Jigsaw puzzle metaphor

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This text is part of: "I would never send my kids to school" by Piotr Wozniak (2017)

The power of knowledge comes from its use in modeling reality. For a good model of the world, we need to assemble little pieces of knowledge into a coherent stucture. If this structure is compared to a jigsaw puzzle, some concepts of neuroscience or knowledge processing can be explained in an illustrative manner.

Jigsaw puzzle metaphor

If knowledge of the world is one big jigsaw puzzle, new pieces of knowledge are loose pieces of the puzzle:

  • learn drive is the instinct in which a jigsaw puzzle is like a magnet that attracts lose jigsaw pieces that float around. The bigger the perimeter of the puzzle, the bigger the attractive force. Rich knowledge asks for more learning. Areas of the puzzle that appear to come next for expansion correspond with topics of interest. Knowledge of low stability and high retrievability will dominate the attractive areas of knowledge
  • fast learning at school is like pouring a river of jigsaw pieces over the jigsaw puzzle. Fast flowing pieces refuse to stick. If they fly fast enough, they damage the puzzle assembled thus far via interference. Excessive speed or volume of learning result in regress
  • coercive schooling is like pushing pieces of knowledge that do not fit the puzzle. They may stick for a while but inevitably crumble away. Incoherent knowledge does not stick to memory. Forceful pushing, can crack the whole puzzle. Some pieces may get detached from the middle of the puzzle and float away. Empty spaces may form. Those empty spaces can collapse later on and ruin the fabric of the entire puzzle
  • sleep is like hard disk defragmentation: it goes through the whole puzzle using a fixed algorithm and checks which pieces could be shifted from one place to another to improve coherence. Defragmentation allows of more pieces to be attached at the edges in waking
  • unschooling is like a patient work on a jigsaw puzzle. The kid can be absorbed with just one edge of the puzzle, it can grow unevenly, and it may result in an unusual interest, habit, occupation, or profession. Patient work allows of building huge puzzles with large surfaces. Unschooling is a great way to breed the unexpected. For example: experts or creative geniuses
  • cramschool is like school made worse by adding hours. Additional exhaustion, sleep deficit, and hate of learning are like an attempt to use a hammer to make pieces stick. The brain does not like abuse, and will pay back, in long term, in lesser creative capacity and mental health issues (see also: How schools can contribute to Alzheimer's disease)
  • reward of learning is similar to the happiness of a kid who assembles the puzzle. If two big assembled areas can somehow be seamlessly connected together, the joy may verge onto elation
  • exponential acceleration in free learning can be compared to the Aha! moment in which a child can finally see the big picture that makes further assembly much easier
  • knowledge valuation network is a system in the brain which, like a great chess grandmaster, looks at the board, and at the available pieces, and plans the strategy. It helps make intelligent choices about which pieces of the puzzle would fit best
  • reducing the size of the behavioral space reduces the number of available pieces and the ultimate size of the puzzle
  • concept network that represents the knowledge of the world corresponds with a large well-assembled puzzle

See also: