This is a talk I gave more than two year ago.
Before I tell you about the theory of knowledge discovery, I think it is better for me to first tell you why it is needed, why I spend so much time on it and elearning and why I think it is important.
There are probably two reasons that I devote myself to elearning. One is on a social sense. The other is on an individual sense.
On the big scope, each individual contributes to the society s/he is living in through some way. I think if I can ever make a social change to make the society progress toward a more optimal future, elearning would be my way to do it. I have seen the effect of revolution in China. I saw the serious side effect of it. It is too dramatic, and too damaging to the society, to the order of the society, which needs many years to set up. I also see that revolution didn’t change the society fundamentally. The soil of the society stays the same. If you read carefully of culture revolution, you will have an idea. The soil has to be changed in order to have any significant systemic stable change. I also dislike the politics. I don’t think it is ultimately necessary although presently it plays some important role in the society. The way I want to bring out the social change is to make the change before any argument. Politics has its role because our present society has certain needs for it. If such needs are got rid of, the politics disappear without/before arguments. Technology is a way to win without arguments. I am very optimistic about the change the technology will bring to the society. I do believe we are living in a better society we ever have in history, and I believe the dramatic development we have in modern society is due to technology. I see learning as an essential nature of human being and I believe that individual learning is a fundamental force for social improvement. A revolutionary change in individual learning will get rid of many needs we have presently. I see that there are many essential learning options not currently available to individuals yet and I know technology can make those options available.
Making social change can be harmful. Many people make social change by forcing other people to follow their ideas. It can be very bad. What I want to do, however, is only to make the options available and keep the options open. Let the people to choose whether they want it or not. I see that in the learning field, there are a lot of options which are not currently available. I am working to make those options available.
So if I would ever make some social change, it would be through the way of making the fundamental change before any arguments. But I don’t have to make social changes. Even I cannot make it, I still think it is ok. At least I enjoyed the playing very much myself and it is very helpful for me personally.
So now I will talk about why I think learning is very important for individuals, and thus for the society. It is based on my personal experiences. Like in Zen, we tried to understand the nature of ourselves first. In a lot of senses, we draw from our own experiences to understand other people and the society.
So talking about my experiences, I feel that there are mainly three domains that I need to learn: commerce, liberal arts and technology.
Why I want to study commerce? Because I think commerce is the biggest reality. You can only survive in the forest. Or I can quote from one person(the CEO of China’s branch of Acer) “only thrown into the grate plain of the Africa, can you learn how to survive”. The school, or the academic, is full of artificial rules and false assumptions. In commerce, you will have to break all the rules, trying to utilize all the resources available in the society. I felt freed in society, freed from the school’s artificial environment. You have to ask many whys and make many decisions in society. And the rich social experience serves a very good ground for making those decisions.
Why I want to study liberal arts? When I was studying music, I learned to appreciate the beauty of sound. When I was studying the Chinese tea culture, I learned to appreciate the beauty of smell and taste. When I was studying gardening, I learned to appreciate the beauty of sight. So I got to sharpen my ear, my nose, my tongue and my eyes these sense organs. When I was learning literature, I got to appreciate the beauty of language and the culture and was able to contribute to the culture. Commerce is the biggest reality and we get our most reliable experience in it. But the experience is still quite limited. You only interact with people in a certain region and in a certain span of the history. But by reading, you get to communicate with people of other countries and people hundreds years ago or thousands years ago. The condition, the moment we are in now has a lot to do with people in other countries and people in the history. By reading about these, I get to understand more about the present situation and I am more able to interact with it or contribute to it. Realized it or not, we are shaped by all these, it helps a lot to understand ourselves and our current moment if we understand the context.
Then why I want to study technology? In a general sense, the technology study offers me a very good scientific training. It helps me to think scientifically and logically, being able to abstract out the underlying principles from various phenomena. Computer Science, specifically, work as a bridge between different domains of my studies. The uniqueness of Computer Science is that it bridges the traditional gaps between the physical science and the social science. If you have great ideas, convert into software, use it and test it. Give the ideas the concrete form. When I was designing the knowledge discovery platform, it is very vital for me to have a very good understanding of the nature of knowledge and convert this understanding into the design of my software. Computer Science study is like any other arts. It has all the adventures and beauties you will have in other arts.
With all that said, it is very natural for me to devote myself to elearning. I want to use the software to help me speed up my study, since I have so many big domains to study. If it helps me a lot, it will probably be helpful to other people, if I am not too weird.
Then why I am building this notebook project? I used it to help me study. The initial ideas of this notebook is as following:
First, I need to tell you how I used to study in my undergraduate.
Usually I will have several questions in a certain period of time. I keep those questions in my mind. I will try to direct all my daily life experiences to answering those questions. I like to work very hard on my engineering during weekdays. I got to train my brain a lot through all the engineering thinking. I learned many ways of thinking through it. Then in the weekends, I will go to the bookstore to read a lot of liberal arts books. I brush through many books, picking books I think will contributing to thinking of those questions. Then I will take half a day off to contemplate on those questions, bringing all the life experiences I have collected for the week, all the reading I have done, and using all the thinking abilities I have trained myself in the engineering study. I tried to let experiences and learning in different domain to collide and create new things. I usually do such half day thinking in outside with beautiful scenery(it helps to bring my thinking to reality, thus I can keep myself away from artificial thinking.)
This way of study helps me a lot. But it has some drawbacks. I keep too many things in my mind in order to let them collide. Thus it may often slow my mind down, thus unable to just enjoy the present moment. What Zen teaches us is that we should enjoy this moment. It is very important to enjoy this moment. No matter how much you learn, it should help you to enjoy more of this moment, not keep you away of this moment.
So I use the notebook to solve this problem. For each main question, I create a note for it and write down all the significant learning experiences I have in it. For example, I had a Fun note, which is for me to explore the way to get rid of the separation of work and play and make my work fun-driven, just like kids playing. So I have such a note, and I write down my experience in it. For example, when I realize that I still need some discipline, I wrote it down. I have other notes, like CS note, elearning note, Zen note and so on. Each of them bears the learning experiences in it and they have a lot to do with each other. When I was viewing CS note, I may recall what I have just read in Zen note or elearning note, then come up with something new.
So I use the notebook to accomplish the way of study I used in my undergraduate. And by using notebook, I don’t need to keep so many things in my mind, thus I don’t have to think all the time.
I only think when necessary and it is achieved by simply editing the notes. No unnecessary thoughts.
There are some other ideas behind notebook. For example, when I had many things to do, I easily got messed up and didn’t know which one to do first. But when I wrote it down on paper, I easily figured out which one to do first, which to do next. The notebook bears this idea too.
The notebook also serves as a very helpful self-teaching tool. In self-teaching, the motivation is high, but normally discipline is ignored. There is no homework. There is no exam. No pressure. Learner is often very eager to just go forward without reviewing what has been learned. The discipline is still needed. Thus by writing down the significant learning in notes, reviewing the notes frequently and editing the notes frequently, you discipline yourself in learning.
While I was making notes on the online notebook for some time, I realized the theory of Knowledge Discovery. Later I enforced the semantics of Knowledge Discover on the structure of the notebook and make notebook a part of the building of the Knowledge Discovery platform. So now I will talk about Knowledge Discovery.
First I will talk about my definition of knowledge.
When I was working on elearning, it is very important to have a good definition of knowledge. So from my experience, I defined knowledge as a reusable component, which once realized by human being and applied to other conditions will help a lot, either physically or mentally.
There are some key points to this definition. First is that knowledge is reusable. If it is not reusable, it is not knowledge. Second, knowledge is not anything holy. It is just a tool, which can help us and can be used in other situations. With this definition, I think it will be easier to make knowledge into software.
