Monday, February 9, 2015
Suggestions on How to Study
A great deal could be said on this topic. Here are a few thoughts that may be helpful. Test them against your own experience.
1. Make good use of the morning, which is an excellent time for such activities as reading, writing, study, and meditation. But to put the morning to good use, one must arise early. I get up at 2:00, but you needn't be so monkish. Try arising one or two hours earlier than you presently do. That will provide you with a block of quiet time. Fruitful mornings are of course impossible if one's evenings are spent dissipating. But it is not enough to avoid dissipation. One ought to organize one's evening so as to set oneself up for a fruitful morning's work. Alphonse Gratry makes some excellent suggestions in section V of his "The Sources of Intellectual Light" (1862), the last book of his Logic (trs. Helen and Milton Singer, Open Court, 1944). One of them is, "Set yourself questions in the evening; very often you will find them resolved when you awaken in the morning." (532) Gratry has in mind theoretical problems. His advice is compatible with Schopenhauer's: One should never think about personal problems, money woes, and other such troubles at night and certainly not before bed.
2. Abstain from all mass media dreck in the morning. Read no newspapers. "Read not The Times, read the eternities." (Thoreau) No electronics. No computer use, telephony, TV, e-mail, etc. Just as you wouldn't pollute your body with whisky and cigarettes upon arising, so too you ought not pollute your pristine morning mind with the irritant dust of useless facts, the palaver of groundless opinions, the bad writing of contemporary scribblers, and every manner of distraction. There is time for that stuff later in the day if you must have it. The mornings should be kept free and clear for study that promises long-term profit.
3. Although desultory reading is enjoyable, it is best to have a plan. Pick one or a small number of topics that strike you as interesting and important and focus on them. I distinguish between bed reading and desk reading. Such lighter reading as biography and history can be done in bed, but hard-core materials require a desk and such other accessories as pens of various colors for different sorts of annotations and underlinings, notebooks, a cup of coffee, a pot of coffee . . . .
4. If you read books of lasting value, you ought to study what you read, and if you study, you ought to take notes. And if you take notes, you owe it to yourself to assemble them into some sort of coherent commentary. What is the point of studious reading if not to evaluate critically what you read, assimilating the good while rejecting the bad? The forming of the mind is the name of the game. This won't occur from passive reading, but only by an active engagement with the material. The best way to do this is by writing up your own take on it. Here is where blogging can be useful. Since blog posts are made public, your self-respect will give you an incentive to work at saying something intelligent.
5. An illustration. Right now I have about a half-dozen projects going. One is an article for publication in a professional journal on the philosophy of Milton K. Munitz. What I have been doing very early in the morning is studying and taking notes on four of his books that are relevant to my project. I write these notes and quotations and criticisms into a journal the old-fashioned way. Like I said, no electronics early in the morning. Computer is off and internet connection as well. This eliminates the temptation to check e-mail, follow hyperlinks, and waste time. Later in the day I incorporate these hand-written notes into a long blog post I am writing. When that post is finished and published and I receive some comments, I will then write up the post as a formal article and send it to a journal.
The beauty of this is that one has something to show for the hours spent studying. One has a finished product in which one's thoughts are organized and preserved and to which one can refer later.
6. How keep track of a vast amount of resources? A weblog can be useful as an on-line filing cabinet. I also keep a daily journal.