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There Is A Magic Silver Bullet

June 20, 2013
By
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Systems

“We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

AJATT, this website, is a bit like the Matrix. There’s been more than one, it’s just that you only know this one. The original AJATT.com existed for a brief couple of months, before being accidentally deleted by a delightfully incompetent hosting company that shall remain nameless but I’m not bitter.

So, in this original AJATT incarnation, there was a post about there being “no silver bullets” and how there was no magic method that would help you and solve all your problems. I’d been reading too much Fred Brooks and making blanket negative declarations made me feel important 1. Sort of a “look at these chumps looking for silver bullets; I’ma learn them a thing or two”.

Anyway, so (and this never happens, but) I was wrong. There is at least one magic silver bullet. There is one thing you can do that will lead you to success in getting used to languages. What is it?

Looking for silver bullets is the silver bullet. The very act of seeking awesome solutions — magic silver bullets — is itself what will lead you to find something or some combination of things. You keep asking high quality questions, and you start getting high quality answers. Just to keep things moving, you might want to keep using regular bullets while you search for them magic ones, but…yeah, I mean, you don’t stop driving cars until you can figure out how to travel faster than light speed, right?

Don’t worry too much about going wrong. As Norman Schwarzkopf once said, I don’t have the exact quote but basically: it’s easier to change course than to get started; it’s easier to correct course than to get started. You’re better off starting off in the wrong direction than not starting. Being stationary is worse than being wrong.

Looking back, I don’t even think I believed myself while I was writing that “there’s no silver bullet” crap. Because, personally, I’m always looking for magic bullets; Like Pocahontas, I’m always looking just around the river bend for some easy or easier way to make things awesome; like a programmer or a gambling addict, I always feel like I’m on the cusp of something. So perhaps what I really meant to say was: don’t wait for silver bullets 2. Keep looking for silver bullets but don’t wait for them. Don’t let their immediate absence hold you back or otherwise delay you. Yeah. That’s it.

Keep looking for better tools, but use the crappy ones you have right now while-u-wait. Good tools are nice and even game-changing, but your swing matters even more than your clubs. So keep swinging. 3

People will often delight in telling you that some problem “can’t” be solved — you “can’t” learn kanji; it “can’t” be easy; humans “can’t” fly. I know this because I’ve been one of these people; there’s a perverse pleasure and security in certainty, even negative certainty — indeed, in the most recent Batman movie, Bane tortured Wayne with the hope of escape from the dungeon. The suggestion was that straight up despair would be better — easier to deal with emotionally; this may well be true.

But there’s a significant difference between impossibility and ignorance. If in doubt, chalk the difficulty up to ignorance — it’s not impossible: you just don’t know how yet. But if you keep looking for hows, you’re bound to to find something. It may not be what you’re expecting, it probably won’t even be labeled right (a website for English learners revolutionized how I learned Japanese), but there’ll be something. To quote Edison: “We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything”. So we can’t speak to what’s possible or impossible, only to what we’ve experienced so far.

As they used to say on The X-Files: the magic bullet you seek is out there. OK, so they never said that. But they would have if the show were about getting used to languages :P .

“It is not the possession of truth, but the success which attends the seeking after it, that enriches the seeker and brings happiness to him.” ~ Max Planck

Series Navigation<< Why The System Won’t Set You Free

Notes:

  1. I’m not saying Fred Brooks did that; I was just…that was my caricatured perception of…you get the point…
  2. “Do not wait; the time will never be just right. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” ~ Napoleon Hill
  3. “Many amateur golfers think they need expensive clubs. But it’s the swing that matters, not the club. Give Tiger Woods a set of cheap clubs and he’ll still destroy you.

    People use equipment as a crutch. They don’t want to put in the hours on the driving range so they spend a ton in the pro shop. They’re looking for a shortcut. But you just don’t need the best gear in the world to be good. And you definitely don’t need it to get started.” ~ 37signals

I don't know, bro. I don't know if you're man enough to donate to AJATT. I mean, you can try...to click that button down there and follow the instructions, but...I dunno...

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7 Responses to There Is A Magic Silver Bullet

  1. Triniity on June 22, 2013 at 12:14

    “I know why you’re here Neo…You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us. It’s the question that brought you here.”

  2. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 at 12:35

    I wouldn’t exactly say that sticking with a bad tool is better than using no tool at all. If anything, it can set you back further, entrenching you in some really bad habits and making it harder for the good tools to work their way into your mind. That’s exactly the problem I face now with my Japanese: I’m interpreting it all in English, and it’s a clumsy, highly inefficient process. In the past, I’ve tried out methods that should cure me of this by revealing to my mind just how useless it is, but my mind held on, understanding be damned.

    I am still searching for the magic silver bullet that will lead me away from this, and while continual questioning has led me to more refined questions that get to the heart of what’s wrong with my Japanese understanding, they haven’t resulted in any worthwhile answers.

  3. Cush on June 23, 2013 at 23:12

    I’ve been searching for the magic silver bullet for years, and now after thousands of man hours studying, and thousands of dollars spent on media, i’ve found that the magic silver bullet of Japanese learning is to just do something, anything in Japanese and to to it consistently. That will get you the best result.

  4. [...] going to keep trying out different things and searching for the magic silver bullet, but my biggest take away after thinking through all of this is that I’d like to focus on the [...]

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