How the Seemingly Mundane Fuels Lifelong Learning.

Plus 4 hobbies to get you started.

I recently purchased a telescope. After some initial set-up, I took it outside and looked at the moon. Wow.

Full Moon — Gregory H. Revera — CC BY-SA 3.0

I have seen pictures of the moon’s surface all my life, but somehow this was an emotional experience. My mind flooded with questions. What are those dark areas? Where did that giant crater come from? Why do we only see one side of it?

That one moment has since fueled hours of learning and raises the question: We pay attention to topics we are interested in, but what if we can become interested in topics we pay attention to?

Naturalist John Muir explains:

“Attention is a skill. If you stop and slow down and look again and again and again at even the most common things that are around you all the time, you’ll discover that there is an infinite amount of wonder and beauty in the commonplace things that you walk past everyday.”

If that is not enough for you, check out Ian Bogost’s research backing this claim. The key is to focus so much that you find nuance and detail you didn’t notice before.

4 Hobbies to fuel lifelong learning

A number of hobbies have helped open my eyes to the wonder around me. Here are a few I recommend trying:

1. Stargazing

You don’t need a telescope for this hobby. Think of stargazing as completing a sky-wide jigsaw puzzle. There are 88 constellations in the sky. Even in areas with moderate light pollution, the most prominent constellations can be visible. I used the Star Walk 2 app to get started, but there are many others.

Screenshot from the Star Walk 2 mobile app.

2. Plant Identification

The Seek app makes plant identification simple. There are monthly challenges, but our family mainly uses it to make walks a bit more interesting. You’ll start noticing plants you’ve always seen but never really noticed.

Technically the app can be used to identify insects and animals, but I find it is most accurate with small plants.

Screenshot from the Seek mobile app.

3. Geocaching

This year, I will find my 2000th Geocache 🤞. Geocaching is a worldwide scavenger hunt. It’s about exploring the world around you while finding containers (Geocaches), hidden by fellow players (Geocachers).

A clever geocache hidden along an old railroad.

Hides vary in quality, but Geocaching.com has useful rating systems that will guide you to the most interesting ones. Caches are hidden in publicly accessible areas to commemorate historical sites, interesting architecture, beautiful scenery…or nearby lamposts. Again, they vary in quality.

4. Bird Watching

I was startled by the diversity of birds near where I live. More than any other hobby, “birding” has helped me appreciate the sights, sounds, and ecosystems that surround me.

The Merlin Bird ID is without a doubt the most userfriendly way to get started. When you spot a bird, simply open the app and answer a few basic questions about what you see. In no time at all, you’ll be ordering your first pair of binoculars.

Screenshots from the Merlin mobile app.

Start learning!

My experience with the moon was sparked by an object I’ve literally seen thousands of times. You don’t have to be a naturalist for the principles described here to apply. If nature isn’t your thing (yet 😉) try observing airplane routes, stock prices, furniture, or literally anything else around you.

It has never been easier to learn. All you have to do is look!

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