A Note: Read Oxford "Very Short Introductions" as a Way of Studying for the Econ 105 Exam...
Adam Smith: Wealth Inequality Prevents More Damage

Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen: How Can We Develop Transformative Tools For Thought? https://numinous.productions/ttft/: 'One of the ideas motivating Quantum Country is that memory systems aren’t just useful for simple declarative knowledge, such as vocabulary words and lists of capitals. In fact, memory systems can be extraordinarily helpful for mastering abstract, conceptual knowledge, the kind of knowledge required to learn subjects such as quantum mechanics and quantum computing. This is achieved in part through many detailed strategies for constructing cards capable of encoding this kind of understanding. But, more importantly, it’s possible because of the way the mnemonic medium embeds spaced repetition inside a narrative...

...That narrative embedding makes it possible for context and understanding to build in ways difficult in other memory systems.... We believe memory systems are a far richer space than has previously been realized.... We’ve taken to thinking of Quantum Country as a memory laboratory.... We’d like to answer questions such as: (1) What are new ways memory systems can be applied, beyond the simple, declarative knowledge of past systems? (2) How deep can the understanding developed through a memory system be? What patterns will help users deepen their understanding as much as possible? (3) How far can we raise the human capacity for memory? And with how much ease? What are the benefits and drawbacks? (4) Might it be that one day most human beings will have a regular memory practice, as part of their everyday lives? Can we make it so memory becomes a choice; is it possible to in some sense solve the problem of memory?...

Cards are fundamental building blocks of the mnemonic medium, and card-writing is better thought of as an open-ended skill. Do it poorly, and the mnemonic medium works poorly. Do it superbly well, and the mnemonic medium can work very well indeed.... Most questions and answers should be atomic.... Make sure the early questions in a mnemonic essay are trivial: it helps many users realize they aren’t paying enough attention as they read.... Avoid orphan cards... which don’t connect closely to anything else.... For the mnemonic medium to work effectively, spaced repetition must be deployed in concert with many other ideas....

It’s common for people to have the simplistic model “good memory system = spaced repetition”. That’s false, and an actively unhelpful way of thinking. Indeed, thinking in this way is one reason spaced-repetition memory systems often fail for individuals.... How to encode stories in the mnemonic medium? People often find certain ideas most compelling in story form.... The benefits... seem well worth violating atomicity, if they can be encoded in the cards effectively.....

The mnemonic medium is not a fixed form, but rather a platform for experimentation and continued improvement. One useful metaphor for thinking about how to improve the mnemonic medium is to think of each mnemonic essay as a conventional essay accompanied by a kind of “reflected essay”.... By developing good card-making strategies we can make the reflected essay a nearly faithful reflection of all the important ideas, the ideas a reader would ideally like to retain....

There are ideas about memory very different from spaced repetition, but of comparable power. One such idea is elaborative encoding. Roughly speaking, this is the idea that the richer the associations we have to a concept, the better we will remember it. As a consequence, we can improve our memory by enriching that network of associations.... It’s part of the reason it’s so much easier to learn new facts in an area we’re already expert in....

One particularly common negative response to the mnemonic medium is that people don’t want to remember “unimportant details”, and are just looking for “a broad, conceptual understanding”. It’s difficult to know what to make of this argument. Bluntly, it seems likely that such people are fooling themselves, confusing a sense of enjoyment with any sort of durable understanding. Imagine meeting a person who told you they “had a broad conceptual understanding” of how to speak French, but it turned out they didn’t know the meaning of “bonjour”, “au revoir”, or “tres bien”. You’d think their claim to have a broad conceptual understanding of French was hilarious. If you want to understand a subject in any real sense you need to know the details of the fundamentals. What’s more, that means not just knowing them immediately after reading. It means internalizing them for the long term. A better model is that conceptual mastery is actually enabled by a mastery of details.... By largely automating away the problem of memory, the mnemonic medium makes it easier for people to spend more time focusing on other parts of learning, such as conceptual issues....

People with little experience doing good technical writing often complain about this dry, bottom-up approach. They will complain that writers should instead stay closer to the fun material, and use less technical notation and nomenclature. But when competent writers attempt to follow this prescription, invariably it works poorly. One problem is that a person can spend years reading analogies about black hole evaporation, quantum teleportation, and so on. And at the end of all that reading they typically have… not much genuine understanding to show for it. The analogies and heuristic reasoning simply don’t go far. They may be entertaining and produce some feeling of understanding. But the reasoning won’t scale out; it can’t be applied to other phenomena, at least not without lots of caveats, caveats the reader is in no position to understand or apply. As a result, good technical writers instead mostly build things up from first principles, with occasional digressions to the broader motivating picture. And that means starting with a lot of detailed, technical minutiae.

It’s striking to contrast conventional technical books with the possibilities enabled by executable books. You can imagine starting an executable book with, say, quantum teleportation, right on the first page. You’d provide an interface – perhaps a library is imported – that would let users teleport quantum systems immediately. They could experiment with different parts of the quantum teleportation protocol, illustrating immediately the most striking ideas about it. The user wouldn’t necessarily understand all that was going on. But they’d begin to internalize an accurate picture of the meaning of teleportation. And over time, at leisure, the author could unpack some of what might a priori seem to be the drier details. Except by that point the reader will be bought into those details, and they won’t be so dry.... Begin an executable book with material the users already care about, can connect to easily, and find motivating. For instance, you could begin by exploring teleportation or the Big Bang. But such an opening won’t suffer the drawback of popular science, of being vague and imprecise. Rather, the interface would be completely well specified. And, with some care, the interface could be scaled out, applied in ever-expanding contexts. The understanding would be transferable...


#noted #2019-11-23

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