissance man, such as Leonardo da Vinci, or the diverse skill base of the 19th century scientists and natural historians, such as Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt.

In my continuing quest to find a way to connect my widespread interests and follow a life path that is in tune with my earliest predilections I have found the field of Science Illustration. In particular I have decided to apply for the Science Illustration graduate certificate program at CSU Monterey Bay. This program used to be at UC Santa Cruz and I heard about it when I was studying anthropology there. However, I somehow thought that it was not really a viable career path. Some type of deeply ingrained and insidious bias against art had me subconsciously convinced that art was not something to major in or seek a career in.

For more about the program that I’m applying for checkout the website here:

http://scienceillustration.org/index.htm

Make sure to check out the gallery with alumni artwork here:

http://scienceillustration.org/gallery/galleryhome.htm

Since I was a kid I have loved drawing and I have loved nature. Drawing was always a personal thing for me and I never really pursued formal instruction. Looking back, part of me wishes I had taken it more seriously, took more classes, or majored in art. However, I know that the path I took, no matter how circuitous, has allowed many experiences that are essential to my personality and outlook today. If I had majored in art in college I might not have gone down the path that taught me so much about sustainability, agriculture, homesteading, primitive skills, and tracking.

One of my inspirations for pursuing science illustration is John Muir Laws. He is the author and illustrator of a field guide to the Sierra Nevada and several other books. He fits the bill for a 19th century Naturalist with keen field observation, countless hours of dirt time, evocative and accurate illustration skills, and a strong science background that is not overly specialized, corporatized, or computerized. Laws is also extremely generous with his knowledge and techniques, often teaching workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area and posting many useful tutorials on his website.

Check out John Muir Law’s excellent website:                                   http://johnmuirlaws.com/

I have sent in my application for the CSUMB program and should hear back in the next month or so. It is a very exciting turning point in my life and I am looking forward to an extremely stimulating and challenging learning experience!

I’ll get a portfolio of my work up soon.

Marley’s Background Essay

Every aspect of a person is a reflection of their experiences. What we have seen, heard, or done makes us who we are.

One of the most important influences on my life is my family history. I was born into a family characterized by a convergence of diverse cultural, racial and class backgrounds. My mother’s parents included the son of an ex-slave who grew up on an Indian reservation and became a labor organizer and the daughter of Jewish immigrants form Lithuania who resisted Czarist pogroms. My father’s parents included the son of coal miners of German and Irish descent who became a labor relations expert and the daughter of a German immigrant milkman who at the age of 50 sailed around the world. When I was six years old my parents were divorced and soon thereafter my father moved to Costa Rica.

Exposure to many cultures within my own family provides me with awareness of and some insight into widely divergent ideas and worldviews. Being raised in such a diverse environment has fostered in me an insatiable curiosity and desire to understand the workings of the world and its inhabitants. This global family also gives me the chance to leave the world of most of my peers behind and experience life in other countries.

Since I was six years old I have had the privilege of spending part of almost every year living with my dad in Gunacaste Costa Rica. Being part of a rural Central American community has not only allowed me to become fluent in the language, but in the culture as well. Life on the farm where my dad lives is at polar opposites from life in San Diego, yet both of these places have been home for me. One is a metropolis with millions of people, criss-crossed by freeways while the other is a village of less than a thousand, surrounded by jungle and farmland. The dramatic shift from one home to the other has punctuated the yearly rhythm of my life and made me adaptable. This ability to adapt to new environments has proven useful in my life, especially in my travels.

Three weeks after graduating high school I began a year that would have unprecedented effects on my life. I decided to postpone my studies for a year to travel and work in Central America and Europe. During this time I lived in several European countries, taught English at a Costa Rican High school, and worked on a dairy farm in Denmark. That year of my life provided me with invaluable experiences as well as a newfound confidence and motivation.

Because of the diversity of my family and my experiences I have a unique way of seeing and responding to the world. I am accustomed to interacting with people from all over the planet and adapting to the culture which they belong to. My curiosity and global perspective thrive in today’s increasingly interconnected world.