Andy Matuschak: "In a recent chat with @michaelnielsen and me about quantum.country https://t.co/lnd5Z3zN1g_ https://twitter.com/andy_matuschak/status/1201584298656174082, @delong suggested that the mnemonic medium is a new kind of catechism. We laughed, but… that's a pretty interesting lens! A typical example of a catechism: "Q1: What is the chief end of man? A1: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever." At the surface, catechisms are about memorizing doctrine. But they also effect a change in identity through repeated exposure. Likewise, spaced-repetition helps people remember concrete material, but it also triggers re-engagement across time. Great: maybe readers will spot new connections when they return after a few weeks. But maybe that repetition also fosters a change in identity! With spaced repetition, you’re not just 'a person who read that essay that one time': the repeated engagement may make you feel you're a 'student of that topic', in some more continuous sense. The tail might wag the dog. I'll confess that my own experiences here are mixed. Some questions I'll see for the 20th time and answer by rote, with no emotional connection at all to the original source. Other times I’ll find myself wondering new questions about the topic, feeling gradually more 'in contact with' that topic over time. That’s all indirect: changing identity by memorizing details associated with that identity. But maybe you can use these systems to alter your identity more directly. Sticking with quantum for the moment, one example might be: 'At this instant, what unsolved question do I instinctively find most fascinating in quantum computing?' (nothing on the back). If you saw that regularly over months, would you identify with that space more deeply? You can imagine creating cards about new habits ('Think of a new concrete situation in which I’ll have trouble leaving space for others to speak.') or values ('What’s an unusual recent situation in which you thought on the century scale?'). These are all narrow examples of spaced repetition as more general 'programmable attention'. More exotic systems can be used to schedule arbitrary fine-grained tasks associated with some new identity, like iteratively reaching out to interesting people in a new field...


#noted #2020-01-03

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