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You want to be more intelligent but are not
sure how to do it.
You want better grades, or perhaps just want
to sound clever when hanging out with your
friends.
But you find like a lot of other people that
sometimes things go in one ear and come right
out of the other.
You learn stuff and then forget it, and when
asked about various subjects it always seems
you can’t articulate your thoughts when
asked to do so.
You are not alone, and today we are going
to offer you some help.
The man who will help us to become more intelligent
is now deceased, but in his lifetime this
American physicist named Richard Feynman was
quite well known for being able to explain
very difficult matters of science to laymen
like us.
He kind of popularized science in his day,
much like the British physicist Brian Cox
is busy doing today.
We should all try and understand the world
around us, but at times we pick up a book
and are just completely overwhelmed by what
we read.
We won’t do a full biography of this dearly
departed scientist, but will tell you that
in 1965 he won the Nobel Prize.
He was one of the guys that worked on the
atomic bomb; he spearheaded the science of
nanotechnology and was a pioneer of quantum
computing.
He has been called a certified genius and
one of the greatest physicists that ever lived.
He wanted regular people to know a lot more
about science and he came up with ideas as
to how they might learn more and be able to
articulate what they know to others.
His method for learning stuff became known
as the Feynman Technique, and while he was
a scientist his technique could work for any
subject matter.
Let’s say you want to wax about Greek philosophy
in the bar over a beer, or you would like
to impress someone with your knowledge of
the French Revolution, or perhaps just pass
a test in school.
This technique can help with all of that.
First of all let’s look at something an
American philosopher named Mortimer Adler
once said.
His wise words were, “The person who says
he knows what he thinks but cannot express
it usually does not know what he thinks.”
So, you think you know quite a lot about something,
say Blockchain technology or how a television
works.
Then we say to you, ok big brain, explain
what you know.
You try and do this but can’t seem to get
it across and so just say something like,
“Well, I know, but I just can’t explain
it.”
We’ve all been in this situation.
According to Feynman this means you actually
don’t fully understand what you profess
to understand.
If you really understood it you could explain
it in the simplest terms to someone else and
pass on the knowledge.
You see, Feynman believed that sometimes we
can explain things with a bunch of words but
we don’t really know what we are talking
about.
He said there is a big difference between
knowing the name of something and really actually
knowing something inside and out.
We might now look at something the great Oscar
Wilde said, a man who is quoted perhaps more
than anyone.
He said, “I am so clever that sometimes
I don’t understand a single word of what I
am saying.”
We can sometimes think we know something and
are able to regurgitate a book we read, but
we might not know what we are talking about
intimately.
For Feynman we had to get past fuzzy knowledge
and know something thoroughly.
Albert Einstein would have agreed, because
he once said this, “If you can’t explain
it simply, you don’t understand it well
enough.”
Ok, so how does it actually work?
First of all you have to have a topic, something
you want to know more about.
Let’s take a subject we have talked about
in quite a few of our shows, and that’s
how babies are made.
What happens before we are born; what happens
to our bodies during the act that makes babies
and what happens during pregnancy.
If you’ve seen those shows you’ll know
it’s all quite complex, but you certainly
don’t have to be especially clever to be
able to explain this to someone else.
Nonetheless, sometimes when you research a
topic the words seem difficult.
If you want to really understand something,
you must be able to read those words and then
simplify.
Feynman once famously said, “You may know
the name of a bird in all the languages of
the world, but in the end, you will know absolutely
nothing about whatever the bird is.
So, let’s look at the bird and see what it
does – that’s what counts.
I learned early enough the difference between
knowing the name of something and knowing
something.”
According to Feynman, we must start with a
topic and then write down everything we already
know about this topic on a piece of paper.
You could of course use a computer, but let’s
first do this paper and then write it up after
on a device.
This will also help.
The second step is to take out all the jargon
you just wrote down.
You now tell yourself that you are going to
explain all this to a 12-year old, not your
friend who is in his twenties.
This means adding a lot of explanations.
In your case, you are describing what happens
in a woman’s body and so you must explain
all the body parts.
You can’t just say “uterus” without
explaining what it is and what its function
is.
This is a kid you are talking to, and you
must take it that he doesn’t know much.
