Tuesday, August 28, 2012


a book about Christine Granville – econ

ambri 2 years away – giga

getting to mars as signature event – nyt

digestion issues and calories – sa

simple and measurable improvements – blog

aws – nyt

burning man site

Good to hear from you!
I’m on my way to Burning Man in Nevada,
you should look up some
videos, that’s where the really interesting stuff is happening.

Thinking about vision and reach

One of the things I have learned over the years is that my capacity to learn has not been a fixed thing. Sometimes I was capable of learning more and faster. Sometimes this capacity shrank. This was disorienting when I wanted to master something, but found that my capacity wasn’t up to the job. Like when I struggled through my final semester of calculus in university. It had been so easy before!

At the same time, the sense that our capacity is fluid presents us with a rather intriguing possibility. If we can identify the factors that increase our capacity to learn, we can make better use of learning in our lives. We can get a lot smarter. Hmm … that would be nice.

So what factors help us to learn?  Here is my initial thought, and it has to do with the left side/right side dynamic in the brain. The left side of the brain is bounded. In other words, it operates within a fixed set of parameters and strives to tidy up the mess of data that it is given. But the right side expands our vision and experience. You might say that we see with the right side and think with the left. We use both in learning but in different ways.

Here is the learning problem. Our capacity to see (right side) does not change quickly. We can’t speed it up. It goes at its own pace. But our capacity to use what we believe(left side) can be pushed to go faster (like when we race to solve a sudoku puzzle). So, to expand our vision of what is possible we need to slow down. To expand our capacity to use what we see, we need to speed up.  There is at least a superficial contradiction.

Can we resolve that contradiction? Sure. We just need to find the optimal balance between slowing down and speeding up. Something like this. We strive to slow our movements down, valuing the slowing down so that we can see more and allow our vision to evolve.  Within this slow mode, we free the mind to move as fast as it wants to (assembling possibilities from what our vision gives us). Move slow, learn fast? I don’t offer this as an ultimate solution. But just a starting point to test capacity building. BTW,  this is what meditation offers. Stopping movement and freeing the brain.

On a more basic level, I see a distinction between to critical vales.

One is vision. In order to learn, we have to value seeing beyond what is at the end of out nose. Lydia Netzer’s article on why getting humans to mars gives a good example of an expression of this value.

The second is reach. Within our vision, we should value expanding what is possible to do. Thus we squeeze out the full value from the experiences. We also see what is beyond our reach at present.

It is tempting to use these words primarily as descriptions of capacity. So we might say that we admire the vision of a great person. But we can think of them in terms of values as well. We all have vision and reach. But we differ in how well we use them to good ends.

FOLLOW –  And my problem with calculus? Something had changed between my earlier and last experiences. During my final semester, I was seeing other stuff that was exhausting my mental capacity in this area. You might say that I had far less reach than I had had before.

2d FOLLOW –  The above vocabulary opens up an area of thinking about institutional learning capacity. In groups, it is important for all participants to work with vision and reach issues – and to distinguish them within the storyline that holds the group together.


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