The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difAnother excellent book on learning science--
The book covers much of the same ground as Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning—desirable difficulty, the necessity of forgetting in learning, testing as a learning technique, illusion of knowing, and spaced & varied practice—but the emphasis is more on the practical side of learning and offers some concepts, studies, and insights not found in Make It Stick.
Some of the things I took away from this book and will be applying to my own learning and teaching include:
1) Interleaved/varied practice. The book drives home the clear advantage of varied—or random—practice over massed or even serial practice, even though the learners thought otherwise.
The reasons for the advantage are not known. The effect may simply come from simulating the real situation: a math problem on the real test where you don't know which equations to apply, or a badminton game where you have to hit the shuttlecock from varied spots. Meaning it might be restricted to those cases where you can expect some degree of randomness (which would, theoretically speaking, counter what Taleb calls "the ludic fallacy," where skills and concepts drawn from a well-ordered environment don't and can't work in a chaotic environment). Or maybe you learn better because your brain has to make more effort and adjustments when dealing with different skills/concepts/problems. Or it might be that the brain learns better from differences than from more of the same thing.
Whatever the real reasons, though, I'd like to try applying it to at least two of my learning areas: 1) reading multiple books at the same time; and 2) writing different things—fiction, essay, poetry—in one sitting. For the former, like in the painting studies, I will be reading at least two books from a similar genre (two to three poetry books from different authors, for example) as well as books from different genres (e.g., history, philosophy, fiction).
2) Context. While it's true you remember better in the same internal state you were in (e.g. high, caffeine-buzzed, or drunk) when you learned something, one effective way of countering this is to introduce contextual interference, where you vary the location/environment in which you study. By studying in a variety of situations/locations, you become independent of the environment.
I'll be experimenting with this and try to read/write at different cafes/libraries.
3) Incubation and the importance of distraction when it comes to problems and projects involving "insights," or "Aha" moments. Takeaway: when you reach an impasse in some problem (and you have to reach an impasse for this to work), it's actually more productive to take a break and do something else. The kind of activity that's effective in initiating the process of incubation depends on the kind of problem you're dealing with: any activity—relaxing (e.g., lying on the couch), mildly active (e.g., surfing the Internet), and highly engaging (e.g., writing a short essay)—is effective for math or spatial problems, mild activity (video games, solitaire, TV) works best for problems involving language. On the whole, "longer" breaks (about 20min) are better than shorter ones (5-10min).
I sort of knew this from experience (and from another study on the subconscious), but it's good to know I've been doing the right thing.
4) Percolation. For long-term projects, it's actually good to interrupt your activity because anything interrupted lingers in your mind and you'll be scanning the environment for any hints/clues to solving the problem or improving the project.
5) Perceptual learning & immediate feedback. This is sort of an application of deliberate practice involving immediate feedback, but you can learn something subconsciously by studying a bunch of slides and getting the answer right away. Application: being able to distinguish different painting styles without—and this is the fascinating part—knowing exactly why. Would like to try with 20th century paintings myself.
6) Sleep. Achieving higher understanding and memory consolidation after a night's sleep. I knew this from another book (Josh Kaufman's The First 20 Hours).
7) Spaced practice. Good numbers to remember: a) when trying to memorize something, spend about 1/3 of the time studying and 2/3 rehearsing (recalling from memory); b) to memorize vocab or any fact, it's best to review the material 1 or 2 days later, then a week later, and a month later; c) max interval for lifetime learning is once every 2 months. d) Optimal study intervals:
Time to test: 1 week; first study interval: 1-2 days (meaning: study today, then again tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, and if you want to add a third session, study the day before the test) 1 month: today, 1 week from today, then about 3 weeks later, on the day before the test 3 months: 2 weeks 6 months: 3 weeks 1 year: 1 month
Overall, another highly recommended book on learning....more
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what sGood!
The first part is a gold mine of cognitive psychology wisdom, then it sort of tapers off toward the end (at least for me). The book covers what science has to tell us about learning in general and it is good. And it is owing to this book that I'm resuming my old practice of writing book reviews (retrieval & elaboration) to better retain what I read.
