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Juan David’s Newsletter - February 6th, 2023
The Book of Everything: Writing To Teach Yourself, Why Every Great Mind Uses Notebooks, and How to Experience The Way
I’ve been itching to teach myself Differential Geometry for a few months. Last semester, I signed up for a class, but the obscene amount of homework made me drop it, as I would only focus on completing assignments and learn nothing.
Why am I drawn to Differential Geometry? Three answers: my insatiable curiosity, a gut feeling, and the fact that general relativity heavily relies on it.
But this week, a thought struck me, “Why don’t I write a book teaching myself mathematics from the very beginning to the very advanced levels?”
If I was going to be this ambitious, I might as well be TRULY ambitious, so I had a second thought, “Why don’t I write about teaching myself EVERYTHING?
The Book of Everything, I jotted down in my notes.
This essay will examine what this endeavor might entail, why it is a good idea, and why it is not.
Since I started writing the Flying Series, I found a secret to learning that is both enjoyable and effective—writing to teach myself.
It seems obvious in retrospect. You have people like Richard Feynman who said this multiple times:
If you want to master something, teach it. The more you teach, the better you learn. Teaching is a powerful tool to learning.
Or the time he explained how “educated” people know nothing
You cannot get educated by this self-propagating system in which people study to pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything.
You learn something by doing it yourself, by asking questions, by thinking, and by experimenting.
Writing to teach yourself isn’t unique to Richard Feynman. It’s not a novel concept either. Anyone who did great work had notebooks (or the modern equivalent). Here are some examples:
Leonard da Vinci had more than fifty notebooks filled with sketches, observations, and ideas about art, science, and engineering.
Srinivasa Ramanujan used his notebooks to record mathematical discoveries.
Isaac Newton used notebooks to record his work on mathematics, optics, and physics.
Charles Darwin kept notebooks during his travels on the HMS Beagle to document his observations of nature.
Thomas Edison kept notebooks filled with his inventions and ideas.
Albert Einstein used notebooks to record his thoughts on physics and mathematics.
Nikola Tesla used notebooks to document his work on electricity and magnetism.
Mark Twain used notebooks to record his ideas for stories and novels.
Sigmund Freud used notebooks to record his observations of patients and develop his theories on psychology.
Blaise Pascal recorded his mathematical and philosophical ideas in notebooks.
Johannes Kepler used notebooks to record his observations and calculations about astronomy.
Gregor Mendel used notebooks to record his experiments with pea plants and develop his theories on genetics.
Michael Faraday used notebooks to record his experiments and discoveries on electromagnetism.
Robert Boyle used notebooks to record his chemistry experiments and ideas.
Carl Sagan used notebooks to record his ideas and thoughts on astronomy and science.
These notebooks not only helped these individuals to teach themselves but also served as a record of their work and paved the way for new discoveries.
Despite the obvious benefits of writing to teach oneself, our education system is structured in a way that prioritizes classes, homework, and exams. Feynman's words ring true: we get "educated," but we don't necessarily learn or understand anything.
As I ponder my future and what I want to achieve, I know that writing to teach myself will play a significant role. My essays are my notebooks, and someday, they will become books, videos, LLMs, podcasts, and movements.
How will I know when I've succeeded? That's the wrong question. But I will know the moment I am forgotten. When I see others writing to teach themselves, following their curiosity, and doing things for the sake of learning, that will be my moment of triumph.
So, what will The Book of Everything look like?
Initially, I thought it might take 50 years or more to write, with a ten-million-page Google Doc documentas the end result.
But then, I realized that I have already started writing The Book of Everything. It doesn't have to follow a linear path, as I trust my intuition to guide me to where I need to go next.
Almost three years ago, I published my first essay, which marked the beginning of a lifetime journey in which I teach myself everything I want to learn while sharing my journey with others who share my curiosity.
In many ways, The Book of Everything is the essence of my life. As I continue to write and learn, I hope to discover what it’s all about as I look back. But writing isn’t the end but rather the medium by which I transcend.
My friend Ananyadescribed it beautifully:
A novice calligrapher first starts by learning the basic brush strokes and movements.
Then, as he gets more advanced, he understands how to use the brush and canvas as mediums through which to express his ideas. Eventually, he becomes erudite and makes the art his own.
To many, this represents the pinnacle of mastery. But to attain total mastery, he must transcend the limitations of his brush and canvas.
He realizes that the ultimate truth is omnipresent, and so he no longer needs his brush to write or his canvas to paint.
When such a level of understanding is reached, his mind becomes his brush and the world his canvas.
So, calligraphy is used as a medium to experience the Way.
For Ananya, it’s martial arts. For me, it’s writing.
For you? Search, find, and follow.
Juan David Campolargo
Ananya and his brother Achintya are one of the most special people I’ve ever met. We will write an essay together about the general philosophy of life.
Here’s the WhatsApp message he sent me:
A novice calligrapher first starts by learning the basic brush strokes and movements. Then, as he gets more advanced, he understands how to use the brush and canvas as mediums through which to express his ideas. Eventually, he becomes erudite and makes the art his own.
To many, this represents the pinnacle of mastery. But to attain total mastery, he must transcend the limitations of his brush and canvas. He realizes that the ultimate truth is omnipresent, and so he no longer needs his brush to write or his canvas to paint. When such a level of understanding is reached, his mind becomes his brush and the world his canvas. So, calligraphy is used as a medium to experience the Way.
Personally, I prefer martial arts as my vehicle in my journey of self-mastery. So, like calligraphy, it is a method and process from which I develop my own artistic and personal impressions.
The point is, we must focus on understanding the Ultimate Truth or the Way (or whatever you want to call it) through our preferred medium of self-discovery and self-expression (whatever it may be). To each his own.
Like Bruce Lee once said, "it is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory".