Over the last few years, I’ve come to a fundamental belief: you cannot tell people anything. Coming to a new belief means you need all the infrastructure for that belief, and it generally means giving up other beliefs. It’s rare for people to do that without a lot of preparation, and in most instances, the person has to do that work on their own.
There are exceptions that prove the rule. While in school or in some kind of training environment, we go in with the understanding that we are ignorant of a topic, and we listen to “experts” who will give us the foundations that will lead to education, or a new set of beliefs. Outside of these contexts, I think people aren’t open to hearing what is being said to them. Makes me remember that bit from Mr. Rogers, where he says, roughly paraphrased, that people never change unless in dialog with people who love them.
The central idea of this book is that a system of note taking can help us incorporate our reading into a process of engaged learning. This involves three levels of note taking:
- Inspiration: quick notes on ideas that occur to us in a flash of insight
- Reading: reading highlights from books and articles that capture the gist of the content
- Permanent: Relating our inspired and reading notes into a body of work that reflects our worldview
The keys are to put our inspired and reading notes into a slip box to help us develop unique insights and to interrelate the permanent work so they remain singular and discete, but at the same time serve as part of a network of relationships that can feed into projects, or specific pieces of writing designed for some purpose.
The thrust of this effort is to develop a note taking process that invites us to build and learn as part of an integrated process. It reminded me a bit of the text based social science and two computer revolutions I mentioned previously. (I’ll put the links in later.)
“Spaced repetition is a centuries-old psychological technique for efficient memorization & practice of skills where instead of attempting to memorize by ‘cramming’, memorization can be done far more efficiently by instead spacing out each review, with increasing durations as one learns the item, with the scheduling done by software. Because of the greater efficiency of its slow but steady approach, spaced repetition can scale to memorizing hundreds of thousands of items (while crammed items are almost immediately forgotten) and is especially useful for foreign languages & medical studies.
I review what this technique is useful for, some of the large research literature on it and the testing effect (up to ~2013, primarily), the available software tools and use patterns, and miscellaneous ideas & observations on it.”-Gwern Branwen, “Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning.” Gwern.net. March 11, 2009.
The obvious application for spaced repetition is learning vocabulary.
- Identify what you don’t understand (maybe the most important one)
- Have confidence in your knowledge
- Ask questions
- Do research
…Taking a bit of extra time to take a piece of knowledge that you’re pretty sure of (“there are 65535 ports, Wikipedia said so”) and make it totally ironclad (“that’s because the port field in the TCP header is only 16 bits”) is super useful because there is a big difference between “I’m 97% sure this is true” and “I am 100% sure about this and I never need to question it again”. Things I know are 100% true are way easier to rely on.”
—Julia Evans, “How to teach yourself hard things.” jvans.ca. September 1, 2018.
I would add that the an important pitfall is those things that we are sure is 100% true that aren’t true. Being a philosophical skeptic, this is probably everything.