Sept. 2, 2018

You can’t teach an old dog a new trick

Use this phase to imply the difficulty or hopelessness to learn a useful thing. The phase also has another connotation as well. Use it as your own risks and satisfaction. If you want a dog, then get a puppy or full-of-trick dog but not a tricky dog. And, I’m not writing this about training a dog, but rather about learning and human. Here are some keyword: learning, habit, change, brain, the least resistant path.

Obviously, this phrase can be used to describe learning and positive change not only for dogs but human as well. After all, a dog has more tricks is more fun, receives more treats and calls up for the show of tricks when friends come over. No one wants to have one-trick pony, right? Another aspect of this phrase pertains to me is that I value learning, but learning is terrible at showing the outcome immediately. I am not always a fan of learning because even I tried, I failed and that is discouraging.

And how many times, you heard somebody’s parents cajole their kids to learn, for a better future, while they are struggling from the day job because the ‘computer-stuff is not for me, or I am not good with digital transaction’. Apparently, those parents value learning, but the implementation of learning receives a rather different treatment, especially upon themselves. Learning seems not a for the joy but the long term accomplishment. Here is something to consider, why kids to like to go to school. Maybe, they will meet new friends, have play grounds, and learning new things. Why learning learning has different mental stress than adult learning. Talking about networking at job fair for the adult and why the kids make friends all time, right?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

To reiterate, the intention when saying the phrase above in the common sense is to the unlikeliness to teach or to change, no matter how positive it is. The phase is to suggest giving up and to spend your time in more productive activity.

Another phase relevant to this process of making change is beating a dead horse. The later has the same idea of using animal as a proxy for human. Using this phrase describes a situation that seems hopeless or too headache to get anything moving forward. Beating a dead horse is to pronounce of totally giving up. There is simply no hope to get going with a dead house. After all, who is stupid enough to ride a dead horse, and beat them to go faster.

Oh wait, someone may, especially only thing they have a horse that seems dead by others. It is much easier to agree that the horse is dead like a dodo and there is nothing more to do about it. Most of the disagreement is with the blinking of live and death, when the situation is changing or at the transitional stage. Like a plane, the critical time is taking off or landing. The rest can be auto piloted.

I should put this first, and ask the dog owners for forgiveness. I believe everything can be changed. It is true that teaching a new trick to an old dog is much more difficulty than a puppy. That habit of learning, the physical condition to record a new pattern between two stages are different. Some look at how much effort to change one thing matters rather how many things could be changed given the same efforts. This type question has no definite winning. Should I teach my stubborn kid to be gentile? Or should I teach ten gifted kids for a well manner given that I have 24 hours a day, and about much less than 8 hours I’m in a productive mood. I’m not a teacher nor a parent, but that two extreme cases give us the some sense of doing thing matters to us, and doing things efficiently.

Learning is hard and expensive. That is not an emphasis. To learn something, one needs to have a purpose or end goal in mind. The purpose could be to satisfy the parents, so you can have their attention and weekend holidays. When I was a kid, learning for a better future seems distant and irrelevant. What I wanted then was my parents be proud of my academic performance and avoid the dissatisfaction. Learning to have a higher salary is short-lived because of dismissing of utility at a certain income, but with a hungry kid and no better option than getting out the village, learning seems to be the best investment of time, the one you always have.

Learning is not just repeating the information over and over. Repeating is an effective technique to engrave information into the brain pattern, but that approach is similar to asking for a hard labor. You could remember more things and less effort when you started and worn off quickly as you lost the interest, tired and overwhelm. What happen? A hard labor is not sustainable. Taking some rest, relaxing yourself, or eating something that you like could booster your brain, get it ready for another hard labor workout, called repeating information.

The expensive aspect of learning is the energy and brain power to put information in place. Our brain has many layers, and the major mass of the brain are dedicated for learning, problem-solving, attention and such. The heart beat, breathing, coordination of movement are controlled by much smaller mass of brain. Think about this, human body consumes a power of 60W equivalent, and the brain is about one-fifth (12W) while its weight is about 2% of the body, or 12.5 more energy requirements per mass compare to the rest of the body. Inside that brain, a big portion of the brain then use for learning, to making sense, or memorizing.

small portions of the brain is for executing physical movement. The major portion is to probing, storing, learning new patterns.

Because of the investment in learning, it is make sense that the brain is not as efficient in learning comparing to executing habits. Try this, without even think, try to put crossing your figures of the left and right hands. Make a mental note. Now, try to change position. If in the first try, or the default mode, the index figure of the left hand is on top, then try to place your index figure of the right hand on top in the second try. Make a note of how easy to difficulty it is. That is a small example of executing a habit, and change a new pattern. After all, it is better to have energy reserved to escape a tiger rather learn why to moon does not appeared every night.

Learning like other activities needs a frequent training like exercising, because your brain is conditioned to the habit of memorizing a new information, and more efficient in executing the procedure of learning as well. A challenge with one that has not habit of learning, in a sense that being able to comprehend the underlying subjects, not just by-passing a piece of information for a momentary entertainment, is the habit of learning itself. To learn a domain of knowledge, say block-chain or bitcoin (a hot term in 2017–2018), at first one maybe needs to learn to take a new route to go to work, to do different exercises, to cook the same ingredients by a different method. It is easier to change the mental capacity by by a small physical routine like starting exercising. By exercising, it is better in an aerobic mode to put the heart rate double a normal rate. The example above is to illustrate my point but not a practical guide to jump directly to a narrow field of information.

So yes, you can’t teach an old dogs a new trick with the same effort like with a puppy. The old dog eventually learn a new trick after another 10 puppies have learned the same trick. How about the old dog’s performance? An A for the effort or nah, why wasting time? The decision is yours.

Originally posted on on July 25, 2018
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