If you know The Way broadly you will see it in everything – Miyamoto Musashi
I know what you’re thinking:
What the hell does learning math have to do with Becoming the Alpha Muslim?
I’ll tell you what.
The Islamic Sacred Tradition is one of deep learning and transmission, so much so that entire books were written on the art of learning.
More recently, the subject of meta-learning has become popular due to bloggers like Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, and Scott H. Young.
I don’t know any of these guys, but I do know someone who I believe is somewhat of an authority on the subject.
My guest this episode is Ed Latimore. Ed is a professional heavyweight boxer, physicist, published author, and self-improvement blogger.
I invited him on to teach us how to learn math and, more broadly, speak about the subject of meta-learning.
Ed is in an interesting position to speak about this subject because he entered university at the not-quite-old but certainly not young age of 28. As well, he gets punched in the head for a living.
Both of these factors combined mean Ed had to take a deliberate and systematic approach to learning. One that he can now pass on to us.
Ed Latimore’s Tips on Learning Math (or any Subject)
You must develop the desire to learn, see the solution to your problem, and work towards that solution. Mainly, this involves building the mindset and approach to tackle difficult things. This also deals with your personal “why” for deciding to learn mathematics.
You should begin where you’re naturally curious and focus on tactical ability first, but pursue these tactical aims with a strategic perspective. What I mean is that you want to get comfortable solving many problems. However, you must get comfortable with the rules that govern these tactics. Once you do that, seek to understand why these work. This applies whether you are learning fractions, derivatives, integrals, or all three.
Learn to express mathematical relationships visually. This helps you chase the intuition. The only thing that makes one person better at math than another is their intuitive grasp of the ideas. For example, you should intuitively understand the relationship between the triangle and a circle. This should be your aim, as it makes the learning of trigonometry and calculus much easier. Every idea in mathematics can be expressed visually. Once you understand how to express these ideas in a picture you are able to make a much better connection to the material.
Teaching is a wonderful tool. I truly believe that if you express the ideas in a way that a non-mathematical person can grasp them, you understand them. Or even better, teach them to students. You should be playing with the idea of how the ideas translate into reality as well. For example, understanding why you can’t divide by zero or why your bank account is represented by a negative sign when you overdraw, even though there is no such thing as a negative quantity.
Aim to see these relationships wherever you can. Not only in places with mathematics. Because really, mathematics is a set of relationships—we just decided to use these things called numbers to describe those relationships. We see relationships in so many areas of life—this is why math is so important for almost every high-earning career.
- [2:20] Ed’s life circumstances necessitated that he learn HOW to learn so he can be successful at university and this had the added benefit of making him a good teacher
- [3:12] We live in an age where information is free. Because of this, the ability to process information soundly and efficiently has become priceless
- [4:25] Has entering university at 28 (as opposed to 18) and getting punched in the head for a living affected Ed’s ability to learn?
- [5:30] When you are older, the tools you have available to learn are different than when you are younger, for example
- Young people don’t have the concept of limitation, which is a plus, while adults have a better idea of what’s possible
- Young people don’t have the concept of failure, while adults understand that failure is not the be-all-end-all
- Young people learn as a matter of immersion, while adults know how to learn
- [9:35] As an adult you understand that the process of learning gets results no matter your natural aptitude. As long as you apply yourself over time, you will get better
- [13:30] How much does natural ability affect learning math? Yes, a high IQ helps, but does that mean you can’t achieve a level of success? The world is not only composed of high IQ people.
- [17:00] Whether talent is real or not is irrelevant. What matters is whether you are using your belief in it to motivate yourself or to justify your weakness and lack of trying
- [17:39] If we take Goku and Vegeta as an example, Vegeta doesn’t just accept that Goku is better than him and quit. He has an intrinsic belief in himself, as a pureblood Saiyan, that pushes him to train harder and harder and reach new heights
- [19:50] Walk around with the confidence Vegeta had when he let Cell absorb Android 18. That’s the lie you must tell yourself about talent
- [21:00] When Ed decided to go back to school he knew that even though he was weak at math, given enough time, he could learn anything. So he started learning almost a year out. In having this mindset you learn the most valuable talent to have is hard work
- [22:50] Because had to learn these subjects the hard way, he is more proficient at teaching it than many high school teachers. The guy who doesn’t have the most natural talent is always the best coach
- [25:20] Why should you study math? It’s because math is just a series of relationships. If you can learn to think in terms of these abstract relationships, you can apply this skill to almost every aspect of your life
- [28:50] If you’ve watched A Beautiful Mind, the Nash Equilibrium was discovered because of Game, and trying to pick up girls (yes, I’m aware this is a fictionalized account). There’s a reason the most high-paying careers have a math component
- [29:57] You don’t lift weights because you regularly encounter barbell- and dumbbell-shaped objects you need to pick up and move around. You lift them because they make all the physical activity in your life much easier. Mathematics is weight-lifting for your brain
- [31:40] When you first start learning, you start by learning tactically and solving as many problems as possible until it becomes mechanical. Eventually, the problems will become harder and they won’t be straightforward to solve. Then you have to move from HOW to WHY, and this is where you gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter
- [36:10] Your final aim should be, “how can I understand this well enough to explain it to someone without using mathematical terminology?”
- [38:30] Bruce Lee said, “the three stages of learning are:
- A punch is just a punch
- A punch is no longer just a punch
- A punch is just a punch”
- [40:00] Ed’s studies directly help him in his day-to-day life. For example, learning math affects the way he operates on Twitter because he understands network effects. Learning physics makes him a much better boxer
- [45:30] Understanding momentum, power, impulse, and how they apply to boxing
- [50:00] Why should never use AP math credits in university, especially if you are in a technical major
- [54:30] Understanding math helps you become more analytical in everyday life situations and puts some finesse in your game, so you can save time and energy
- [56:30] Ed has increased his proficiency in mathematics to a point where he sees his limitations. While he would certainly like to take his understanding to the next level, he will likely only achieve this if he pursues graduate education in mathematics. You don’t know how far you can be pushed until you need to be pushed that far
- [58:05] To go further than undergraduate-level math proficiency, the key is more immersion. Once you have improved to one plateau there is no reason you can’t improve to a higher one. Your only limitations are time and effort (not talent). Your growth will become logarithmic (i.e. diminishing returns)
- [1:01:30] I tell Ed about the North-African tradition of learning; writing on wooden tablets, memorizing didactic poetry, and teaching what they learn (even to a tree or an animal)
- [1:03:30] The ability to learn instills self-confidence. “I did this difficult thing…what else can I do?” For Ed, getting through the Physics program means he can do anything he puts his mind to
- [1:08:00] At the very least, learning math gives you the ability to see relationships and make connections between seemingly unrelated topics and aspects of life. It also makes you a more interesting or fun person
- [1:09:10] Ed recommends The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin and A Mind for Numbers by
- [1:10:35] Nabeel recommends A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart and A Mathematician’s Apology by G.H. Harvey
- [1:13:15] Ed’s book, Not Caring What Other People Think is a Superpower, is available on Kindle and Paperback. If you’d like to follow Ed’s work, subscribe to his newsletter.
Have you overcome learning difficulties? Learned a new skill or subject as an adult?
How did you do it? Leave a comment below and let me know.