The Feynman Technique

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the Feynman Technique?”

“It is a technique for understanding inspired by the brilliant physicist Richard Feynman.

It is possible to think you understand something without really understanding it. I call this phenomenon, pseudo-understanding. Pseudo-understanding is indistinguishable from genuine understanding. The only way to tell them apart is by testing.

The best way to test your understanding is by explaining. Expressed as a principle, I call it Learning by Teaching.”

“What if you don’t have someone to explain it to?”

“Explaining it to someone else is ideal because it gives you immediate feedback. The next best thing is simulating the experience by explaining it to yourself.”

“What is the technique?”

“Take a concept you want to understand and write it at the top of a page. Then, underneath it, try explaining it as if to someone else. 

How would you explain x? (level 1)

It helps if you actually verbalize your explanation. 

Use examples, analogies, or diagrams to clarify your thinking.

Once you’ve written down your explanation, test your understanding by checking the definition or the source material.

Then start deepening your understanding by adding challenge

How would you explain x to someone who knows nothing about it? (level 2)

This forces you to simplify. 

In essence, we understand concepts by using other concepts. To explain to a beginner, you need to identify the fundamental concepts, those that are not derived from other concepts.

Repeat the process from level 1 and refine your explanation.

Then get to level 3.

How would you explain x to a six-year old? (level 3)

This forces you to simplify even further. 

To a child, you need to explain even the most basic concepts. This helps you discover the concepts you’re taking for granted. 

Every stage is a process of progressive simplification. Every stage forces you to dig deeper until you get to the essence of it.”

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About Dani Trusca

Life-Artist, Thinker, Mover (Traceur)

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