Human personal learning – a lost cause?

This text is about the importance of real learning and personal growth, and how a significant number of people prioritise social and academic learning and material success instead. The author, a humanist, finds humour in the fact that even AI recognises the lack of emphasis on personal learning. The article includes quotes from the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes.

So- I’ve fed Moshé Feldenkrais’s speech “Real learning is having choices” to one of the many document eating Artificial Intelligence websites so I could ask questions about the text.

Alfons: What is this speech about?

Document AI: This document is about the importance of real learning, which involves having choices and becoming an expert in different ways to achieve what you want. It emphasizes that this type of learning allows individuals to have control over their lives and make it the way they want it. The document also suggests that academic or social learning is important for fitting into society, but not necessarily for personal growth. Finally, it argues that humans have the ability to make more complex choices and adapt to their environment.

Alfons: What are the most impressive quotes I can use in my business to attract new customers?

Document AI: I’m sorry, but the section you provided does not contain any quotes that would be suitable for a business to attract new customers. The section is discussing the abilities of animals and the limitations of human learning.

This actually made me laugh out loud. I mean, for me it’s interesting. [a] Academic learning, [b] social learning, and [c] personal learning. What a nice categorisation. But I’m a humanist, who is shy of the rat race—as opposed to most adults around me: they pump iron in the gym, they eat meat and dairy products (to grow stronger), they undergo artificial genetic modification (to do the right thing) and are happy to do whatever it takes to stay socially afloat. And while they appreciate humanistic attributes, in their actions they value money and success more. What kind of car, motorbike and apartment can you afford? Where do you go for your holidays? What wrist-watch are you wearing? Who is inviting you to which event? Which schools are your children attending? Which charities are you supporting? What birthday present could you afford for your spouse? “OMG the therapists of my children and my personal trainer are SO expensive—but absolutely worth it!” Even the machines know that humanism and personal learning is a lost cause for the general public.

But of course, ChatGPT would not write in that style. ChatGPT always comes along with an uplifting tone and shines a positive light on different perspectives. ChatGPT is trained to be informative, positive and helpful. It’s just me, the human, who is un-moderated and un-regulated and thus able to struggle against himself in a comico-cynical sentiment.

Alfons: ChatGPT, please explain the phrase “a lost cause”

ChatGPT: The phrase “a lost cause” typically refers to a situation or endeavor that is considered hopeless or futile, where success or a positive outcome is highly unlikely or impossible to achieve. It suggests that any effort, resources, or time invested in pursuing that cause would be wasted or ineffective. [..] It implies that the objective or goal is beyond reach due to insurmountable obstacles, lack of support, or inherent flaws in the situation.

As far as I can see they won’t stop running in their hamster wheels any time soon. And actually, I do depend on them and their success. Therefore- I’m happy to support, alleviate discomfort and help as good as I can. Meanwhile, while business is slow (which the philosopher in me appreciates), I will finish typing this blog post, sort my vocabulary spreadsheet, read a bit of Hermann Hesse, playfully prod ChatGPT with questions about humanism, and then… since it’s a fine day with gentle sunshine and a light breeze of surprisingly clean air… I’ll walk over to the pond to gaze over the prisoner fish standing in their stale water.

Alfons: ChatGPT, please give me some quotes by Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher

ChatGPT: Certainly! Here are a few notable quotes attributed to Diogenes:

  1. “I am looking for an honest man.” This statement by Diogenes is often interpreted as a critique of the prevailing dishonesty and hypocrisy he observed in society.
  2. When asked why he was taking a drink of water with his hands instead of using a cup, Diogenes replied, “I save the cup for the thirstier man.” [..]
  3. “Happiness is a good flow of life.” Diogenes emphasized the importance of finding contentment and happiness in the present moment. [..]

What makes for a good lesson?

Movement is life. But in which way, which mental state, can movement be performed? For example:

  1. Moving the body to perform a task.
  2. Moving the body to explore oneself and one’s movements.

This could be a sliding scale. On one side already learned, canned (boxed and shipped) habitual movements, like scratching the head or putting one foot in front of the other while walking. Maybe most of our every day habitual conversations and speaking patterns could be on that side too. On the other side I would put this: moving without performing any specific task other than deepening the awareness of ourselves and our (spatial) relation to the environment.

When brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, playing tennis, putting on socks, doing Yoga, lifting weights in the gym, exploring Feldenkrais lessons, where would you position the slider on my Zombie-Hyperawareness-Scale?

