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Momentum Over Position: How the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Can Help You Learn Faster

This entry is part 1 of 14 in the series Intermediate Angst

Play the language-learning game long enough, and you will often hear (or read, as the case may be) people explaining — in great detail — what their level of ability in a given language is, what they can and cannot do. They may even ask you to do the same for them, that is, to give a detailed ranking or explanation of your ability in a certain language. Both seeing and doing this has always made me feel dirty. But for the longest time, I could never figure out why.

Now I know why.

It’s because it’s scheisswissen (Scheiss-Wissensh##-knowledge; not a real German word, I’m just using German because it’s cool to swear in, even if incorrectly). It’s the kind of knowledge that you don’t need. Not only that, but it’s actually the kind of “knowledge” that can harm you. In that sense, it’s not unlike the news. Knowing, watching and reading the news will only make you sad. Ask Jon Stewart; his body couldn’t take any more BS — he overdosed on scheisswissen (scheissewissen? I need a German expert to help me on this one) over nearly two decades of hosting The Daily Show.

Knowing where you are is junk knowledge. Junk knowledge is like junk calories except worse, because we already know junk calories are bad for us, whereas junk knowledge often carries that unearned patina of professionalism and objectivity. That’s what makes it so virulent: it’s poison dressed up as medicine.

Knowing where you are is knowing your position. You should not know your position. You should have too much momentum — that is, be too busy changing your position — to know what your position is. You should be moving so fast that you cannot see tell where you are because the darn scenery is just whizzing past you; you shouldn’t be able to read the metaphorical street signs.

Humility and arrogance both come from a sense of status. Status is based on stasis. Stasis means standing still. Relationship status. It’s all about not moving. This is bad. You should not have a sense of status. Never be too arrogant or too humble to learn. Never stand still.

Again, you should not — must not — ever know your position, only your momentum. You shouldn’t know how many Japanese words or meanings or kanji you know, only how many new ones you’re getting to know or re-know every day 😉 . Electrons get it: “given that quantum particles often move so fast, the electron may no longer be in the place it was when the photon originally bounced off it.” [What is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle? | Science | The Guardian] 1

Every moment you spend measuring or describing your position is one you could, should and must spend juicing up your momentum instead. Make your position unmeasurable by constantly rendering position readings invalid. Nobody can give you the street address of an aeroplane in flight. And the same should go for your progress in Japanese. No address, only a bearing/heading. Screw where you are; definitely screw where you’ve been; focus on where you’re going.

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  1. Now, if you’re some kind of maniac who really pays attention, you will have realize that is not the first time the HUP has come to our rescue as AJATTeers: “Call it the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of getting things done (real physicists are choking on their donuts right now, but bear with me): You can either get WHERE you want to, or do things HOW you want to, but not both. That is, if you focus on one, you inevitably relinquish control over the other. To put it in a more positive way, you can choose to be uncomprimising on one of where/what, but then you have to be willing to be flexible on the remaining option. You can have either a fixed MEANS or a fixed END, but not both.” [Language is Like a Video Game | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time]

  1 comment for “Momentum Over Position: How the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle Can Help You Learn Faster

  1. April 16, 2018 at 17:26

    It’s “Scheisswissen” (actually “Scheißwissen” outside of Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

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