Self-improvement (life-long learning)

Just a sample of the learning ahead of me...

Just a sample of the learning ahead of me…

So… Some friends of mine realised when they reached for their 4yo’s book on planes, trains and automobilesto answer a question about how much fuel a 747 could hold in its wings that maybe their world had become a little too closed in. They promptly enrolled in Philosophy 101 to broaden their horizons a wee bit.

In the middle of a dinner party that I was really enjoying I realised that I felt like I had nothing to talk about except my day job and my writing. And I got the sneaking suspicion that I was half-way to being a social bore.


I’ve never exactly been a party-girl but the idea of being the one people smile tightly at while thinking of ways of excusing themselves… Horrors.  Now since then I’ve spoken to a few people who all assured me–genuinely as far as I could tell–that it isn’t at all true but by then the damage was done. I’d bored myself!  So I set about doing something to change that.

I signed up with a company called ‘Great Courses’ who provide thousands of hours of learning on audiobook, CD or DVD. One hundred hours of comparative religionClassic mythologyA Brief History of the WorldThe story of Medival EnglandBig History: the big bang thorough to today.  All in 30-minute increments just perfect for driving to work, or walking the block, or while having breakfast. All with accompanying course notes. All presented by leading experts. And all 80% off. Yay.

But NO assessments, NO deadlines and NO problem listening to one over if you haven’t quite grasped it. I bought enough to learn something new every single day for a year. Awesome!

I’m only twelve lectures into ‘Big History’ but I’ve learned:

  • the basic principles behind universe formation,
  • how matter was formed, how stars are born and how they die,
  • how hot they have to be to convert hydrogen into helium and how much hotter to then convert helium into oxygen and so on to make the building blocks of our solar system,
  • what the four elements are that determine complexity,
  • how planets are made and the forces that shape them,
  • what E=MC2 actually means
  • why scientists look for evidence of earth-like planets (not becuase they can’t conceive of worlds different to ours, but because the earth is the earth for very good reasons and life truly does seem to form only on planets with certain traits, so finding more solar systems that could support earth-like planets is a good way of possibly finding other life ‘out there’)
  • how our planet was formed
  • how continental drift and techtonic plate movement was first revealed…

I can’t imagine what is still to come when we’ve squeezed the entire of creation (and billions of years) into just a quarter of the content.

So… the trick now will be to take that knowledge and absorb it and hold it close to me internally so that–in striving not to be a social bore–I don’t accidentally turn into a social know-it-all, way too excited by my own new learnings. And I’ll have to be patient, too. Can’t tell you how many times a week I see ‘The Story of Medieval England’ staring out at me expectantly from my iPod menu and know I have to finish the entire history of life, the universe and everything first.

The phrase ‘patience Grasshopper‘ has never been more apt.