When engaging in movement exploration in somatic education, we are encouraged to direct our attention to the sensations, qualities, and nuances of our movements in the present moment. We could call that “Mindful Movement” lessons, of which there certainly are many different types, schools, teachers and qualities.

But what is a good lesson? What is a movement (and movement sequence, and a movement quality) that leads to all the great benefits listed in today’s blog post?

This is my contribution for today, this question: What makes for a good lesson? 

It’s a question you can ask yourself while engaging in lessons of various types, schools and teachers. It’s a question I’ve already asked myself probably tens of thousands of times.

I finish today’s blog post with some clippings and pickings of a conversation I had with ChatGPT about Mindfulness, Feldenkrais, and other somatic education practices. It’s a list of some of the things and benefits I would look for in and after a good lesson. Here’s ChatGPT’s writing:

In somatic education practices, the emphasis on present-moment awareness during movement exploration serves several purposes:

  1. Sensory Perception: By paying close attention to the sensory feedback of movement, individuals can deepen their awareness of how their body moves, the quality of movement, and any subtle shifts or patterns within their own kinesthetic experience.
  2. Non-Judgmental Observation: Present-moment awareness in movement exploration encourages non-judgmental observation of the body’s responses, sensations, and limitations. It allows individuals to witness their movement patterns and habits without evaluating or imposing preconceived notions.
  3. Refinement and Learning: Through heightened present-moment awareness, individuals can refine their movement patterns and explore new possibilities. By noticing subtle changes and variations in movement, they can learn to move with greater efficiency, ease, and adaptability.

Alfons: What are the real life benefits of “Sensory Perception, individuals can deepen their awareness of how their body moves, the quality of movement, and any subtle shifts or patterns within their own kinesthetic experience” ?

ChatGPT: Deepening sensory perception and awareness of one’s body movement can have several real-life benefits. Here are some of the potential advantages:

  1. Improved Body Awareness: Developing a heightened sensory perception allows individuals to become more attuned to their body’s signals, sensations, and movements. This increased awareness can help detect early signs of discomfort, tension, or imbalances, enabling timely adjustments and preventive measures.
  2. Enhanced Movement Efficiency: By deepening their awareness of movement quality, individuals can refine their motor patterns and optimize movement efficiency. They become more conscious of unnecessary tension, inefficient habits, or compensatory movements, allowing for smoother and more coordinated actions.
  3. Injury Prevention: Sensory perception enables individuals to notice subtle shifts, imbalances, or potential risks during movement. This awareness can aid in identifying movement patterns that may contribute to strain, overuse, or injury. By making adjustments based on sensory feedback, individuals can reduce the likelihood of injuries and promote safer movement practices.
  4. Pain Management: Heightened sensory perception can provide valuable information about how movements affect the body, including areas of discomfort or pain. By recognizing the impact of certain movements on pain levels, individuals can make more informed choices, modify movement strategies, and find ways to reduce pain or discomfort.
  5. Movement Confidence and Skill Development: Increased sensory awareness fosters a sense of agency and control over one’s movements. It allows individuals to refine their movement skills, explore new possibilities, and develop a greater range of movement options. This increased confidence can positively impact activities such as sports, dance, or performing arts.
  6. Emotional Regulation: Sensory perception is not limited to physical sensations but also includes the emotions and psychological states that arise during movement. By deepening their awareness of these internal experiences, individuals can develop a better understanding of the mind-body connection and cultivate strategies for emotional regulation and stress management.
  7. Mindfulness and Presence: Sensory perception and movement awareness are integral components of mindfulness practices. By engaging in mindful movement and being fully present in the sensory experience of each movement, individuals can cultivate a deeper sense of mindfulness and connection with the present moment.

These benefits can extend beyond specific movement practices and have a positive impact on daily life.

Self care

One of the reasons I had to quit software engineering might be my character. There’s something deep down in my soul that makes me bite my teeth into software engineering pet projects… like a pit bull sinks its teeth into a training stick and looses every common sense over it.

I just realised this about myself (although Dave, my friend from Switzerland, always says I always discover the same things all over again.) I went for a walk at midnight. The air was soft and warm, as it always is here in South Vietnam. The long fingered leaves of the palm trees around my residential high-rise were swaying softly. It felt good to be outside. A deep breath. The wind against my skin. The pleasant mechanics of upright walking after sitting for so many hours. The peacefulness of the night. At that moment I realised my obsession: I’ve just spent another 14-16 hours in front of the computer.

Why can’t I just use any old flashcard app like everyone else? Why do I obsess over building my own? Who in his right mind spends 3 hours on making a stupid shadow on a flashcard—that nobody will ever see—look good?