Some concepts that will prove particularly useful in my own learning and teaching include:
1) Desirable difficulty: how the right amount of difficulty and thus exertion of effort etches whatever you're trying to learn deeper into your long-term memory (e.g. trying really, really hard to remember a word, say). A massively applicable example is having students try to solve a question before teaching them how to solve it.
2) Interleaving/variable practice (contra "massed practice"): how, even when learning the basics, it is desirable to mix things up and go to another topic/skillset BEFORE you get a hang of it, and then come back. The reason is that it is more difficult: you have to try hard to remember the topic/skill, driving it deep into your long-term memory. Massed practice—i.e. cramming or practicing the same swing over and over again—*does* improve your skill, but the effect is short-lasting.
3) Retrieval practice and the stunning effectiveness of frequent quizzing (at the beginning and end of a lesson, for example) to forestall forgetting. Application: frequently quizzing yourself when you're reading something you need to understand/memorize.
4) Spacing out practice. This goes back to the principle of desirable difficulty: once you let some forgetting to set in, it becomes harder to retrieve/execute whatever you learned, and thus leads to better learning.
Other takeaways include the illusion of knowing (we don't know what we don't know until we quiz ourselves); the importance of trying to infer a rule underlying whatever topic you'r learning; and elaboration (trying to explain something in your own words and connect it to what you already know).
Because of this book, I've introduced frequent quizzing into my teaching, begun to interleave practice more often, and started to engage in elaboration (such as by writing this review).
I wonder if the notion of variable practice makes reading multiple books at the same time a better learning strategy than reading them serially (a method I usually prefer). I've tried it before, but I *just* didn't like it. But the book reassures us that the students didn't like interleaving practice either, so I suppose I should stick it out for a little while.
Overall, a must-read for any serious learner/educator.
I've been meaning to read this for YEARS and finally the opportunity presented itself as I was thinking of using a new book for my creative writiGood!
I've been meaning to read this for YEARS and finally the opportunity presented itself as I was thinking of using a new book for my creative writing class. The verdict? This is an excellent book for any beginning writers. Lamott is funny, wise, and spiritual. She is someone you know you can trust and want to spend time with.
The creative process of writing Lamott describes—how you find things out as you go—is so pat-on I found myself nodding along to almost everything she said. Her advice on the elements of fiction—character, plot, dialogue, and setting—was also solid, though a little scanty in my opinion. I also took issue with her view on character a little—how you should know everything about them—but for beginning writers it's probably a good piece of advice
What I admired most about this book was not the writing advice per se but the voice she creates in these pages, interweaving depth and self-deprecatory humor that complement each other perfectly. This is an idiosyncratic response that may be useless for general readers, but this book gave me an inspiration to incorporate her style into one of my stories.
Will be reading more of her nonfiction books. Highly recommended....more
Reading this rekindled my interest in evolutionary theory and I've duly added Darwin's The Origin of Species to my reading list and movedReally good--
Reading this rekindled my interest in evolutionary theory and I've duly added Darwin's The Origin of Species to my reading list and moved Dawkin’s Selfish Gene up the priority ladder. It's difficult to do justice to a book of such philosophical complexity and richness in a single review, but I will just note down some of the important concepts I’ve learned from this book:
1) Retrospective coronation. It’s impossible to identify the beginning of a species until much later because whether X is crowned the founder of a species depends on what happens to X’s offspring. Example: Say tomorrow a virulent virus wipes out 99% of humanity off the face of the earth, and you’re among the lucky survivors with a gene that happens to endow you with an immunity against that particular virus. Now, scientists conduct DNA analyses and concludes that the common ancestor of all the survivors—including you—turns out to be someone named Sara who had the gene mutation necessary to combat the virus. In other words, until the virus wiped out everyone except Sara’s mutated gene—a massively contingent event—Sara could not have been identified as the common ancestor of everyone.
