Teen challenges us to stop learning and start thinking

Monday, June 29, 2015

We live in a culture that emphasizes learning. High-school, college, job-training, studying abroad, continued career education – these are all different ways to do the same study routine with various textbooks and lectures.

In the TedTalk below, Jacob Barnett explains why we need to stop focusing on learning and instead, start thinking.

Diagnosed with autism at a young age, Barnett was forced to stop learning and start thinking when he was denied challenging education due to misconceptions about his intelligence. Barnett states that having autism mean that he, “was focusing on things in such extreme detail that it seemed like I wasn’t thinking at all.” In fact, Barnett is highly intelligent.

Due to teachers and admissions officers not recognizing his potential, Barnett spent a lot of time thinking, going on to develop his own theory expanding Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Reflecting on his transition to receiving higher education, Barnett says, “There was a calculus class I wanted to sit in the back of, so I decided…I am going to learn algebra, trigonometry, all those other middle school stuff, all the high school math, and first year undergrad calculus in two weeks, so I can sit in the back of this class. I was ten.”

He questions whether great thinkers such as Einstein and Newton who have influenced the way we view the world were ‘genius’ or if they simply ‘made the transition from learning to thinking.’

Barnett challenges the audience to not learn anything for the next 24 hours, and instead focus on thinking. He asserts, “You all have some passion…You all know what it is. I want you to think about that field instead of learning about that field. And instead of being a student of that field, be the field, whether its music, or architecture, or science, or whatever. And I want you to think about that field, and who knows, maybe you can create something.”

Barnett is currently 17, and according to his website, “is now researching Loop Quantum Gravity and Quantum Foundations at Perimeter Institute for Advanced Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada.”

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