Science Learning Tip: Thomas Edison

There was once a great scientist named Thomas Edison. You’ve probably heard of him. He had a great idea for running electricity through a metal filament. This would cause the filament to glow, and people would be able to light their homes without using candles or torches.

He set up a prototype, ran the electrical current through it, and his effort was an epic FAIL.

But two important science learning tips came from this experience. Many people know the first lesson, few people know the second lesson.

If you can master both of these science learning tips, each one multiplies the power of the other one. You’ll advance by leaps and bounds in anything you try to do.

Science Learning Tip #1: Never give up.

Thomas Edison didn’t quit when his first light bulb did. He changed the model, tried using different kinds of metal and filaments of different thicknesses. These new lights sputtered and sparked and burned out in seconds.

Next he tried different kinds of glass. He changed the electrical current. He increased the voltage. FAIL. FAIL. EPIC FAIL.

Edison stayed up late. He got up early. He came up with ten new designs. A hundred new designs. In the end he tried to make a light bulb more than 1,000 different ways. Not one of them succeeded.

But then one of them worked. The rest is history, as they say.

Persistence always pays off. Well, almost always, and we’ll get to that in a bit. Don’t ever give up. When you’re stuck trying to learn physics or memorize the structure of organic chemicals, when you’re looking for a way to pay for college or trying to invent something, keep on trying.

Never give up. Persist, and you’ll succeed.

Science Learning Tip #2: The definition of insanity

There’s a story which may or may not be true. Supposedly someone asked Thomas Edison why he kept trying to make a light after 1,000 failures.

“I haven’t failed,” he replied. “I’ve learned 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb.”

This is a key science learning tip that most people miss. It’s true that most success comes after unflagging, pig-headed persistence. But if that’s all you’ve got, you’re just being pig-headed.

The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Imagine if Edison had simply made a second light bulb exactly like his first failed attempt. The exact same bulb would fail in the exact same way. And if Edison persisted, he would have made 1,000 failures, continuing long after any sane person would realize that the darn thing wasn’t working. “Glow, glow,” rails our mad scientist, “dammit, glow!”

If things had gone this way, Edison would have been the laughingstock of his neighborhood. And you would never have heard of him today.

Instead, he learned 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb. And this is the key.

Keep going, keep trying, and learn from your mistakes. Self-reflection is the second science learning tip. Without it, persistence is weak and possibly counterproductive.

In fact, this is how engineering works today. You work out a solution to a problem, and then test it. If your solution doesn’t work, you reflect on new ways to solve the problem. And you persist in trying new solutions until you get it right.

The twin pillars of success are reflection and persistence. Keep this in mind the next time you’re struggling over a physics problem, and you can learn anything.

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2 Replies to “Science Learning Tip: Thomas Edison”

  1. The problem is that we never get a chance to learn from our mistakes. My teacher gives a test and after I see what I did wrong but then he gives us another test one something else. How are we supposed to learn?

    • Hey Jasson, I know what you mean. By the time you learn something it seems like it’s too late to use it. But it relly all depends on whether you’re learning to really learn or learning just to get a grade. If you learn something after the test is over, it’s too late to help with your test score but it will help you in future classes and tests. If you decide to pursue a career in science, everything you learn is going to be useful some day. I feel your frustration, but don’t get discouraged.

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