Learn Three Things Every Day

In the Game of Thrones series, there is an ongoing side plot in which a character is trained by a secretive organization to become an assassin. As part of her training, one of the senior assassins demands that she report to him three new things she has learnt every day. by making a natural inference from the title of the article, you might infer or assume that I am going to suggest that you do the same. I am, but with a crucial difference.

You see, my standards are higher than the Faceless Men. Instead of filling up your list of learnt things with only marginally useful things like gossip or other insignificant things, I am going to take it up a notch and demand that you learn three USEFUL things a day. This is, of course, an entirely self-enforced challenge, and I’ll let you decide on the definition of useful. Personally, I use the condition of [>50% probability that X will enrich my life in a significant way], but if you want, you can make up your own criteria for “useful”.

This may seem trite or useless, or even obvious(if you’re an eager and fast learner, like most LWers). Now stop and think hard. For the entire of the past 30 days, have you ever had a day or two where you just slacked off and didn’t learn much? Maybe it was New Year’s Day, or your birthday, and instead of learning you decided to spend the whole day partying. Perhaps it was just a lazy Sunday and you couldn’t be bothered to learn something and instead just spent the day playing video games or mountain skiing(although there are useful things to be learnt from those, too) or whatever you like to do in your spare time.

I haven’t taken an official survey, but my belief(and do correct me if I am very wrong about this) is that on average there’s at least one day in thirty in which you did not learn thirty new, useful things. I would consider that day as pretty much wasted from a truth-seeker’s point of view. You did not move forward in your quest for knowledge, you did not sharpen your rationality skills(and they always need sharpening, no matter how good you are) and you did not become stronger mentally. That’s 12 days in a year, which is more than enough for the average LWer to pick up at least one new skill: say, learning about game theory, to pick a random example. In that year, you have had a chance to gain the knowledge of game theory, and you threw it away.

The point of this exercise is not to make you sweat and do a “mental workout” every day. The point is to prevent days that are wasted. There is a nearly infinite amount of knowledge to collect, and we do not have nearly infinite time. Maybe it’s just my Asian mentality speaking here, but every second counts and you are in effect racing against time to gain as much knowledge as possible and put it to good use before you die.

When doing this, you are not allowed to merely work on your projects, unless they also teach you something. If you are a non-programmer, and you begin learning Python, that’s a new thing. If you’re already fluent in Python, and you program in Python, that’s not counted. With one exception: if you learn something through programming(maybe you thought up a nifty new way to sanitize user inputs while working on a database) then that counts. If you’re a writer, and you write, that doesn’t count. Unless, of course, by writing you learn things about worldbuilding, or plot development, or character development, that you didn’t know before. Yes, this counts, even though it’s not directly rationality-related, because it enriches your life: it helps you achieve your writing goals(that’s also a good condition for usefulness, and is a good example of instrumental rationality).

Today, I’ve learn about the concept of centered worlds, I have learnt about the policy of indifference in similar worlds and I have learnt the technique of “super-rationality” as a means to predict the behavior of other agents in acausal trade. What have you learnt today?

Do it now. Don’t wait, or you will waste this day, which is 86400 countable seconds in which to learn things. In fact, I’ve given you a head start today, because you can count this article in your list of learnt things.

Good luck to you. Let’s learn together.

[This is my first post on LW and I hope that I taught you something interesting and useful. Again, I’m new to posting, so if I violated some unspoken rule of etiquette, or if you think this post is obvious and shitty, feel free to vote me down. But do leave a comment explaining why you did, so I can add it to my list of learnt things.]