Tuesday, June 7, 2011

If you're not confused, you're doing it wrong

Whether you're working in the lab, trying to discover New Things, or taking a class, trying to learn New Things, you will invariably get confused.

This is a good thing

Classroom. In order for your brain to absorb new knowledge, it first needs to be open to it. You will not be able to absorb the new facts presented to you until your brain has had a chance to mark the facts currently stored as 'inadequate to explain presented facts'. The first order of business, therefore, is to make sure that all old knowledge is marked as such. The best way to do this, is to frame questions and demonstrations in terms of old knowledge, and demonstrate that the old knowledge does not adequately describe these new facts: confusion.

Lab. When you're working in the lab, trying to discover new things, you want to be in a territory that is uncharted. The best way to make sure of that is to do something that nobody else has ever done before. Therefore, the confusion that you encounter when seeing something unexpected is the best indicator that you're on the right track. Confusion, therefore, is a Good Thing. As Isaac Asimov wrote : The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny..."

When I'm in the lab, and I encounter something confusing, I know I'm doing something right. Conversely, if I'm not confused and find myself seeing things that I, or others, have seen before, I know I'm doing it wrong.

That being said, this all should ultimately lead to understanding and a resolution to the confused state of mind. If that is not the case ... well ... I'll be writing about the future.

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