November 3, 2017

Life As A Science Experiment

Lifelong learning. What is it? First, I’m averse to the term. It’s cliche and makes me think of kittens on posters commanding me to “hang in there.” It’s one of those phrases that has been overused and thus lost its impact, which is where I take umbrage. Couldn’t we call it “endless scholarship” or the “perpetual pursuit of wisdom”? Because I am a hardcore believer in the impact of lifelong learning, or being open to new information and experiences. Absorbing these experiences and making them part of who you are, in my opinion, is the secret to happiness, success, and all the goodies in life.


I realize this is a bold statement. I mean, the secret to life? So, I brought back up.


Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”


How do we foster “different” thinking? By staying open and excited about learning. If we silo our thinking; surrounding ourselves only with familiar people and ideas we have already had or learned about; we lose the opportunity to see things from different perspectives. The more you expose yourself to new philosophies of thought or information the more likely you are to be able to see connections you couldn’t see before (new solutions for Albert).


This thought is supported in an Evannex article on Elon Musk. Growing up Musk read two books a day, learning a little about a lot of different things, making him an “expert generalist”. Allowing himself to focus on multiple fields of study gave Musk the advantage of being able to connect the dots that others couldn’t see and become a disruptor in the automotive industry, software development, and aerospace technology.


Bonus: Staying open to new philosophies can make your more empathetic and relatable which can lead to personal happiness (i.e., friends).


Now, there is a caveat. Leonardo DaVinci said it best:


“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do”


Lifelong learning is not a project but a process (hence “lifelong”). Reading is wonderful (and addictive) but learning with a capital L doesn’t stop there.


I’m going to use the scientific method to demonstrate my point:


  1. Question or problem that needs to be solved
  2. Research
  3. Develop a hypothesis
  4. Test hypothesis
  5. Analyze results
  6. Draw a conclusion


I would categorize reading or talking about new things under research. Research is vital but it is only part of the equation. Look again at Elon Musk and his voracious appetite for reading. Tesla and SpaceX would not exist if he had stopped at the research phase. Data is great but you also need tacit knowledge to find solutions to difficult problems. Get out there and experience (experiment with) the world, do the things you are reading about. It’s messy and unpredictable and sometimes painful, but it is the only way to test a hypothesis.


Most importantly, and this is big, you have to learn how to fail. (See SpaceX rocket launches). If you never fail, you are not learning anything new. And you can’t fail unless you actually do something.


Bonus: It’s obvious but I’m going to put it here anyway: the pride of success after a failure is so much sweeter.


Lastly, make a record of what you are learning. Whether it is something you read about or learned to do, the process of writing your thoughts and experiences down improves your ability to recall them later and more importantly allows you the opportunity for reflection and insight (see step five above).


For fun, here is a list of what I’ve learned recently:


  1. What is a TOR browser and what is it used for? I learned the answer listening to the podcast, “Rabbits”. (Dying to know more, but afraid to poke around. Who wants to end up on a CIA watchlist?)
  2. Scientists are using the heme molecule to develop fake meat that looks, tastes and bleeds like real meat. I learned this reading a WIRED article and I am fascinated by what it could mean for our environment.
  3. Convertibles are absolutely, without a doubt, better than hardtops. I learned this from my daughter. To be more accurate, I learned my daughter’s opinion on the subject.
  4. Habits, once formed, cannot be broken, only changed. I learned this reading “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.
  5. You can use Python to automate certain functions on your computer pretty quickly. I learned this by asking our brilliant intern Charlie how he managed to get his computer to populate Excel cells without him.
  6. How to move a small building with PVC pipes and a 2×4. I learned this through experimentation and I am secretly very proud of this. (Tip of the hat to my husband for believing we can do these things and that we will “figure it out.”)
  7. I learned while helping my daughter study that CRISPRs are a big deal in biotech, specifically in genetic research.
  8. I learned that my son’s favorite playlist for studying lives here. I tested it while writing this post and I agree it’s great.


In conclusion, being curious and open to new things allows us to be the best version of ourselves and that is amazing. Lifelong learning is a mindset, and a clear indicator of success if we trust Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and Elon Musk.


For more ways on how lifelong learning impacts your life here is a great list from and you can read about Einstein’s philosophy on learning here.

Photo of Valecia

Valecia Hopper, Thinker and Maker at Fifth Letter, is a neurotic bookworm with dirty sense of humor. She likes helping others and finding creative solutions to problems. Contact Valecia at