2) Adaptationist thinking. Which is basically reverse engineering the function or purpose of something from its design. An important feature of this type of reasoning is the assumption of optimality: if X would be optimal for doing Y, then it probably was designed for Y. There are at least three considerations that any good adaptationist must keep in mind. The first is the ever-present possibility of opportunistic appropriation of the original function that Mother Nature is so good at (what Gould calls “exaptation”—a delightful word Dennett has exapted to his own usage), which would conceivably give rise to sub-optimal uses or functions. The second is the building process: there may be constraints to the process itself that may leave non-functional features in the final product, or limit the number of possible ways things can be built. This latter point can explain, for example, why most animal species go through very similar embryonic development stages, or in architecture, why the foundations of churches start out the same way. And finally, a good adaptationist should always watch out for the QWERTY phenomenon, where certain features may just be the result of historical happenstances (the dominance of the non-optimal QWERTY keyboard for example).
3) Cultural evolution. How memes take up residence in our brains and ultimately create a person. One important implication here is that thanks to memes and their interplay with our brain’s machinery, we are the only species on earth that can transcend our biological imperatives (take, for example, priests with their vow of abstinence). This evolutionary perspective on culture and personhood shed some much wanted light on the whole debate over the “naturalness” of marriage and other issues concerning human sexuality. Is marriage “unnatural”? Yes, it probably goes against our biological imperatives (if anyone’s interested in the details, check out, for example,Sex at Dawn for the view that monogamy is “unnatural”). But what these people miss—and underestimate—is the role culture plays in forming us as persons. Marriage may be damn hard—and most people do actually fail at it—but it is not impossible because we’re equipped with the brain-meme-culture power to mold this amorphous thing called “human nature.”
4) Biological possibility and evolutionary path. How biologically possible evolutionary paths are constrained by what came before. It is a question of accessibility: it’s more possible for us to, say, grow an extra thumb than grow wings in the next hundred years (though of course, if genetic engineering takes off, the latter might be equally possible). That is, some things are more possible than others.
5) “Threads of actuality” in Design Space. Design Space is basically all the design possibilities that evolution can generate—which is not infinite but vastly huge. The evolution on earth can, in principle, be mapped onto this Design Space, forming a vasnihingly small Tree of Life, or what Dennett calls “threads of actuality” in the immense space of possibility.
6) Convergence. Dennett borrows a chess term—“forced move”—to indicate any design solution in Design Space that are so good that Mother Nature can be counted on to arrive at over and over again. This concept comes in handy when analyzing cultures. A common cultural trait may be indicative of cultural transmission (or cultural cross-pollination) or forced moves in the game of design, i.e. reinvention. So from the fact that, say, two distant cultures had boats, we can’t conclude much about their cultural relationship—because boats are a good design solution to the problem of navigation that they could have been invented separately. In the same way, we can’t conclude from the ubiquity of certain features across human cultures that they are human universals.
7) Finally, good and bad reductionism. Reductionism in itself—defined as the desire to explain and unify everything under a single grand theory—is not bad. What is bad is when this desire gets out of hand, leading to oversimplification and falsification of the phenomenon in question. So bad reductionists, in their zeal to explain everything, try to do too much too fast. B.F. Skinner is a good example. The founder of behaviorism in psychology, he tried explain all of human learning in terms of operant conditioning. The correct response to these bad reductionists is always: “It’s not that simple.” Good reductionists, on the other hand, don’t do this. They want to explain everything with one big, unified theory, but they don’t rush to get there (e.g. think of physicists who dream of the unified theory, a theory to explain both the planetary motions and quantum physics).
Despite the book’s overall quality, I did have a few quibbles about this book. First is his lengthy discussion of Stephen Jay Gould and his adherents who rejected—or tried to, anyway—adaptationist explanations. Though interesting in parts (such as Gould's notion of "punctuated equilibrium" and the rate of evolutionary change, which reminded me of N.N. Taleb's "Black Swan" idea). Second, I would have appreciated some discussion of possibly Lamarckian epigenetic inheritance: the inheritance of acquired characteristics such as phobias, propensity for obesity, and immunity to certain viruses through a mechanism that doesn’t change the fundamental structure of the DNA.
