|Aisle of crypts|
|Crypt with abandoned chair|
Earlier today I'd had brunch with Linda, Rob Weinberg's widow. I hadn't seen her since the funeral and I was glad to see that she looks well and is moving along in her life, studying music and making frequent visits to her family in Paso Robles. Linda is a gifted classical pianist and is interested in making a transition to jazz, an amazing venture since jazz is no easy deal as it requires a deep understanding of music theory and structure in order to be spontaneous.
This leads me to mention a lecture that I heard on UC Berkeley's iTunesU. It was delivered by Hubert Dreyfus, author of ALL THINGS SHINING: READING THE WESTERN CLASSICS TO FIND MEANING IN A SECULAR AGE, a new work just hot off the press and not yet delivered to the book stores. I saw that Professor Dreyfus was teaching a course in a continuing education program and thought I'd try to take it, but it ultimately wasn't going to work out. So, I found him on iTunesU. In this talk he was speaking about communications and he came to a discussion of the five stages of skills development.
He mentioned that the first stage is to learn the rules, followed by the learning of features and facts about the skill, followed by learning to apply the rules, followed by learning meaningful aspects that apply to performance, and the last stage is to act spontaneously. He points out that this last stage comes through lots of practice and experience in practice and the learning of relevance, an important aspect of a skill.
For instance, if we are learning to drive a car, we'd learn the rules, facts and features of driving, how to apply the rules, what aspects are important to safety, and ultimately we'd drive without having to think about what we are doing. We'd just drive, applying the gas according to the flow of traffic. But "relevance" is of great importance as without it, we might apply the rules inappropriately. When all of this comes into play and we have mastered all of these stages, we can say we are expert at a given skill. It takes 10 years at 4 hours a day of practice.
But, Professor Dreyfus points out that there is a stage beyond expert. This is the stage we reach that for the good of the practice we keep learning. He says we "become something like a Zen person," one who continues to pursue learning because it is a domain that one loves. We can't be at this level without having carefully mastered the skill through the earlier stages of learning. If we leave out some part of the learning, we cannot consider ourselves expert. Imagine for instance that we learned to drive, but we never learned to work with the car in reverse. We would always be insecure and incomplete. So, to "become something like a Zen person" we undertake our learning with the joy of a beginner, being completely thorough and direct in our focus, not leaving out any aspect of our exploration and training.