How to Learn
by Lewis Carroll
The Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) wrote under the pseudoym Lewis
and is primarily known for Alice in Wonderland and Through the
Looking Glass. Carroll was a mathematician, photographer, inventor of
puzzles and games, and wrote light verse. When he wrote on mathematics
and logic it was not without whimsy, as evidenced by the following introduction to his book on Symbolic Logic. In any case, this is excellent
advice on how to read any textbook.]
The learner, who wishes to try the question fairly
, whether this
little book does, or does not, supply the materials for a most
interesting mental recreation, is earnestly
advised to adopt the
- Begin at the beginning, and do not allow yourself to gratify
mere idle curiosity by dipping into the book, here and there. This
would very likely lead to your throwing it aside, with the remark
'This is much too hard for me!', and thus losing the chance of
adding a very large item to your stock of mental delights . . .
- Don't begin any fresh Chapter, or Section, until you are certain
that you thoroughly understand the whole book up to that point
and that you have worked, correctly, most if not all of the
examples which have been set . . . Otherwise, you will find
your state of puzzlement get worse and worse as you proceed
till you give up the whole thing in utter disgust.
- When you come to a passage you don't understand, read it
again: if you still don't understand it,
read it again: if you fail, even after three readings,
very likely your brain is getting a little tired
In that case, put the book away, and take to other occupations,
and next day, when you come to it fresh, you will very likely
find that it is quite easy.
- If possible, find some genial friend, who will read the book along
with you, and will talk over the difficulties with you. Talking is
a wonderful smoother-over of difficulties. When I come upon
anything in Logic or in any other hard subject that entirely puzzles
me, I find it a capital plan to talk it over, aloud, even when I am
all alone. One can explain things so clearly to one's self! And then
you know, one is so patient with one's self: one never gets irritated
at one's own stupidity!
If, dear Reader, you will faithfully observe these Rules, and
give my little book a really fair
trial, I promise you, most
confidently, that you will find Symbolic Logic to be one of the most,
if not the most, fascinating of mental recreations! In this First Part
I have carefully avoided all difficulties which seemed to me to
beyond the grasp of an intelligent child of (say) twelve or fourteen
years of age. I have myself taught most of its contents, viva voce
to many children, and have found them take a real intelligent
interest in the subject. For those, who succeeded in mastering
Part I, and who begin, like Oliver, 'asking for more,' I hope to
provide, in Part II, some tolerably hard nuts to crack, nuts that
will require all the nut-crackers they happen to possess!
Mental recreation is a thing that we all of us need for our mental
health. Symbolic Logic will give you clearness of thought, the
ability to see your way through a puzzle, the habit of arranging
your ideas in an orderly and get-at-able format, more valuable
than all, the power to detect fallacies, and to tear to pieces the
flimsy illogical arguments, which you will continually encounter
in books, in newspapers, in speeches, and even in sermons, and
which so easily delude those who have never taken the trouble
to master this fascinating Art. Try it. That is all I ask of you!
From The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll,
London, The Nonesuch Press, 1939, pp. 1116-19.
Return to Donald Simanek's page.