Why I Am Studying an Open Degree.
I recently decided to return to school in my thirties while holding a full-time job and running various companies.
I decided actually to take two degrees at the same time:
The first is a Master’s of Artificial Intelligence.
At the same time, taking an unusual and broad degree called an Open Degree. This allows one to pick and choose modules across the entire spectrum of available subjects. You can study anything you want if you meet specific prerequisites for the more advanced modules. As long as the total credits add up, you’re good.
This approach reminds me of the free study period that Joseph Knecht, the main protagonist in the book “The Glass Bead Game” takes before he becomes an influential leader later in life.
I wrote about this previously, so I’m going to quote myself as usual:
I find the idea of taking time out in life for Free Study is something that I find absolutely fascinating. Being able to spend time learning for the sake of learning is an incredible luxury, and also a big responsibility.
With nobody around to tell you what, or even how to do something, you are on your own. It’s completely up to you to make sure you actually make good use of the allotted time. There are no excuses. You must make sure that you don’t squander this golden opportunity.
This is why I would be the first to say that unstructured education is not for everyone. Most people are better suited to a structured university course instead of a period of Free Study.
The general idea behind Free Study is that it is a time of expression, exploration, and discovery.
You will discover a passion for a certain subject, and then you will delve into that subject. At the same time, keep a broad outlook on other subjects, as this is healthy for the mind. Finding something that you like studying is great because you will become naturally knowledgeable. You don’t mind putting in the time and effort.
And, if you happen to be reading this and society is still based on money and the exchange of goods, then you are in luck. You will easily find someone who will pay you for a service related to your passion because they can be almost certain that you will add value. Think about it — you’re both knowledgeable and passionate, and that is a combination of things that is difficult to find, and commands a premium.
The foundation of Free Study is reading, lots and lots of reading.
With all this time on your hands, you will find that you are able to read one to three books per week. I know this sounds like a lot, but if that’s your focus, you can read 4 to six hours a day without even noticing. Split reading between morning, afternoon, and evening sessions. If you struggle to do this, then the first thing you want to learn is how to speed read. It’s a misconception that this means skipping through books.
It’s both an art and a science. There are plenty of resources to learn to skill. One day I may also publish my own guide as it’s such a crucial skill to ensure that we can keep ourselves well educated. So reading is one thing, but understanding and retaining is another.
What I do to understand and retain the things I learn is that I write about them, and then I publish them. Then I periodically reread my own writings, and this keeps the main points of each topic fresh in my head. So far, so good.
However, it’s important that we don’t become stuck on abstract concepts and theory, we should also aim to do something practical. This can be something as simple as regular exercise. This I recommend, purely from the standpoint that a healthy mind needs to be powered by a healthy body.
Other ideas for practical studies are art, music, sculpture, building something, cooking, martial arts, calligraphy, and any hobby that requires dexterity or physical skill. Of the huge advantages that we have nowadays, compared to the past, and even compared to fictional accounts of free study (like the one in The Glass Bead Game) is that we have the internet.
While it’s a double-edged sword, the internet is without doubt one of the most revolutionary tools ever created. The ability to find information at a moment’s notice, to discuss and share ideas with other people from around the world, all from a small device in our pockets, in something that would have seemed like pure science fiction only decades ago.
And yet, here we are. Because I want to make this essay stand the test of time, I am not going to give precise information regarding what you can find in terms of resources, and things move so quickly that anything I write will soon be out of date. But keep this in mind, many major universities publish entire courses, free of charge, online.
Lectures, study materials, and more. This means that potentially you can mix your free study with the resources of a university course, without all the hassle and inefficiencies of actually attending.
That’s pretty awesome.
The great thing about Free Study is that it’s not a dead-end road. If at any time you want to stop and go to university, find a job or do anything else that feels important, you can. You only have yourself to answer to, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
In fact, some may say that delaying attending university is actually the smart thing to do and that you’ll get far more value out of it between the ages of twenty-five to thirty-five than eighteen to twenty-two because at eighteen you are still learning just how to exist outside of your home environment.
By the time you are in your mid-twenties, you should have far fewer distractions, and your time spent in Free Study will have comfortably prepared you for the reading and writing required to get through university in an enjoyable and efficient manner. While a counterargument to this is that you should finish university as quickly as possible to then find a job, I think that it doesn’t hold water.
When you look at your life in the span of decades, the fact that you went to university at eighteen or twenty-five won’t make much of a difference. The differentiating factor will be you; your attitude, your work ethic, your capabilities, and your education.
I am starting with Criminal Law for my first year, as Law is something that I have always been fascinated with — how we have managed to go from zero organization to a set of written documents that everyone abides by and that helps everyone flourish. The State is an interesting mental construction; it can do many things that, if done by an individual or a criminal gang, would be considered entirely amoral, making them perfectly legal and moral.
For instance, the fact that a State is allowed to kidnap an individual and place them in a restricted area, sometimes for decades or even for life, is an extreme power — something that can easily be abused unless we ensure that there are the correct checks and balances.
If I find Criminal Law as fascinating as I think I will, I may likely just focus on law and perhaps economics.
So, apart from trying to be Joseph Knecht from The Glass Bead Game, why am I studying for an Open Degree?
The first reason is flexibility.
This is not something I will be focused full time on, and while I could, in theory, complete the entire degree in three years, it will likely take closer to five or six years — and that’s fine.
And also, because I do not need this degree for anything related to work, I am doing it for the pleasure of learning about new things; it felt right to choose a degree where I can change modules and get a broad education. I didn’t want to select Law and be stuck with studying subject-specific modules for years in case I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I will.
The second reason is that I am attracted to slightly strange and unusual ways of doing things.
I am a contrarian at heart; whenever I see the crowd go one way, I’ll try another. I don’t know anyone who has done an Open Degree. Still, I think many people wish it had existed when they went to university because, if one is disciplined enough, one can get a pretty engaging education by mixing related and complementary subjects such as economy and history, mathematics and physics, and so on.
Finally, I am sure that going into deep-dive on specific subjects for a year at a time will give me plenty to write about, as I use writing as a method to figure things out.
So, expect a fair amount of Artificial Intelligence and Criminal Law topics in the future!