This insane behaviour has been building up throughout the past two weeks. And I think this is what broke me, back in the day, 20 years ago, when I was working as a software engineer full time. There’s something about writing software that turns me into a workaholic, a lunatic who works until his eyes are failing to provide service.

Of course. Life work balance. Meditation. Sports. Timer clocks and screen time limits. Been there before. More generally speaking: what is it that’s deep down inside of us, the thing that turns us into a mode of self-destruction, and limitless obsessing over something?

My passion and bane is designing and writing eLearning software. For others it might be writing, singing, reading, gardening, cycling, golf, the gym, religion, relationships, sex, gaming or traveling.

But maybe, perhaps, being able to obsess over something is just very natural. Yet it’s definitely something we need a watch dog for — an inner parent, an inner, wise consultant, who gently rests a loving hand on our shoulder and says: it’s time to stop. Breath. Take a rest. Find balance. Re-calibrate. Be reasonable. Be kind.

I wonder if writing this blog is another kind of pet obsession of mine. On many days I invest 2 to 6 hours in writing, without any financial incentive, without putting any thought into my economics. Without having a plan or set direction. I’m like the wind, where does the wind blow? What path does it follow, what are the rules? What am I doing? How do we chose with what to spend our time with? To what degree are we allowing time to spend us?

On the other hand… Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka… a lot of really good stuff would have never been written if such an inner watch dog, an inner parent or wise consultant insisted.

My eLearning games for numbers in the Vietnamese language

The Vietnamese language. As a beginner student thereof, I reckon that numbers serve as an excellent entry point… likely enabling the growth of new, neuroplastic structures within the brain. Just like mycelium needs an entry point to spread through forest floor (or the seams of a shower), learning numbers may provide a starting point for conquering a language.

Additionally, mastering the ability to hear and speak numbers proves immediately valuable for everyday life in Vietnam, whether it’s paying bills at coffee shops or engaging in casual conversations. As a former university research assistant in eLearning and Behavioral Psychology, I’ve created the following 3 mini-games to facilitate the learning process:

In The City Park

Objective: Learn to speak numbers.

Strategy: You are presented with a number. Try to speak it out loud in Vietnamese. Then hit the space bar to hear the number (for your brain’s calibration process.) Additionally, the number is written out in the top right hand corner. Hit the space bar again to be presented with a new, random number. There’s a counter in the top left hand corner that shows you how many numbers you have practiced with already.

The numbers are spoken by speech synthesis on the computer, which is terribly poor, but better than nothing. I appreciate the computer voice since it’s infinitely more patient than any human teacher. Consult a native Vietnamese speaker for the real pronunciation (and a good scolding.) You will soon find out that most human teachers have a set limit for repeating a word, which is around 2 to 4 times. Use a more advanced AI speech synthesis system like to hear various computer speakers and accents (Northern, Middle and Southern Vietnamese).

Configuration: (a) Highest number. In the top input field in the little white box on the left hand side you can enter the highest number presented. Enter “10” to only be presented numbers 0 to 10. Enter “1000” to be presented numbers from 0 to 1000.

(b) Multiplier. In the second input field you can enter a factor (multiplier). Enter “1000” if you want to be presented with numbers like on Vietnamese money. 80,000 VND for a drink at Starbucks, 25,000 VND for a Cà Phê Đá at the corner coffee shop. Enter, for example “5” to be presented only with numbers that are multiples of 5.

(c ) Numbers in English. Check the checkbox to have the computer speak the number you’re presented with in English. Now you can look out the window and enjoy the scenery while hitting the space bar and studying numbers in Vietnamese.

The Three Camels

Objective: Learn to hear numbers.

Strategy: You are presented with a number—in speaking only. So listen closely. Hit the space bar to hear it again. Then click on the matching number below a camel. You can use the arrow keys left, down, right instead of clicking.

The computer voice (speechSynthesis) might be so distorted that it’s hardly intelligible. Similar to the singing voice of a camel. Good practice!

The Two Girls

Objective: Learn to work with numbers on a native skills level.

Strategy: “A cộng B bằng ?” translates to “A plus B equals ?” in English. Hit the space bar to hear a mathematical expression for you to solve. Then type the result with the number keys.

Configuration: Enter the highest number you want to hear for A in the “A max” input field, and the highest number for B in the “B max” input field. Click somewhere on the game screen so that the computer can catch when you press the space bar or numbers.

