Conscious Learning

“Dubito ergo sum”: conscious learning


A description follows of a course developed in 2013 for University level students, in order to help them make good use of their time and resources during the pursuit of their degree; this is achieved by two fundamental pillars, which are an enquiring attitude, the habit of challenging the concepts, and cultivating the consciousness of their own thought process.

The source of this material is twofold, and draws from the personal experience of the author as a student of electronic engineering and private teacher and from the studies about consciousness better described in the other part of this site.

Although it was developed in Italy, in 2013, the course is being delivered for the first time at the University of Sheffield, UK, during the academic year 2017/18, as an extra curricular teaching.

This course is available for delivery to an audience of 20-30 students upon request. The examples used in the lecture, originally taken from physics, may be customized for specific groups of students based on their faculty.

Please find the contact at the bottom of this page.

Course objective

Culture, according to Gaetano Salvemini, is “what remains after forgetting all that you studied”. I’d like to make an addition to this statement, and say ” all that you studied … without comprehension”. Unfortunately, that portion is most of what we studied, because we tend to study by heart, unless we are forced to do otherwise.

Whenever, on the other hand, our study was based on comprehending, we shall have at our disposal new definitions of entities, categories and relationships, that is, all that organizing framework with which we can interpret and give a place to all the experience that our world presents us, not only at school, but in life at large. That is the real legacy of our study, which goes far beyond the contents, which it originally conveyed. This is not confined in schools or colleges, naturally.

When confronted with their disciplines, students should be prepared to tell from where their difficulties in understanding come, or how to interpret an apparent lack of interest. Become aware of some of their prejudices, for instance, may remove those barriers, invisible but harmful, which funnel their thoughts into a fixed set of narrow channels. It is a special type of effort that needs to take place, in order to detect these barriers and the associated mental rigidity, because they are like lenses: almost invisible.

Questioning concepts, looking for counter-examples, weighing the importance and the meaning of the words which express them, are all tools to be learned, used and refined, in order to be part of culture, and not just undergoing it: by a conscious approach, culture takes up a new sense, and becomes alive, because the learner is now playing an active part.

It’s easy to see that these abilities and tools are not just for students in their school age, but should be a right for all those who confront reality, our main teacher, with an open and honest attitude, towards oneself to begin with. It is the ability to always be open to the novelty, which distinguishes those who are young at heart, from those who have given up on their own “golden age”.

Every society which wants to be free needs to be made of vigilant citizens: even if, in a republic, we delegate some powers to others, we are responsible personally to be informed and to think freely. The risk of being deceived by tendentious information can never be ruled out: and if this means having high level of journalism, even more important is to have high level citizens and readers, able to exercise discernment.

This should start from our schools and colleges, and the purpose I have with this course is precisely to contribute in this direction.


Conscious learning

course program

  1. Understanding

1.1.   “I Got it!” In other words …

1.2.   A moment of comprehension seen from the inside – clicking into place – but what place?

1.3.   Relationship between comprehension and other processes

1.4.   The component of understanding and that of memory

2. Not understanding

2.1.   “I didn’t get it!” In other words …

2.2.   Terms and relationships as a necessary basis

2.3.   The right to not understand

3. Misunderstanding

3.1.   Obstacles to comprehension

3.1.1. Presuming to have understood

3.1.2. Multiple points of view

3.1.3. Biases: false road signs on your path

3.1.4. Distorted memories

4. Mechanical study

4.1.1. Studying by heart

4.1.2. Automated reading

5. Conscious learning

5.1.   By the way, what is consciousness?

5.2.   Can we separate our learning from our psychology?

5.3.   Certainties, doubts and ignorance

5.3.1. Cultivating doubts and making the best of them

5.3.2. The reasonable doubt

5.3.3. Beware of certainties (falsifiability of a statement)

5.3.4. The dutiful “I don’t’ know”

5.4.   Not following in error

5.4.1. Embracing a theory – why?

5.4.2. False consequentiality

5.4.3. Self deception

5.5.   Awe? No, thanks.

5.5.1. A theory is never the Truth, but a possible explanation

5.5.2. Experience from others – respect but beware

5.5.3. Miles Mathis and Albert Einstein: mathematics is not an opinion

5.6.   “Hurrah, a paradox: there is something to learn here!”

5.6.1. Paradoxes as indicators of a need for a better comprehension

5.6.2. Discovery will spring out from an apparent ” absurdity “

5.6.3. Making good use of negative research outcomes

6. Investing energies in your study

6.1.   The fundamentals should be in place

6.2.   Studying during the lesson: the greatest opportunity!

6.3.   Studying at home: a consolidation task

6.4.   Studying together or alone: synergies and drawbacks

7. Mnemonic techniques

7.1.   Ok, sometimes you do need memory

7.2.   Basic techniques (the roman room, the shape of the number)

7.3.   Advanced general technique

7.4.   Creating cause-effect chains

Conscious Learning is currently in a pilot phase at the University of Sheffield.

Other Universities or Schools interested, please contact the author at for more information.