Prior to getting my degree from the University at Buffalo in Cognitive neuroscience. which if you don't know is the analytical combination of Neuroscience, Philosophy, Psychology, Linguistics, and Artificial Intelligence, I was pursuing a degree in Nursing. I had heard from friends and family that anesthesiologist made a decent amount of money and also helped people.
At the same time I was a Fireman and EMT with the Swormville Fire Company. I had spent my fair share of time in the back of ambulance's responding to emergency calls and delivering people to the Emergency Room. A degree in nursing seemed like a natural progression for the path I was on.
But something about it didn't seem right. I was too curious. I wanted to know more about the world than a degree in nursing was telling me. I began to search for another option. I remember asking around to see if any Universities offered a degree in "life". I wanted to know and understand all there was about the world and the people in it. Then I remember seeing the description for the Cognitive Science degree at UB. It was:
Cognitive Science is the study of how the mind works. It investigates thought and consciousness, the senses and emotions, the structure of language, cultural patterns, neural organization, and the computational analogs of mental processes. It examines how these areas interact, how they develop in the growing human, and how they appear in other animals.
It sounded perfect. While the range of knowledge Cognitive Science pulled together was awesome I especially loved the classes that focused on Neurology. I enjoyed them so much I actually made Neuro the core focus for the major. Finally I had found something that provided a deeper understanding of how people think which scientifically complemented my minor in Philosophy perfectly. I was beginning to form an understanding holistically of how the world worked.
Through my degree in Cognitive Neuroscience I learned how to scientifically form and ask the right questions. I learned how to apply the philosophy of logic to understand the answers I got to those questions I was asking. I learned how people think. I learned which of the neurons drives different instinctual human characteristics. From my minor I learned to appreciate the philosophical differences those characteristics can take across numerous cultures and ideologies.
While I didn't pursue a career in the Cognitive Science field after graduation the biggest take away I got out of my time at University was that I learned how to learn. I think this is one of the most important investments a person can make in themselves. The earlier you make this investment the more compound interest you will get as a result across your lifetime.
I did this before the time that I started taking an interest in learning about startups. Again, as a way to satisfy my intense curiosity for understanding the world and how new ideas manifest themselves into reality. Being armed with the tools to learn thanks to my degree was a massive help in learning and understanding the world of startups over the next several years.
The key take away here is that I think there are two types of learning. One, you can learn how to learn. This is a skill and ability that everyone can nourish and grow. If done first it sets a solid foundation for you to then go learn and have a complete understanding around a specialized field much better than skipping ahead to only learning a specialized field. It is a small distinction but an important one in my mind. Tim Ferris is a great example of this. He is a man who has perfected the art of learning how to learn and because of that he can pick up new things almost overnight and quickly understand them. His new series in the iTunes store, The Tim Ferris Experiment along with his books, are a testament to this. So next time you are struggling to learn and understand something new. Take a moment and think if there is some foundational work you can teach yourself first, that will help you with achieving your current goals. Learn how to learn.