There are essentially three ways one can learn: direct observation (empirically), listening (when others speak), and reading. These rules apply to each source of learning, but are particularly important for reading. These rules, if observed, provide the greatest potential for learning. After all, one should never miss an opportunity to learn! It is not commonly appreciated, but learning is continuous, whether one is engaged in study, work, or play. (It actually begins in utero!)
Learning doesn’t just provide knowledge. It’s also essential for training oneself to think as independently as possible. Be sure to guard and maintain your independence of thought. These rules are the distillate of 70+ years of my attempts to learn.
This is how to proceed when someone suggests or requires that you read a specific book, article, essay, etc. In order to get the very most from what you read you need to approach the work with a clear and open mind! (Only minor adjustments are needed for the rules to apply to listening or observing.)
Choosing to ignore even one of the rules may lead to definite brain damage, from which recovery is difficult and sometimes not possible!
- Do Not Google the Author! The algorithms of all search engines control what information you get.
- Do Not Google the Book or Article! (e.g., do not look it up on Wikipedia or any other source.)
- Do Not Google the Publisher!
- Do Not Read the Dust Jacket, Forward, Preface, Introduction, Afterward, etc. (unless written by the author)
- Scrupulously Avoid Asking Anyone Else About the Work until You Have Read It.
- As You Read, Make Note of the Author’s Premises and Keep Track of Them! (Write them down if necessary; particularly ones that might challenge you or with which you disagree.)
- As You Read, Look for References that the Author Uses to Support his Argument. (Intellectually honest authors do not hesitate to provide them. They do not fear challengers.)
Why?, one might ask, would one chose to follow these rules, so full of don’ts?
As a matter of intellectual integrity, it is always best to approach any author with an open mind, and not with other people’s preconceptions. Always try to give the author your fullest attention. She or he deserves as much objectivity as you can muster! This you can achieve only by observing Rules 1-5 above.
The brain is a very delicate organ. If you don’t follow Rules 1-5, you will definitely contaminate your own thoughts with other people’s interpretations or opinions. You will be surprised how difficult it is to get somebody else’s opinion, analysis, or review out of your head if you let it in before you start to read.
Now You’re Ready to Start Reading and Learning! Don’t be afraid to agree or disagree with an author. Don’t be afraid to be challenged! Remember, learning is always a thinking exercise! Don’t be afraid to tackle controversial ideas. This can give you an opportunity to refine what you already believe—or to change, even completely, what you believe.