What, How, and Why?

In order to learn, there are three kinds of questions to ask: What?, How?, and Why?

Of these, Why? is the best question to ask, and What? is the worst; How? is in the middle but right near the bottom near What?.

The reason Why? is the best question for learning is that it conditions you to go to first principles and learn how to learn.

What? is the absolute worst type of question to ask, because usually the answer to What? is a reference lookup away. A better question to ask is: Where? can I find my own answer to my What? question?

Likewise, How? is rarely a good question to ask. Knowing how to do something is different from being able to do it. The answers to How? questions are best answered by not asking it directly, but rather by finding an expert who already possesses the knowledge of How?, and simply watch that master at work. To achieve this level of mastery takes years upon years of honing one’s craft, and the answer to How? is rarely succinctly communicable, therefore frustrating both the mentor and the apprentice. Instead, just Watch and learn.

Hopefully, at whatever institution you are in, you are surrounded by individuals who have mastered the How? and you can find opportunities to learn from them. If not, there are plentiful and abundant (not to mention, free) resources online to learn How?, such as YouTube. So, really, How? is a pretty bad question to ask since it is actually a series of What? questions in disguise. Instead of asking How?, just observe those who already know how and do, and as you observe, find opportunities to ask them, Why?. And, if they are not available, a still better question is, Where? can I find the resources to learn How?

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12 December 2019


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