Adventures in Metalearning

How might learning one thing prepare you for entirely another?

Author

Henry Whitfield

How languages and dancing helped me to ski better off piste

Exploring the Alpine wilderness from Méribel, France

“So you got the moves but have you got the touch?” Shania Twain

My ears tighten and my hearing fades as our transit bus winds its way up the mountain. It feels like bubbles expanding in my ears which fail to pop. I realise we are now as high as an aeroplane. The diesel engine groans round a hairpin bend and I can’t see the road beneath us, just the sheer drop. I wonder how close we are to rolling off the edge. I can see hundreds of metres down the valley, full of snow-tipped evergreen trees.

It starts to snow…

We are even higher now and snowflakes the size of bumblebees splat hard against the windscreen. The manic wipers barely keep the road visible. We pull into Méribel at around 1400m. Everyone is glad. The main street is lined with après ski options: happy hour cocktails from 6pm – they want you drinking the moment you’re off the slopes, fondue cheese nights – a local stodgy delicacy.  A large PA speaker system pumps thumping tunes into the local square – dancing in skiwear is encouraged. But this is not my stop. I … Read more

Podcast: How psychedelics might make you a better musician, composer and performer – Eddie Chilvers

A conversation with concert pianist Edwards Chilvers featuring many piano excerpts that illustrate how his musician skills developed, aided by his psychedelic experience

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT USE ANY DRUGS OR SUBSTANCES WITHOUT CONSULTING A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL THIS IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.

Edward began playing piano at the age of four taught by his mother also a concert pianist. He is also a Young Steinway artist – a composer: 2017 saw the release of Eddie’s ’12 Etudes’, his series of original piano compositions which explore the idea of polyrhythmy, each etude using different rhythmic ratios.

He spent three years training his hands to play all the different permutations of rhythmic ratios, and the studies are the consequence of this experimentation. In this podcast Edward describes with live examples how psychedelics opened up such new possibilities in his music.

He has also developed a new system of modes, exploring 96 new tonalities that he combines with his exceptional polyrhythmic ability. Examples of these can be heard for the first time online during this podcast in which he recounts many stages in his psychedelic journey, and how it informed his personal, as well as musical development.

GLOSSARY and LINKS to things mentioned:

Inversions:Read more

What partner dancing taught me about connection, movement and gender

This is the story of how I learnt to dance, how it broke me out of my English shell, and includes a list of learnable dance principles.

I hit a ‘peak dance’ experience at a Blues festival in Madrid 2013. We had danced ’til daylight. I couldn’t stop. The connection is like a drug. The authenticity of Blues music moves us deeply. When you hold someone in that sound, expressing that sound physically together, something striking happens: oxytocin abounds. Through the night you get close to and let go of so many. Your connection muscle strengthens.

The next day I felt changed, I felt something so specific yet I had no words for. That morning I typed in my diary:

The other dancers’ movement felt as distinct as the timbre of a beautiful musical instrument. And as our two kinaesthetic voices attuned, they became a new unique voice united in music. The Blues spoke through us, and we floated on it, in a lightness and intensity I don’t think I’d felt before. How I related to the other dancer transformed sometime during those four hours of dancing, as though I had let go of something. It didn’t matter how ‘good’ … Read more

What learning to free dive taught me about mindfulness

During 5 days of Free Diving training in Koh Tao, Thailand 2017, I learnt how to face fears of drowning, hold my breath much longer, slow down my heart like a dolphin does. This taught me how to be mindful even in extreme situations.

I have loved to hold my breath underwater since I was a young child. Aged 8 I would practice in the bathtub staring through my goggles at my waterproof watch. There is something comforting and womb-like about floating in the enclosed warm water. I had no idea about deep ‘Free diving’ until I saw the film ‘The Big Blue’ in my teens, the film about the pioneer Jacques Mayol, the first man to descend 100 metres on a single breath. This January (2017) in Thailand, over 20 years later, I was excited to embark on a formal course in how to dive up to 30metres deep using similar methods to Jacques’.

 

Day one – Don’t look down…

It all began early morning in a dry training room with fluorescent lights and an HD flat screen. There were four others in my class of varied experience, all male and most in their 30’s. Our instructor Morgan Guille, … Read more

How I became multilingual and how it changed how I learn anything

Part 1  (11 mins.)

The deepest learning experiences change us. To experience life as something or someone different always fascinated me. Indeed, who never longed to be different? It’s a bit like applying to join the club that won’t have you as a member, but somehow still getting in. This is the story of my trying to become a Frenchman in my late teens and where that led me. It was an impossible undertaking but also an adventure that taught me so much. As well as accelerating my learning of many other languages, it has affected how I learnt everything else since.

I spent my first 18 years stuck in a small rural village in West Yorkshire called Badsworth. We lived in a crumbling 18th century sandstone rectory that had belonged to the 12th century church down the road where I was christened. Badsworth is even in the Doomsday book of the year 1086 when an earlier version of that church stood there. After a thousand years of growth, it had only reached 500 inhabitants in the 1980’s and has not grown much since. It wasn’t what you would call a cosmopolitan hub. To speak any foreign language fluently was … Read more

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