In learning, being able to realize the knowledge immediately is very important. The Knowledge Discovery is an aid to help you realize the knowledge immediately.
In the Knowledge Discovery, the first point is that there is a closure of knowledge. The closure should be as big as Computer Science. The Closure has its meaning. Because of the existence of such closure, by extensively studying in this closure, you progress very fast. 18 hours of study per day might be 20 times or even 100 times the efficiency of studying 9 hours per day, because you achieve the deep understanding directly without saving all those intermediate understanding/results. Intensive study in one closure does matter. Another point is that everyone should focus on one closure. By studying this closure intensively, you understand the bottom layer knowledge a lot. The bottom layer knowledge, such as mathematics, physics and other thinking principles, is universal. They are in every other closure. By focusing on one closure thus understand these fundamental knowledge through a lot of practices in this closure, it will be very easy for me to study other closures. I don’t have to study every closure intensively. The Closure also means that learning is not endless in some sense and we should get the learning in the closure done as soon as possible.
Each closure will have several clouds. In CS, there are 3 or 5 clouds. They are somewhat distinctive of each other. Each cloud will have many components. These components are dispersed almost everywhere. They can be in this cloud and they can be also in that cloud. The component should be studied in the object-oriented way.
How to locate the components is very important in learning.
Our adult learning is quite different from children learning. Children learning is well controlled. Child studies step by step. Child doesn’t get thrown with a lot of knowledge at one time. Child builds up the knowledge step by step. But in adult learning, the school usually doesn’t provide you the background materials. A lot of times, you just jump into a major. So it will be very important to be able to realize the components in this closure of study.
I have several ways of locating the components to study. First look for those components which are happening over and over again and dispersed almost everywhere in your study or work. Those components are very important and you should study them first. For example, in CS, I won’t care much about image processing and pattern recognition. I almost don’t encounter them in my study. So they are not essential in my closure. But networking and operating system are very essential. They appear almost everywhere. I have to learn them very well!
Second, locate the components you are interested in. Because if you are interested in it, you probably mean you have encountered some times and you have known something about it but not all of it. Then it could be a good starting point.
After locating and learning the important components, you should try to discover new knowledge by going down to the bottom core theory or go up to the applications. The applications are very important because here you get to see a lot how the components are used differently in different context. Thus you understand more of the components. You also can locate the intermediate layers among the components.
Realize knowledge whenever you feel the difficulty. If you feel difficulty in you study, it probably is because that you don’t know much about some small components in it or it may because you don’t know some larger scope knowledge such as how to do social study in general. If you realize it is knowledge, you go to the bookstore to see if someone else has talked about it. Normally you can find textbook about it. If not, you can collecting your experience of working on this knowledge and you can create new knowledge. So when you have difficulty in learning, good luck. By realizing the knowledge immediately, you greatly speed up your learning.
Selected Questions and Answers:
Q: how to apply the theory when I start to learn a subject?
A: If it is a very new subject for me, I will first collect the old materials such as the old homework, exams and projects. I will look at the slides or book table contents to give me a big view of the subject. What is this subject about? This is try to achieve the global understanding of the subject. I will also try to locate some important components. I will look at the homework. Before I think about the answers or look at the answers, I will just simply go through the questions to just understand the questions. It usually helps me to find out what the important components are in this subject. After I achieve some global understanding, I may pick up some components to work on. I usually will choose some important ones or those I am particularly interested in. I understand these components by reading the books, doing various exercises, exams or projects. This is what I called object-oriented study. I focus on one object(the component) and use various ways to understand it.
When I was focus on the components, my background in mathematics will often work. Thus I don’t have to look all the details of how the book reasons it. I only need to know how the rule is defined or how the algorithm is designed. Then I can reason myself to figure out the rest. Or practice with some exercises. After studying some key components, I believe I go back to the global understanding to understand more globally and deeply. So you go back and forth from global to components. I actually called it local computing and distributed computing. When you have difficulty doing the local computing, you do some distributed computing(learning something somewhere else). When you come back, you may find yourself being able to progress on locally. When I felt difficult doing the distributed computing, I do some local computing. I will choose some key components to work on. After these local computing, I understand more the nature of these components thus I am understand more how this component is used in other places. Thus I understand more globally.