According to Feynman, we often just use words
we don’t fully understand, and by pretending
we are explaining something to a child will
really let us understand if we actually know
what we are talking about.
You will find when you do it this way there
will be gaps in what you know.
You’ll know some stuff well, but there will
be parts of the subject you didn’t know
that well, whether it is a woman’s reproductive
organs or Blockchain technology.
So, step two is to look at where those gaps
are, where you couldn’t properly relay the
correct information to your 12-year old student.
This is when you have to go back to the source
material and learn again what you might have
read before.
Do some reading and then go back to your gap
and fill it in using that simple language
your student can understand.
This will maintain a thorough understanding
of the topic and prevent what some people
call the “illusion of knowledge.”
Now when you have filled all those gaps make
sure of one thing, and that is all the language
is yours.
You haven’t just borrowed it from a book,
because 12-year old children wouldn’t read
the books you were reading.
Read aloud what you have written down and
if you think this student wouldn’t get it
then simplify it again.
Do this until you are 100 percent sure your
student will get what you are saying.
You have now taken something fairly difficult
and made it very learnable.
Well done, you are becoming an excellent teacher.
Now comes the best part.
You actually have to teach a young student
what you have learned.
You don’t have to always do this of course,
but if you want to really know you have understood
your subject matter then go out and teach
someone.
It’s one thing having something in your
head and written down, but it’s another
being able to convey that information so someone
understands.
If you are studying for an exam, say on American
Independence, then find someone younger than
you and explain to them what happened.
If they get it you have succeeded.
A 12-year old kid might not always remember
how a television works after you have explained
it to him, but if that kid understands what
you are saying because you have laid it out
so simply, you have done well.
There is a big difference from explaining
things using jargon to explaining things in
the most basic language.
Feynman believed if we can’t break something
down we haven’t actually properly learned
it.
You might think that some matters of science
can’t be broken down like this, but just
look at how that man we mentioned, Brian Cox,
does it.
He is brilliant at taking very difficult subjects
and making them interesting to us laymen.
He has said numerous times that Feynman is
one of his heroes.
Like Feynman, Cox doesn’t want to sound
clever.
This is sometimes a problem in academia and
it can alienate people from wanting to learn
something.
The truth is that clever people can make difficult
things sound easy.
Feynman was once asked to write a lecture
on why “one-half spin particles obey Fermi-Dirac.”
Hmm, you are thinking, there is just no way
he could make that sound easy.
When he went back to the guy who had asked
him to write that lecture Feynman said I can’t
do it.
He then also said, I mustn’t understand
it if I can’t do it.
So, if you can’t explain your subject to
a 12-year old maybe you just have to do more.
In matters of science, though, it might actually
mean scientists don’t yet fully understand
something.
Maybe you are still in school or university
or maybe you just want to know something better.
Now is the time to take out a piece of paper
and write down what it is you want to know.
You can now start the process we have talked
about today.
We can assure you that this works and by using
the Feynman Technique you can pretty much
learn anything you want.
Of course some books might already be difficult
for you, but then you have to find a teacher
that has already used the technique and broken
the subject matter down.
You see this a lot with philosophy.
You have people like Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche
that are very difficult to understand, but
then you also have people that have written
companions to their works to help you understand.
We actually found people online who used this
technique to get through medical school, and
we found lots and lots of people who had used
the technique to get through high school.
We found teachers and lecturers on forums
saying how “incredibly effective” the
method was, and you can find people saying
things such as this:
“All too often, we hear a lecture and can
quote back parts of it verbatim.
That does not mean we understand the concepts,
just the we have remembered the words.
The better test is to try to explain the concepts
in your own words to someone who isn’t in
your field, or as some have indicated, the
proverbial 5 year old.
To do this we have to simplify the language
and very often, use some sort of meaningful
metaphor.
If we struggle in doing this, then there is
likely a hole in our thinking that needs to
be repaired before moving on.”
Have you ever used the Feynman Technique?
Will you start using it after watching this
show?
Tell us in the comments.
Also be sure to check out our other video
the Scientifically Proven Best Ways to Study.
Thanks for watching, and as always, don’t
forget to like, share and subscribe.
See you next time.