A New Path To Knowledge: The Deep Rabbit Hole (DRH) Learning Theory

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about a new learning theory I was developing called the Deep Rabbit Hole (DRH) learning theory.

For me, this was a way to become absorbed in a concept without a predetermined plan; thus, learning a new concept by falling down a rabbit hole (an obvious allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll).

So, why is this important?

In my previous article, I argued we should embrace falling deep down a rabbit hole. Let’s quickly examine how I came to this conclusion:

Premise #1: Learning a new concept takes us down a rabbit hole.
Premise #2: Inside the rabbit hole, we find new ideas are easily connected to old ideas.
Conclusion: Therefore learning a new concept is easier by allowing yourself to go down a rabbit hole.

The purpose of the discussion here will be to build on this theory and test it.

How do I plan to test it?

First, I will select a concept to examine.

Second, I will use an innovative iOS app called WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader to learn about the concept.

Third, I will allow myself to fall deep into a rabbit hole (via the WikiLinks app) by clicking on links of interest without a predetermined plan.

Fourth, I will document my observations in this discussion.

What is WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader?

Before I dive into this rabbit hole, let me first explain the form and function of the WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader.

Form and Function:

  • Great visual interface to Wikipedia (diagrams and articles).
  • Revolutionary article preview and article search.
  • Unique YouTube video integration (first and only app that plays Wikipedia videos on mobile devices).
  • 2D mind map tracking your journey and suggesting new paths.
  • Fast navigation controls.
  • Works exactly how we think (i.e. mind maps connecting to other concepts along with the article serving as a narrative).

Let’s now follow the white rabbit (the concept) down the WikiLinks rabbit hole.

Deep Rabbit Hole (DRH)

Using the WikiLinks app, let’s examine the following concept: Ethics

What is it?

Ethics is a branch of philosophy involving systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. It derives from Ancient Greek (ethos) meaning habit or custom.

What does it do?

Ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime. There are three major areas of study within ethics:

1. Meta-ethics
2. Normative ethics
3. Applied ethics

A new path to knowledge

Just as a rabbit hole in a farmer’s field led to a medieval mystery, (BBC: Rabbit hole in farmer’s field leads to ‘mystery caves’) let’s see where my DRH takes us.

With no predetermined plan and randomly clicking on links of interest, let’s uncover more about this concept by clicking on one of the major areas of study: Normative ethics

What is it?

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action and is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking. It is distinct from meta-ethics as it examines the standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and metaphysics. It is also distinct from applied or descriptive ethics as the latter is an empirical investigation of our moral beliefs.

What is a theory of Normative ethics?

There is no universal agreement about views on how moral questions should be answered. However, one such view focuses on the character of those who are acting: Virtue ethics

Stumbling into Knowledge

As we continue to plunge deeper into the rabbit hole, let’s now examine the next concept: Virtue ethics

What is it?

Virtue ethics discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems. A common definition of “virtue” is a character trait, such as a habitual action or settled sentiment; a positive trait that makes its possessor a good human being. (Wikipedia: Virtue ethics)

What is the history of Virtue?

Virtue ethics began with Socrates and was further developed by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. Yet, a contemporary view of Virtue Theory was developed by the philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe in a 1958 essay titled “Modern Moral Philosophy” after an “aretaic turn” took place in ethics. This is when moral philosophy is paralleled by analogous developments in other philosophical disciplines. (Wikipedia: Virtue ethics)

Let’s examine one of the most recent contemporary views on Virtue Theory: Stoicism

How Far Down Should We Go?

As you can see, there is no end when falling down DRH. You can fall as long as you desire. Let’s now examine Stoicism.

What is it?

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. Stoics were known for teaching that “virtue is the only good” for human beings, and that external things – such as health, wealth, and pleasure – are not good or bad in themselves, but have value as “material for virtue to act upon”.

Why is this important?

The Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches to Western virtue ethics. The Stoics proposed the following:

  • knowledge can be attained through the use of reason
  • truth can be distinguished from fallacy
  • the senses constantly receive sensations (pulsations passing from objects through the senses to the mind)
  • the senses leave an impression in the imagination, called phantasia (an impression arising from the mind was called phantasma)

Who was a famous Stoic?

Epicurus founded a system of philosophy known as Epicureanism. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, which led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Furthermore, Epicureanism divides pleasure into two broad categories: pleasures of the body and pleasures of the mind:

1. Pleasures of the body: involve sensations of the body, where one can only experience pleasures of the body in the moment (i.e. the act of eating delicious food or existing only in the present).

2. Pleasures of the mind: involve mental processes and states (i.e. feelings of joy and pleasant memories). These pleasures of the mind do not only exist in the present, but also in the past and future, since memory of a past pleasant experience or the expectation of a potentially pleasing future can both be pleasurable experiences. Thus, the pleasures of the mind are considered to greater than those of the body.

Step-by-Step Approach: How to use DRH

Let’s examine a step-by-step approach to apply the DRH using the WikiLinks app.

However, before we examine the approach, let’s first visualize what a DRH looks like using a simulation.

The Random Walk Simulator is a fun way to examine a 2-dimensional random walk calculating the probability of ending within a bordered area of the initial point after a given number of steps.

For example, let’s say we plan to take 10 steps (or examine 10 ideas within 1 concept). We may find that we could potentially proceed down 100 different rabbit holes (or WikiLinks clicks) before we end our journey. The image below is a visual representation of what this journey might look like using the simulator.

Knowing this, let’s now examine the steps you can use to apply the DRH.

Step #1. Download the WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader.

The WikiLinks Smart Wikipedia Reader application is your launching point for your idea or topic of interest.

Step #2. Identify your topic or idea of interest.

Once identified, you will begin your journey (or random walk) down the DRH – diving deeper into the meaning of your idea or topic.

Step #3. Do not plan ahead.

Allow yourself the freedom to navigate or fall deep down a rabbit hole. By this I mean, allow yourself the freedom to click any idea of interest (within your original idea or topic of interest).

Step #4. Capture your newfound knowledge.

Make sure to capture your new understanding of the idea or topic. I recommend using a systems diagram tool (free to use) called Plectica. Plectica (see image below) replicates how our brain works by visually organizing parts that can be combined and connected to each other to form a more complete picture. Thus, you will create concept maps to assist you to think (cognition) about your thinking (metacognition).

Step #5. Set a timer.

As fun as the DRH is (and the only minor planning you will do), you must set a timer. If you do not set a timer, you might find yourself lost in a DRH for a long time without realizing it. I recommend using the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time management method that breaks down work into intervals.

Finally, by allowing yourself to fall deep down a rabbit hole via the Deep Rabbit Hole (DRH) learning theory, we are able to acquire knowledge. Using WikiLinks one last time, we see that Knowledge is defined as a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

Simply put, Knowledge is the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings. Using the DRH learning theory allows us a path to Knowledge through a theoretical and practical understanding of any topic.

Or as Plato defined Knowledge,

“Justified true belief.”

Jamie Schwandt
Jamie Schwandt


Dr. Schwandt (Ed.D.) is an author, TV host, motivational speaker, L6S master black belt, statistics professor, and a captain in the U.S. Army. He is the author of Finding Your Hero and Succeeding as a Foster Child. He is a fitness expert with a unique approach to mind and body hacking.

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