This is the way I self-teach myself. I think self-teaching is the essential learning of one individual and it should be the major part of an individual’s learning. The classroom teaching has a lot of drawbacks. You seldom ask why you have to do those homework, read those books or take those exams. You are only following the teachers. In self-teaching, however, you are focusing on yourself. You are asking yourself: where I am now? Which layer, which point I am now? What is the next layer? How to progress from this layer to the next layer? You have to use your feeling to really feel it. So self-teaching, from Zen’s point of view, make you understand yourself a lot better.
But self-teaching can be very difficult. No homework, no exam, no pressures. How to get disciplined? You are freed in self-teaching and have a lot of choices. But how to make those choices yourself thus your learning can best benefit from it? For example, what scope of project to choose? What type of learning to use now? You may meet a lot of obstacles in self-teaching. And it can be very frustrating and your motivation will be killed. So one goal of my ideas on elearning and knowledge discovery is to reduce the obstacles in self-teaching and let the individual continuously feel the sense of accomplishment and thus keep the motivation always high.
One important thing I almost forget to talk about is the pace of study.
Normally, as a rule of thumb in my CS study, if I don’t understand a component at all or below 30-40%, I don’t start do project with it. I first read it. After I achieve above 40% of understanding, I can do some practice with it. Don’t continue reading without practicing after you have achieved 60% of understanding. You can not achieve more understanding by just reading. You have to so some project. If it is a big project, I will make sure I have above 80% of understanding in each important component in it. Otherwise, study each component individually using the object-oriented way until reaching 80% of understanding.
About the classroom teaching, it has its merits. In the instructor-led course, you in some sense give up your reasoning and try to following the instructor’s thinking. You try to catch the instructor’s understanding of the subject. You try to see how the instructor understands it after s/he has so many practices with it. You try to learn how other people think. This is very important because we don’t have many chances of learning how other people think. With all that said, however, I have to say that the instructor-led learning shouldn’t dominate the individual’s learning. Not mention that many instructors are not teaching students how to think or sharing their learning experiences with the students. Many of them are just presenting the materials. I guess the instructor-led teaching should only occupy a small percentage of people’s learning. 20%, for example.
Let’s come to the question of whether Zen is knowledge. When I want to apply this Knowledge Discovery theory to Zen study, I don’t feel it is applicable. I cannot study Zen like other things, by putting in a lot of energies, by analyzing different ways of thinking. Every time I tried to understand it in the context of knowledge or analytical reasoning, I was further away from it. I guess it is because Zen is not about gaining something. It is about letting go everything. It is about balance, about realizing the conflicts of minds. I am not quite sure about this. I guess Zen has nothing to do with these learning. But I think if you “understand” Zen, you should go for this learning. All this learning is great. They do help a lot in the direction of Zen study. Also in such learning, you try to perform fast on everything. Performing fast is a way of Zen practice. But such learning also has some side-effects, because you have strong goals and as you progress a lot you may feel you are great and that small self gets bigger. What can we do? Go forward a step and go backward a step. If you go forward a step, you lose. If go backward a step, you lose. What do you do? Go forward a step and go backward a step. So stop the unnecessary thinking and let it go when needed.
After I came to US, all the conditions back in China have left me. The burdens on my shoulders are all gone. I don’t need to care about those things I used to care about very much. No conditions. I am quite care-free now. But I feel those conditions are part of me, as a human being. I guess when Zen says not to be conditioned, it doesn’t mean no condition. It means beyond condition. I am not crystal-clear about this. But I know what I should do. Learn about this American culture. Learn about the conditions here. Nothing to lose. It is actually a great opportunity for me to experience gaining another culture in my life. I have to experience it myself.