grazing for knowledge, then assembling the pieces

in the mid-90s someone gave me a copy of engines of creation. this blew my mind. well, more accurately, that, plus a copy of neil stephenson’s the diamond age, blew my mind. nanotech is still a ways off from realizing the vision laid out in either of these books. but we’re starting to see the nascent forms of this kind of create your own product with the emergence of low cost stereolitho gear and and micro-manufacturing. the raw materials are just a little less raw than drexler (or feynman if you want to be pedantic) posed we’d be crafting with.

but that really isn’t the point of this post, i followed a link erix drexler’s blog the other day and ran across this little gem - How to Learn About Everything. in this article he suggests the following workflow:

  1. Read and skim journals and textbooks that (at the moment) you only half understand. Include Science and Nature.
  2. Don’t halt, dig a hole, and study a particular subject as if you had to pass a test on it.
  3. Don’t avoid a subject because it seems beyond you. instead, read other half-understandable journals and textbooks to absorb more vocabulary, perspective, and context, then circle back.
  4. Notice that concepts make more sense when you revisit a topic.
    Notice which topics link in all directions, and provide keys to many others. Consider taking a class.
  5. Continue until almost everything you encounter in Science and Naturemakes sense as a contribution to a field you know something about.

i’ve been surprised by how close this is to my knowledge acquisition process. i don’t necessarily read Science and Nature (at least with the objectives he’s outline) but i do have a nasty habit of hoovering information up from a wide array of sources and applying my filtration to things and establishing the linkages that are interesting or relevant to me. this seems to be more than a little useful when it comes to tackling problems from different perspectives or understanding how to break things down into digestible chunks for research or fixing. i don’t know how many folks apply a similar process to knowledge / information acquisition, but in a world where you have to constantly throw some information out on a regular basis, supporting this mode of knowledge acquisition is increasingly difficult.