Knowledge Accumulation – How Learning Breaks the Laws of Physics

One of the most important and prevailing laws of science is that Energy is Conserved. When anything happens, energy doesn’t disappear, it simply gets transferred or converted into a different form of energy.

In this post we’ll explore how this holds true in the world of energy waves such as light, but perhaps doesn’t hold true in human knowledge accumulation.

The figure illustrates the governing equation: 

Total Energy = Absorbed Energy + Transmitted Energy + Reflected Energy

This means that the total amount of energy put into the system must exist somewhere else afterwards. Light can either be absorbed, transmitted, or reflected, and if any of these methods of energy transfer increase, another must decrease to keep the equation balanced. Different materials have different properties when it comes to how they deal with energy, and you already know this. A white shirt reflects more light to keep us cool and a dark shirt absorbs much more light and thus feels warmer on a sunny day. We can therefore adjust what we wear or use depending on the need we have. 

Knowledge Accumulation Breaks the Law

I’m now going to break from my usual norm of saying laws of science directly correlate with humanity here and declare that I don’t think this holds completely true when it comes to knowledge accumulation.

When knowledge comes upon us in any form (reading, watching videos, someone explaining things to us, etc.) it has the opportunity to be not just conserved, but expanded and multiplied!

Think how limiting it would be if we received knowledge and we either had to reflect it (meaning we never really captured it for ourselves), absorb it (meaning we kept it for ourselves), or transmit it (let it pass on to someone else). The beauty of knowledge is that we can both absorb and transmit it! Truth be told, we often just reflect it and never get it in the first place…

In the case of knowledge, I submit we should optimize ourselves for maximum absorption and transmission while minimizing reflection.  I believe in the adage, “the best way to learn is to teach,” which means that the more we transmit and share with others, the more we will also absorb.

5 Suggestions for Maximizing Knowledge

I have five suggestions for learning something new to be able to maximize it’s power in your life and the lives of those around you!

  1. Identify a knowledge gap you have that you’d like to close, something that you’d really like to learn
  2. Research the best sources of information on the topic – experts, courses, friends with experience – make sure it is a source you trust. 
  3. Allocate time each day/week to learning. Don’t just hope you’ll find time, schedule time.
  4. Motivate the learning experience with a goal in mind. Do you want to learn some French before you go to Paris? Do you want to learn carpentry so you can build some furniture? Do you have a test you are studying for? Connect the learning with an outcome.
  5. Teach someone else what you have learned. Share your knowledge, demonstrate it, and multiply it by giving the gift of knowledge to others. 

Our minds are amazing, and we can learn a lot in a short time. We don’t have to become a 10,000 hour expert, but rather we can simply get good enough to accomplish a goal. In support of these ideas, you may enjoy this TedX Talk like I did by Josh Kaufmann – “The First 20 Hours – how to learn anything.”

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