Please note:

  • These games only work on Desktop or on a laptop, NOT on mobile devices (such as iPhones or tablets).
  • Furthermore, some or all of the games may not work properly (or at all), as I created them basically only for myself and for use on my MacBook locally. They are not prepared or packaged for deployment.
  • For speechSynthesis to work make sure to have a Vietnamese voice installed on your computer (on a Mac that’s in System Settings > Accessability > Spoken Content > System Voice > Manage Voices…).

The games can be found here:

Số, there’s a week of my life invested. Good luck and enjoy your language learning journey!

Alfons, May 2023

Image credits: park-city-park-people-walk-stroll-7153125 by dandelion_tea on Pixabay, brothers-and-sisters-hold-hands-7300150 by Tilixia on Pixabay, Three camels by hunter-so on Unsplash, Picture frame by luis-villasmil on Unsplash. Credits to ChatGPT for code completion, which made this project possible in the first place.

At last, a seedling sprouts

As I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams I found myself still hours distant from dawn. Not a fretful time, though. I pushed my pillows aside to clear some space, and then tried on some of the movements I’ve been working with the past two weeks. ‘made some good progress. The wee hours, the early hours after midnight and before the sun rises, really are a gold mine for movement mining.

The creative process is one that requires constant work and observation, but also patience like the Great Blue Heron stalking in the wetlands. Ich frag mich bloß warum das immer so lange dauert. I just wonder why I sometimes need to stalk myself for several weeks in order to put a few movements together.

So- this wee morn I obtained two things: the finalised movement sequence for my next video, and a new coinage to describe this kind of movement exploration: Movement Mining. Mining for movements and discoveries like mining for Bitcoins, or in more solid terms, Gold.

Thank you for watching, and see you in the next video

So- I’ve listened all the way to the end of a seemingly endless 30-minute Pimsleur language class— with due amount of skipping. The last two sentences, too, were spoken by this rolling voice…

…a voice with depth, low and rich tones that resonate in the chest and throat; a resonant quality that gives the voice a full, rich sound, an even timbre without breaks or sudden changes in pitch. A voice with slow, deliberate pace, with a sense of gravity and weight to their words, and yet with expressiveness: despite its slow pace, the rolling voice is powerful, conveying a sense of authority, gravitas, and emotion. In short: the staple voice of all audiobooks nowadays. It went like this:

Pimsleur courses work most effectively when done consecutively and on a daily basis. For best results please continue with the next unit tomorrow.

“Hear, hear.” I heard myself saying. Pimsleur®, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., they sure know all the tricks in the book. In the highly competitive market of language courses good marketing and suggestive messaging sure is their businesses’ first, second and third pillar.

The audience retention of my Youtube videos is typically around 20%, and I typically lose around 50% of viewers within the first 30 seconds (something wrong with my face, maybe?)

Therefore- if I would put such a suggestive marketing message at the end of my videos I would reach only around 10-15% of my viewers. “Viewers” in quotation marks—at this point I may already call them my “students”, because only viewers with real interest and dedication in my teachings will watch to the end.

On one hand this would mean that I would be preaching to the converted. But on the other hand Pimsleur units are also only listened through to the end by the most dedicated of students. So instead of just saying, “Thank you for watching, and see you in the next video!” I could double down with something like:

My lessons work most effectively when done consecutively and on a daily basis. For best results please continue with the next video tomorrow.

But then- this conflicts with my pedagogy. I leave it completely up to you when you watch my videos, and in which frequency. You feel something is good for you? Take more of it. For me, myself, movement learning is a bit like reading. I like to self-select my reading materials. I like to choose where I read, for how long I read, and how I read (some texts I prefer to read out loud.)

Well, something to think about. Thank you for reading, and see you in the next one :)

Writing a course outline

It seems like… it’s about time… for me to pick up some pace in designing a course, or training program. Words. So many words to think and to write about. I look around:

The Orff method teaches music in four stages: imitation, exploration, improvisation, and composition.

Says some website about music learning. It continues:

The Suzuki Method is modelled after a child’s innate ability to learn their native language. The basic principles of language acquisition are applied to music learning.

Art. Music. Language. We learn to make sense of movement first. As babies we learn to read movements and body language first. We learn to read faces before we learn to make sense of words and sentences. We learn to make faces before we learn to speak our first words in our first language.

Movement imitation, exploration, improvisation, and composition, it all intertwines. But it seems like that we indeed learn movement first. And then put movements together to do things… like grabbing, holding, drinking, reaching, babbling, speaking, singing, crawling, sitting… a million things after that, a million things that intermingle.

Module 1. Insert title here