All in all, a solid overview of evolutionary theory with a feast of food for thought.
This charming novelette actually comprises two tales: one longish short story of about 40 pages and a flash fiction of about 4 pages, bothDelightful—
This charming novelette actually comprises two tales: one longish short story of about 40 pages and a flash fiction of about 4 pages, both inspired by Japanese culture. They're highly engaging and satisfying to read, even for someone originally from that culture. Whenever a story that takes place in a different culture is written by an outsider, there’s always the fear of abuse and misunderstanding, of caricaturing—that is, the possibility of cultural appropriation. But Baker’s respect for the culture is clearly seen in the loving care he takes in depicting Japan in its cultural specificity and faithfulness. The reader knows they’re in the hands of a skilled writer who knows what he is doing.
Cultural note aside, if you like or have any interest in Sci-fi, Japan, or fantasy—and/or heard of Borges, The King of Elfland's Daughter, H.G. Well's The Time Machine—then this is a story for you.
The main story, told in diary format, is engaging and moves along at a good clip, but the storytelling is only the beginning; what Baker excels at is depicting scenes with the precision and vividness of haiku, coupled with the creation of a convincing voice he creates throughout the work. Just listen to the comforting rhythm of the voice, the imagery in this passage:
"In the city of Hakodate, where we have taken rooms at an inn, Western-style homes loom above drifts of snow as tall as a man. The streets are cleared, and people rush along them bundled in many layers of clothing, their breath steaming white from their mouths.
Outside the city the snow is broken only by the green of pines and stark browns of bleak myrtles. Ryouji is pleased with the vastness of the place. The woman is impatient—eager, she claims, to be home. I am that in truth, though I should not be: 'home‘ is but a feeling which distracts and entangles."
While I enjoyed the story very much, it is lyrical and true moments like this that I appreciated the most in it. Another instance where I was particularly impressed by was the poignant moment he creates out of the sci-fi-fantasy-Zen mesh and the rather tropic device of parallel universes. Having lost his wife, the protagonist, Ryoji, ends up summoning another version of her from another reality, and they travel together so she can go back to her world. In an emotional exchange between them toward the end of the story, Baker goes above and beyond simplistic genre characterization by showing a surprising depth of character:
“I‘m sorry,” he said. “I didn‘t want to upset you, and I . . . “ He sighed and looked down, ashamed. “I was so happy to find you again that I did not want to make you hate me. I could not bear to lose you twice so soon.”
She let out a soft snort of air through her nose, scorn now on her lips instead of sorrow. “Lose me? Lose me? I was never yours, other-Ryouji, and this does not change things. As your abbot tells you over and over when he thinks I am not listening, your wife is dead.”
I was never yours—with that, the other-Akemi comes to full life (for me at least), and with that, Baker manages, however temporarily, to transcend genre.
The second story needs little commenting as it is a delightful read on its own, a tale based on the myth of a legendary Japanese prince Yamato Takeru and succinctly and creatively reimagined from the point of view of one of his daughters. Here, more than in the main story, his talent as a haikuist shines as he sculpts the story in such a way that you're left wondering how he manages to tell so much with so little.
Just listen to this: "Play your favorite songs / for everyone who will listen, / and the way the old records beMade Me Excited to Write Poetry Again--
Just listen to this: "Play your favorite songs / for everyone who will listen, / and the way the old records bend like dementia—that." And Mlekoday's poetry is that, dementia—slick, vinyl-covered nightmare of city life remixed in Hip Hop cadence & with John-Donne-esque spirituality. For those of you who think contemporary poetry is confusing as hell or just indignantly obscure, this is a book you should read and let hymn through you (as Mlekoday might say). Accessible and powerful, it resurrects the Minneapolis of his childhood & loss, and graffities it with ferocity, with gunshot freshness, with spirituality that is at once intensely personal & fitting, counterpointing the brutality of urban life like a soft axe that bitch-slaps you out of nightmare: "I have skinned / the animal I found in me / & watched him wrench himself / back into the flesh. / I have made gods / of my skinned hands."
Read it. Find the animal in you, see it transformed into gods.