Sunday, May 22, 2005

feeling sequential...

This Shabbat I was at my brother-in-law's house, and they wanted to play a game called Phase 10. Here's my thing about games: I like playing them, I can't stand learning how to play them. I just don't "get it". At least this time I was able to follow the instructions. My wife has had no end of frustration of my inability (my term) / unwillingness (her term) to learn such games as "Settlers of Catan" and Mah-Jong. I just look at the rules and get the shivers.

What's frustrating for my playing partners is that they assume that because I'm pretty good at one kind of learning, I'm naturally good at another.

Many years ago, my father showed me a kind of intelligence test where the results showed your method of learning. You were either Abstract or Concrete, Random or Sequential. This seems to be a widely known theory, and is discussed here. I don't know enough psychology to know if it is scientifically valid, but I can say about myself that I have a much easier time with sequential learning than random.

For example, I think that my difficulties learning to play games, drive a car, learn gemara and play most sports are connected to the difficulties I face in random learning, where many things happen at the same time, without a direct sequential order.

On the other hand, some of my biggest pleasures come from learning things in the concrete, sequential style. I love history, and remember things I learned in 7th grade. History is very sequential. And in general trivia is my favorite kind of game. All kinds of facts, where you just need to find a place to put them in your brain and store them there.

Two particular interests of mine are very much connected with my affinity for sequential learning: genealogy and etymology. They're both the study of where things come from, and show how we can't understand what something is today (a family or a word) without knowing what it once was, and what happened to its "cousins".

I'll probably end up posting a lot about both. In the genealogy realm I've discovered:

  • that I'm not a kohen but a levi
  • that a cousin of mine is actually related to his wife (fifth cousins, don't worry)
  • that I might be related to Anne Frank (I doubt it)

And in the etymological world, I've learned that:

  • cholent is related to the words cauldron, chowder and nonchalant
  • frum is related to prime, and prim
  • shmooze comes from the hebrew word shmu'ot

The above are of course just a few examples.

What is important is to remember that everyone has their own way of learning. The differences are what make the world so great.

The gemara gives a wonderful example of this:

Adam, the first human being, was created as a single person to show forth the greatness of the Ruler who is beyond all rulers, the Blessed Holy One. For if a human ruler [like Caesar, the Roman Emperor who was the ruler in their time and place] mints many coins from one mold, they all carry the same image, they all look the same. But the Blessed Holy One shaped all human beings in the Divine Image, as Adam was…And yet not one of them resembles another. (Sanhedrin 38a)

I see both the sequential and the random, both the concrete and the abstract in this passage! (So please don't make fun of me for having a hard time learning that game...)