The Usefulness of Learning Through Observation

Pick any industry and you will find that very few people actually do the job themselves. Most link to a secondary source or browse online resumes to quickly find out what they think they need to know. But this is exactly why doing boring work more consistently is actually a competitive advantage. You have to observe things yourself.

This post originally appeared on James Clear’s blog .

Louis Agassiz, a renowned Swiss biologist, put a fish sample on the table in front of his graduate student.

“It’s just a sunfish,” the student said. “I know that,” Agassiz replied.

He continued: “Write this description. Find out what you can do without damaging your sample. When I think you have done your job, I will ask you. “

Observation power

The student wrote for almost an hour until he felt confident that he knew almost everything there was to know about this particular fish.

However, much to the student’s dismay, Agassiz did not return to him that day. The next day, his teacher did not come either. And the whole next week. Eventually the student understood Agassiz’s game: the teacher wanted him to observe the fish deeper.

After nearly a hundred hours of study, the student began to notice more subtle details that had previously escaped his sight: how the fish scales were formed and what patterns they created, the position of the teeth, the shape of each individual tooth, and soon. When his teacher finally returned and the student explained everything he had learned, Agassiz replied, “This is wrong.” And he left the room. Shocked and angry at first, the student eventually returned to the task with renewed vigor. He threw away all of his previous entries. He studied fish for 10 hours a day for an entire week. When he met Agassiz for the last time, the student was “amazed.”

The art of comparing objects

After researching the sunfish, a student of Agassiz wrote: “I have learned the art of comparing objects.” How does this tooth compare to its neighbor? How does this scale compare to the scale on the opposite side? How is the symmetry of the bottom half of the fish compared to the top half?

The art of comparing objects is an extremely useful strategy in many areas of life. Take weightlifting, for example.

My first five years of weight lifting have had mediocre results at best. I assumed that information was holding me back. Like many people, I thought that once I found the right training regimen, I would be in tune. I assumed that I just hadn’t reached the next level yet because I hadn’t found the information I needed. What I didn’t realize was that my search for the perfect ready-made formula prevented me from observing my actual results.

As I began to observe with more alertness and attention, I realized that my body tends to respond better to more volume than to higher intensity. I noticed that I was lacking basic strength in basic movements like squats and deadlifts. I was able to use these observational discoveries to tailor my learning to my own needs, and subsequently, thanks to this, I have achieved much greater success. I made progress comparing what I was doing with what actually worked for me.

Do the work for yourself

“I never pay attention to anything on the part of the ‘experts’. I calculate everything myself, ”- Richard Feynman.

When Richard Feynman, a brilliant physicist, was working on a new theory of beta decay, he noticed something amazing. For years, experts have said that beta decay occurs in a certain way, but when Feynman did experiment, he kept getting a different result.

In the end, Feynman examined the raw data on which all the experts based their theory and found that the study was flawed. For years, no one bothered to read or repeat the original research! All experts simply quoted each other and used their mutual opinion as a basis for the theory. Then Feynman appeared and turned everything upside down simply because he did the calculations himself.

Take a look and see for yourself

“Take facts into your own hands; take a look and see for yourself! “- Louis Agassiz

Pick any industry and you will find that very few people actually do the job.

Rather than reading the original research, most people cite the heading from a secondary source. Instead of spending 100 hours observing every detail of a fish, most biology students will find descriptions of fish on the Internet. When most people say, “I read the article on climate change,” what they really mean is, “I read the headline of the article on climate change.”

This is why doing boring work all the time is actually a competitive advantage. Ignore expert advice and pay attention to what works for you.

Take a look and see for yourself.

Renowned Biologist Louis Agassiz on the Benefits of Observation Learning | James Clear


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