Top Up or Top Down Learning?

by Michael Berry on July 19, 2014

In Personal Development we learn that life is a journey and not a destination.

In large part, a culture at its deepest core is a shared Triumvirate. Some past cultures have been highly superstitious; others highly religious and others more scientific. The core human Triumvirate deserves to be in full effect in everyone. What you place in your personal Triumvirate is up to your own particular taste.

As scientists began attempts to program computers to work like a brain they realized that there are two different ways to program a computer. There is what is called a “top down” programming, which means that the program comes complete, right out of the box. Every detail of what the computer needs to know to carry out its task is already programmed in. This is great unless something unexpected is introduced. However, one can quickly see that this computer has no way of learning; it can’t figure anything out.

The other way to program a computer is the “bottom up” method, where the computer learns as it goes. This can most easily be thought of as a robot that is attempting to navigate an unknown area. If the robot can learn through trial and error and has the ability to recognize and categorize patterns, this robot can learn its way around, becoming more and more efficient. Recently a program was created for the purpose of learning how dinosaurs moved. A software program was created that allowed scientists to input the dimensions of skeletal bones and range of motion of joints. Once this data was entered, the computer attempted to make this model take a step. Over hundreds of thousands of attempts the computer ultimately found the most efficient way to move that particular skeletal structure. Then, to test the plausibility of the predictions, they entered the skeletal structure of animals that are still living today. The results were amazingly accurate, even being able to predict muscle size, strength, and where tissue was connected to the bones.

Bottom up programming allows the user to get useful results even when unexpected obstacles come up. Top down programming leaves the user helpless when even the smallest thing changes. We begin our life using a bottom up programming system, but when we begin school we are mainstreamed into the top down method, and it almost seems that the more we learn the more helpless we become. Most obviously on the personal satisfaction index.

This relates to your core Triumvirate as well. Curiosity keeps us solidly engaged in a bottom up method regardless of what we are being taught. It’s like we end up with a bin of untested knowledge that is marked “Good For Tests Only.” And much of what we learn can become applicable if we take it upon ourselves to ultimately work things out personally, to know better than to accept untested knowledge as anything other than speculative theory.

As humans, our primary choice is whether we are going to be the Learner or the Learned. The Learned will find themselves surrounded by much agreement, but may find it frustrating when less Learned people consistently outperform them. The Learner may not make as many friends along the way, but will gain levels of skill and productivity that leave the rest of their field mystified. The bottom up, or Learner, should take precedence over the top down nearly all of the time.

Personal development is our business and our life.
Michael Berry
In personal development we learn that “we all see and experience the world not as it is, but as we are”.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt Zavadil January 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

I appreciate you sharing this, Michael. You provide outstanding value

Steve & Vicky Bruce January 17, 2012 at 10:25 am

Great job,Michael

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