What I was not told

Table of Contents

What I was told and what I was not told.

Maybe there is a bug where adults think early the child does not understand that yet and later they think they know about this by now. And then you do not end up telling them the continents of the world… or any number of things.

Also, just what I would have liked to know earlier. Any young person whose mind is sufficiently similar to mine will benefit greatly from being exposed to these.

Attempt at The 10

I tried to come up with 10 things to show a child before they are 8.

A spark and a machine

One thing I find strange is when children are stuck remembering all dinosaurs or something.

Why is this curiosity not guided into giving the child the chance to be curious about topics of biology, paleontology, big history, the origin of life, the future of life, or the history of science.

What if you only need 1 spark to make a child seriously curious about a real, useful human inquiry? And then you need to provide them with the machinery to satisfy their curiosity.

One might do a bait and switch. Highlight an aspect of nature, like Why do you think the ball is falling?, Did you know that your pee is actually filtered blood? 2.

Then, when the child is making curious inquiries, you bring in some larger topics like:

This is what the kidney does → the study of what things in the body do is called physiology.

If I was that child, I would want to know about physiology now.

How to, not just hope the students figure something out

Holding a pen

For some reason, there is way too much focus on outcomes and almost nothing on methods and techniques.

For instance, I was given a pen and told to produce letters on a piece of paper. Nothing about how to hold a pen, nothing about how writing has a technique that involves your arm, rhythm, etc.

Wiki how lists 3 ways of holding a pen with some guidance on how to loosen up and use the arm. This is a 10-minute read that is more useful than what any adult told me about my writing for 12 years of school.

Usually, a student is told to spend more effort in some way or another, or straight up your writing is just ugly. Useless, because no recipe is given for how to fix it.

The bug is most likely not the lack of effort but the lack insight into of what to do with the effort. The student did not yet discover how to turn effort into being better at writing, else they would have succeeded already.

Just give them this wiki how article instead.


Similarly, there are techniques for how to do mental calculations etc3. There are memory techniques (see below).

Memory techniques exist

At school, I was given some pieces of paper with text on them and hey let's just hope you remember that for the exam!

Some children probably come up with a bit of ad-hoc memory techniques and then do better at this. Ala:

It was written down on my learn cheat page on the bottom left…

I found out about the Mind Palace (How To) a few years after school.

When I studied biology I was going through textbooks and put in all that biochemistry, taxonomy, genetics, neuroscience etc. into imaginary places, buildings, landscapes… towering elven cities under blue skies with flying libraries, lush open spaces, and little cozy hidden balconies, brimming with the wonders and the magic of science.

It was an amazing mind-expanding experience. A new private world, new interaction with knowledge, and an actual art form and a practice of how to use the mind.

The fundamental good idea is to use what the mind is good at (visuals, faces, places, stories) to encode what you want to remember.

Repetition is key; And some rigor when coming up with and sticking to encoding schemes.

The beauty of the mind palace and memory techniques goes further, you develop a personal style and understand what makes things memorable.

The Mind Palace is single-person audience performance art. With the audience being you at a later moment in time.

This happened to me more than once:

What the fuck was I thinking there? Why did I think this would be a good way to remember this?.

The concept of whole worlds

Somebody forgot to tell me that science, technology and thinking are made of entire worlds. There are landscapes of thinking.

It is like getting an elaborate tour of a harbor, every few weeks you visit another ship and you get a presentation of the treasures and wonders of some foreign land.

And then later, when you finally stumble upon reading The Selfish Gene, you realize that all those ships worked by sailing somewhere.

Nobody ever told you about the ocean and about how ships work.

Why The Selfish Gene

In July 2017, the book was listed as the most influential science book of all time in a poll to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Royal Society science book prize, ahead of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. 4

The reason is not only because it explained and fleshed out important concepts in the philosophy of biology and evolutionary theory.

It is that it showcases, in an accessible format, the power of simply thinking ideas.

Dawkins describes not how something works, but a way of looking. (Also called The Genes Eye View).

He abstracts genes to replicators, then thinks on the abstract level about how replicators behave. This allowed him to plausibly predict computer viruses in 1976. Complete with musings about what we now call anti-virus software, firewalls etc. Predictive power is a hallmark of the most powerful theories and models of science.5

In chapter 12 he discovers the concept of memes, such a joyful and intriguing idea. The replicator point of view applied to mental contents6

It explains how altruism evolves and maybe the world would be better of if the title was The Altruistic Gene.7

It is the clear thinking, the power of the ideas, the masterful style and simple explanations.

It makes the reader be able to use common sense. I can use my eyes and immediately parse objects in my visual scene, And so I can use common sense to immediately understand concepts. This is how good philosophy, good explaining of ideas and good computer programming are done.

This is what this book is doing to you.

And so this book is a doorway into the world of worlds of thinking.

Strategies for exploring knowledge

A child is curious by nature:

Why is the sky blue?, Why is the sky red sometimes?, Why do things float in water?

The only thing a child has for acquiring knowledge about such things at the beginning is to ask adults. If the child is unlucky and asks somebody that does not have a useful answer to this, this is bad.

A good answer might be read this book8, read this Wikipedia article. This is fine. Somehow we need to teach strategies for exploring knowledge.

that is what you learn at university

Horrible idea. This should be a red flag to any educator, it means you do not understand a concept well enough to explain it to a child.

And a red flag for society - we do not have the infrastructure to point curious young people to the knowledge they desire.

It is as if we do our best to produce mediocre thinkers. Pure insanity.


Software is magic.

In principle, it is the most expressive art medium.9

I wish I would have realized earlier what a beautiful world it is.

