Yes, the Communist Manifesto Is Worth Reading. Why Do You Ask?

Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen: How Can We Develop Transformative Tools For Thought? https://numinous.productions/ttft/: 'We have developed a website, http://quantum.country, which explores a new approach to explaining quantum computing and quantum mechanics. Ostensibly, Quantum Country appears to be a conventional essay introduction to these subjects. There is text, explanations, and equations.... But... Quantum Country is a prototype for a new type of mnemonic medium. Aspirationally, the mnemonic medium makes it almost effortless for users to remember what they read. That may sound like an impossible aspiration. What makes it plausible is that cognitive scientists know a considerable amount about how human beings store long-term memories...

...Indeed, what they know can almost be distilled to an actionable recipe: follow these steps, and you can remember whatever you choose. Unfortunately, those steps are poorly supported by existing media.... There are many ways of redesigning the essay medium to do that. Before showing you our prototype, please pause for a moment and consider the following questions: how could you build a medium to better support a person’s memory of what they read? What interactions could easily and enjoyably help people consolidate memories? And, more broadly: is it possible to 2x what people remember? 10x? And would that make any long-term difference to their effectiveness?

Let’s sketch the user experience of Quantum Country.... Embedded within the text of the essay are 112 questions about that text. Users are asked to create an account, and quizzed as they read on whether they remember the answers to those questions.... Note that this interaction occurs within the text of the essay itself.... A few days after first reading the essay, the user receives an email asking them to sign into a review session. In that review session they’re tested again....

So far, this looks like no more than an essay which integrates old-fashioned flashcards. But... questions start out with the... user... being tested as they read the essay. That rises to five days, if the user remembers the answer to the question. The interval then continues to rise upon each successful review, from five days to two weeks, then a month, and so on. After just five successful reviews the interval is at four months. If the user doesn’t remember at any point, the time interval drops down one level.... This takes advantage of a fundamental fact about human memory: as we are repeatedly tested on a question, our memory of the answer gets stronger, and we are likely to retain it for longer... With conventional flashcards it takes hours of review to achieve the same durability. Exponential scheduling is far more efficient.... The big, counterintuitive advantage of spaced repetition [is that] you get exponential returns for increased effort.... Every extra minute of effort spent in review provides more and more benefit....

This delayed benefit makes the mnemonic medium unusual in multiple ways. Another is this: most online media use short-term engagement models, using variations on operant conditioning to drive user behavior. This is done by Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and many other popular media forms. The mnemonic medium is much more like meditation – in some ways, the anti-product, since it violates so much conventional Silicon Valley wisdom – in that the benefits are delayed, and hard to have any immediate sense of. Indeed, with the mnemonic medium, the greater the delay, the more the benefit.... Early feedback from users makes us cautiously optimistic that they’re finding the mnemonic medium useful....

It’s still tempting to be dismissive. Isn’t this “just” an essay with flashcards embedded? At some level, of course, that’s correct. In the same way, wikis are just editable web pages; Twitter is just a way of sharing very short form writing; and Facebook is just a way of sharing writing and pictures with friends. Indeed, writing itself is just a clever way of ordering a small number of symbols on a page. While a medium may be simple, that doesn’t mean it’s not profound.... Flashcards are dramatically under-appreciated, and it’s possible to go much, much further in developing the mnemonic medium than is a priori obvious...


#noted #2019-11-23

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