Self-made PhD

I came across Dillon’s blog where he wrote about how he plans on reading 80 books as his self-made Ph.D. He wrote:

The “80 book benchmark” shattered the final remnants of the childhood illusion that you need a PhD to become an expert, a PhD being some mystic level of achievement. In its place now stands a new belief, that becoming expert-level is not that hard. It’s a concrete milestone that anyone sufficiently motivated can achieve.

Dillon shared his progress on his blog, and it seems like he’s on track. Seeing his progress and process is really inspiring.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I want to pursue further education to design for information and society. I spent a lot of my time as an undergrad tinkering with the uncomfortable intersection between rationality and emotions, literature and science, instinct and logic. Most epiphanies came from reading books, browsing Jstor and blogs, or building real-world projects, although I did have a couple eye-opening courses, the ratio wasn’t high enough to justify another three or four years in school. I decided that academia may not be for me, at least for now.

Dillon’s post came timely.

First, I need to know what I want to learn. With the advent of artificial intelligence, a new set of uncertainties will emerge. I can’t predict the future, but how systems are designed will fundamentally transform how humans live and work. For me, one of the most meaningful problems is to help people find meaning and value by recognizing their potential through these new systems. This can be achieved through community building, culture formation, and system design. The subjects that are of most relevance are the philosophy of social science, cognitive science, and media studies.

Then I’d want to be able to apply some of this newly acquired knowledge to create real projects. Some ideas on my mind that have been lingering: social networks for collective learning, playful technology to help people reflect on their values (and to learn how to live), more cross-platform integration in both physical and virtual spaces for self-expression, everyone can create interactive stories through websites and games, personal branding becomes the norm with design AI tech, accessible and non-pretentious humanities education in tech and tech education in the non-tech sectors…

I can imagine a tweet or a blog post can attract some like-minded individuals to work on stuff together. I recently joined a couple Telegram groups for makers. It’s really empowering to feel the energy even though members are distributed all around the world. Kickstarters and ProductHunt also make it super accessible to launch something to the world.

In his post, Dillon also wrote about a couple counterpoints he received as he tweeted about the self-made Ph.D. idea, like books aren’t always the best source of knowledge, and being an expert is mostly about creation. Those are valid counterpoints to take into consideration, and they inevitably made me think of Dani’s recent thesis on Syllabus 2.0:

In the classroom, the syllabus plays that role. The syllabus is a learning map. There seems to be a big opportunity to reinvent the syllabus and create best of class learning guides crowdsourced from the already existing open materials on the web.

Thus the selection, curation, and management of those 80 books and all the additional material like podcast, blog posts, and tweets become a challenging project itself (meta). I’m excited about the idea of syllabus 2.0 as well as doing it manually myself and see how much of this can be automated.

I’m gonna start building my syllabus using Notion first. Excited to learn and play.