Maybe if I was introduced to Lisp and Clojure somehow.



A good textbook is a masterful journey into a world.

Maybe there is a bug where teachers think they only point the most curious students to deeper literature, but the students do not know yet what to be curious about in the first place.

If you do not know the concept of deeper literature in the first place, how can you ask?

The other bug is thinking that there is hard literature for university and easy school books or something. I believe this is a mistake because the best textbooks are beautifully accessible.

There is no reason why a 15-year-old can not go through some.

When Rick in Rick and Morty says "school is not a place for smart people", he means that school is for sitting still and deliver on mediocre feats of thinking.

If you want to think the extraordinary, you have to read what extraordinary people have put out there.

The missing practical psychology

What if there is a way to use what the mind is good at, the way the mind palace works, and apply it to math, scientific concepts, writing, etc. etc.

Sometimes I came across a single sentence or such that elucidated a concept.

I will never forget:

First, you walk to the tree, then you can go up the tree.

This forever is my mnemonic of knowing that the first part of a 2D vector is the x coord or the horizontal axis.

What if there is an art and a technique to come up with these, and let children understand them at the right pace? I imagine some of those being larger stories, for instance with characters that symbolize concepts.

For instance, children remember Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Snape.

Why, then should it be hard to remember Nominative, Accusative, Genetive, Dative?

The answer is you don't use the brain of the child right, …yet.

There is a science and practice of practical psychology (Minsky 2007) missing.

What if 12th grade would take about 20 minutes if you just build up the right infrastructure of mnemonics, HaHa!

Minksy (Minsky 2007) randomly came up with an idea of an Imagine! book full of imagine exercises of gradually increasing difficulty. A similar idea to the mind palace, which works by imagination.

How to actually fix this?

… Biographical information on a sample of twenty men of genius suggests that the typical developmental pattern includes as important aspects: (1) a high degree of attention focused upon the child by parents and other adults, expressed in intensive educational measures and, usually, abundant love; (2) isolation from other children, especially outside the family; and (3) a rich efflorescence of fantasy as a reaction to the preceding conditions." … [If so, then] the mass education of our public school system is, in its way, a vast experiment on the effect of reducing all three factors to a minimum: accordingly, it should tend to suppress the occurrence of genius. —Harold McCurdy, 1960 10

The ultimate learning experience

In the The Diamond Age, we follow the path of a 4-year-old girl that gets to read The Primer, an advanced technological gadget and computer system in the form of a book. It first tells the child stories. Engaging and tailored to the psychology of the child. Then gradually teaches them science. It is also a companion, teaching about all things you might encounter in life.

The book is interactive. For instance, in later chapters, the user would program tutorial programs on it etc.

There is no reason this would be for children only. The gadget could figure out the perfect next thing for you to learn about.

We are almost close to being able to pull this off. Could be large language models with a big context about the learning state of the user. Plus some nice interactive, evolving computer environment.


A Short History of Nearly Everything

Nice big history book with lots of history of science. Talks about the epic journey of how we understand what the universe is about.

And it has a children's version. But I don't know how good it is.

Unstoppable Us, Yuval Noah Harari

Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Outgrowing God, Richard Dawkins

This is for young people that realize religion does not make sense.

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

This book is so easy to read, you can read it early. For example at 12 - 14.

15+ and curious about how the brain works?

Start with How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker.

Follow the literary references trail to where you are interested.

  • Read Vehicles, experience what a great thinker can do to your mind. Building landscapes.
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith

    This is another very accessible book covering the history of thinking about the mind and thinking about how octopuses work.

  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales, Oliver Sacks

    To see what it means to observe people.

  • Neuroscience, Dale Purves

    Spend half a year with a textbook.

    Realize that textbooks are the best attempt of really smart people deep in the field to provide you with a journey into the field. All that is asked of you is to read and pay attention.

    Of course, it is very powerful to put each chapter into a region of your mind palace. Re-herse the day after. Then after 2 days, after 4 days, after a week, afterward keep the memory alive ad-lib.

  • The Society Of Mind, such a joyful ride into actually thinking about how the mind might work.

    Pure ideas, like philosophy and programming. And like good philosophy or programming, this builds layers of common sense ideas that are easy to follow.



I was listening to a Minsky talk at TCNJ and Manfred Clynes was in the audience describing the same concept, for music performance:


What he calls the feeling of it, the movement I call the mentations for performing a skill.

Emphasis on the fact that you need to unlearn and let go of mentations that are not useful or preventing a good performance.

Clynes and I agree, there is not much description and technique out there about such matters yet.

Surely, this is a concept that master jugglers, dart players and musicians all picked up at some point.


Thanks to Andrew Huberman.


In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Feynman has a chapter on how he was using calculation tricks.

See Martin Gardner for inquiry on this trail.


The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Karl Popper (1959)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn (1962)

I liked

Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Peter Godfrey-Smith (2003)


See memetics


Dawkins explains somewhere that he should have called it The Immortal Gene. He jokes that some critics are reading the book by title alone.


A Short History of Nearly Everything is an amazing ride through big history and the history of science and it has a kid's version.


See Alan Kay and Bret Victor to follow this trail.

And for an amazing rollercoaster of how computers were invented. How J.C.R. Licklider, Douglas Engelbart and others have inspired Kays's generation of computer hackers, see:

The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal.


Harold G. McCurdy, The Childhood Pattern of Genius. Horizon Magazine, May 1960, pp. 32-38

Date: 2023-04-30 Sun 12:26

Email: Benjamin.Schwerdtner@gmail.com