Stayed up last night reading a molecular bio type paper. Not my cup of tea at all. Had to spend extra time learning stuff. Man! They use too many abbreviations. Deciphering a paper is the first step to critiquing it! T’was fun though.
I heard a joke about a person walking up to various professionals to ask them how much time they would need to read and understand one book. At the end was an engineer, who asked the only counter-question: when’s the exam?
There are fundamental truths in this joke. The old understanding of learning has been log-linear or exponential. We take a long time to take the first bits of knowledge in. Then the learning becomes more rapid. We learn faster as we go on because we are building on prior knowledge.
The modern understanding, as expected, is arrogant and presumptuous. In this school of thought, we measure not knowledge, but ignorance. As knowledge increases, ignorance decreases. Let us use an analogy to comprehend this. When a substance at high temperature us cooling, the rate of cooling depends on the excess temperature of the substance wrt the surroundings. So, the higher its original temperature, the faster the cooling. When the cooling proceeds long enough to bring it close to room temperature though, the cooling rate will be excruciatingly slow. So, 1 liter of water at 27 degrees will take ages to get to the room temperature of 25C.
Ignorance has a similar style. When we attack a subject, what we come across is the surface of a large, juicy apple, and we take a liberal bite. When, however, a few bites have been taken, we find ourselves picking and choosing the next bite-worthy spot. So, we learn in large mouthfuls in the beginning. As time goes on, and the subject becomes more intricate, our large first steps morph into increments. Ultimately, we will learn the subject, but the deeper the microscope focuses, the slower knowledge seems to progress. Or, as we like to say it, ignorance is harder to shake off when you’ve shaken some of it off!