• Published 9th Feb 2013
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The Next Level Of Your Studies - cleversuggestion

Twilight Sparkle gets a letter from Celestia that sets her on a quest for knowledge which will transform her more deeply and completely than she ever imagined was possible.

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7. Rainbow Dash's Advice

1217 CE, one day after Celestia's letter.

The first name on Twilight's scroll was Rainbow Dash, followed by a brief description of Dash's expertise. Expected Insights: Speed? How to make decisions quickly and correctly. Loyalty? How to think about values.

Twilight strode out of the library, checking her checklist. Rainbow Dash would probably be floating somewhere nearby. Or, maybe Dash would come looking for Twilight. Twilight telekinetically opened up one of the windows of the library. It wasn't scheduled to rain today, but she checked the sky anyway, seeing almost no clouds. She checked off the "prepare for meeting with Rainbow Dash" sub-item and moved on to "find Rainbow Dash." If she was napping--like she did most clear-weather days--one of the few low-hanging clouds was a good place to start looking.

"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight called up to the first cloud she came across. A cyan face framed by a prismatic mane popped over the edge, blinking back sleep. Well, that was easy, she thought.

"Hey, Twi. What's up?"

"I need your help with something!" Twilight said, and Rainbow's eyes lit up. "Princess Celestia has tasked me to-" Dash's imagination spun into high gear. This wasn't just a runaway carriage or raging fire- it might be a runaway alicorn or raging dragon! "-write a report-" and with that, Dash's hopes were dashed and her face fell. "-on decision-making under uncertainty and epistemology."

"Aw, that stuff's easy." Dash dismissively waved a hoof. "I just go with my gut."

Twilight blinked. Twice. "I think that might be a little shorter than the princess is expecting, Dash."

Dash chuckled. "Twilight, you'd get so much more done if you'd just do stuff in ten seconds, like I do. But, I suppose I can spare ten minutes. Race you to the library!"

Rainbow Dash leapt from the cloud, her tail streaking behind her. Twilight Sparkle started rolling her eyes, folded space with a pop, and then finished rolling her eyes as Rainbow Dash cleared the open window, flaring out her wings to brake. "That fast enough for you?" Twilight asked with a smirk.

Dash pouted as she landed. "Yeah. So, what is epistemology anyway?"

Twilight gestured with a hoof, excitedly dropping into lecture mode. "Epistemology is the branch of psychology and philosophy that deals with the study of-"

"The fast version, please." Dash mimicked Twilight's earlier smirk.

Twilight sighed and dropped her hoof. "How you decide if ideas are right and beliefs are true."

Dash cocked her head to the side. "Isn't that obvious? Right ideas and true beliefs win. If Snips says I'll fly faster painted red, and Snails says I won't, then time me flying with and without red paint. You can race any conflicting ideas, and one of them should win."

Twilight summoned scroll and quill and took notes furiously, barely keeping up with Dash's explanation.

"And if you don't know and can't check, you go with your gut. You can't always know everything you'd like to."

Twilight looked up from her notes. “So, basically, empiricism.” Dash looked at her quizzically, and so she continued, “It's a branch of epistemology that holds that beliefs come from sensory experience-” she noticed Dash's eyes rapidly beginning to glaze- “that is, that the only way to determine truth is by looking at reality.” Dash snapped back to attention, and nodded.

As Twilight reread her notes, Dash thought for a second, then burst out, “Also, when I say to go with your gut? I spend a lot of time training my gut. When my alarm goes off, I leap out of bed before I know what's happening, because that's what I practiced! When a burst of hot air threatens to send me into a spin," she said, her eyes going wide and her wings spread out for emphasis, "I don't even need to think, because I practiced reacting, not thinking!" She snapped her wings back to her body, and pointed at Twilight with a hoof. "My coach used to tell me, over and over, good habits make good racers, and eventually I believed it. It's easy to know something in your head but not in your muscles if you don't train them too.”

Twilight looked up from her notepad, which she had been looking at instead of Rainbow's gestures. “Learned it in your muscles? I get how reflexes help you fly, but I don't see what that has to do with decision-making.”

Rainbow cocked her head again. “Don't you have mental reflexes too? I mean, when I get to the starting line the first thing I do is size up the competition. I practiced doing it first, so that I'd remember it every time. Knowing how to read their posture doesn't do me any good if I don't look at them!”

Twilight excitedly tapped her quill against the notepad. “Similarly, any techniques that I learn won't be useful unless I actually use them in making decisions.”

Rainbow nodded. “Exactly! I mean, did the princess ask you to learn about decision-making, or learn decision-making? If you want to do something as well as it can be done, you need to be really precise about what it is you’re trying to do, so that you can focus on doing what you want most.”

Rainbow went quiet, thinking about some distant memory, but Twilight was too focused on the question to notice. The original letter, of course, was in a special magical frame back at the library, but Twilight had made a copy, which she pulled out. “Focus your attention on,” she said. “And next level of your studies. Hm. Could go either way.”

Twilight looked at Rainbow, her eyes growing as swiftly as her horror. “It could go either way! I-”

Rainbow, rolling her eyes, hushed Twilight with a well-placed hoof. “Relax. Just pick one of them.”

As soon as Rainbow removed her hoof, Twilight erupted, “But what if I'm wrong?”

Rainbow shrugged. “That's decision-making under uncertainty, isn't it? Maybe the Princess left it ambiguous so it would be your first assignment.” Seeing that comment only heighten Twilight's anxiety, Rainbow quickly continued, “Making the decision, I mean, not making the same call that She would. So long as you have a good reason for your choice, I'm sure She'll be okay with it.”

Twilight started breathing more slowly, and nodded. “Right.” She looked around and chuckled. “Thanks, Dash. What would I do without you?”

Rainbow shrugged. “Wear a groove into the floor worrying, probably.”

“Thanks,” Twilight said, with much less gratitude.

Author's Note:

I was introduced to practicing getting out of bed by Steve Pavlina.

"You can do so much in 10 minutes' time. Ten minutes, once gone, are gone for good... Divide your life into 10-minute units and sacrifice as few of them as possible in meaningless activity." -- Ingvar Kamprad