Thursday, January 14, 2010

My Story - Chapter 3 "A Lifestyle of Learning"

So Supermemo seems to help one to learn anything. This was very exciting to realize. Learning no longer had to be a hit-and-miss process; it could be broken down into a very simple and finite set of steps. Regardless of my intelligence, potentially any subject could be broken down and retained forever. How exciting!

(Slight topic change)
Among many, tangible progress seems to be one very compelling reason to play a video game. Progress (Even if it is an illusion) creates motivation, which creates a pattern of action. This can be unhealthy for those that spend hour after hour consumed in a world of fantasy (And often filled with sadistic violence), further isolating and distancing oneself from reality. Everything in moderation, but games (And entertainment in general) seem to encourage and reward a lack of moderation. There are other sources of time drainers, but I am particularly vulnerable to this one (Hence why I bring it up).

Learning things did not bring the same tangible progress as playing a game did (Or almost any other form of media). Some subjects can be difficult to learn and learned information can easily be forgotten. I think that for the above two reasons I remained fairly unenthusiastic about learning as a hobby (Autodidacticism), and spent most of my time enjoying the general pursuit of entertainment (Games, light reading, artistic things with no real purpose, etc.). When I began to realize the potential usefulness of Supermemo, I began to see learning as more of a tangible thing. If I was ignorant about a certain subject or topic, after I put a sufficient amount of information into Supermemo, I became less ignorant than before; but more than this, whatever progress I made would never be lost (As long as I used Supermemo regularly). Intellectual progress was now almost as tangible a thing as collecting coins in Super Mario Bros. or eating dots in Pac-Man.

Since I have made this connection, my goal has become the following: "Learn as much as possible from as many different sources as possible."
I am trying to devote most of my free time to learning various subjects. But there are many things that drain my free time, things and activities that aren't really contributing to my happiness or goal of learning lots of stuff. Therefore recently I've been trying to simplify my life, and the "minimalism movement" I've found online has provided some inspiration in that regard. If you google "Unclutter" or "Minimalist living" you'll find some blogs and articles pertaining to the subject.

At present I am at this stage: Trying to adopt a minimalist lifestyle and get rid of things I don't need. Once I have fully achieved this, I will be very happy with myself.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Incremental Reading and Meditation

As I was responding to a comment about Incremental Reading, the comment became very long. So I thought "Let's make it into another post!" Here it is:

One of the major features of Supermemo is called "Incremental Reading."

The purpose of incremental reading is to process reading material and turn its contents eventually into easily digestible flashcards. You start with a few pages of text, and similar to highlighting a physical book, you highlight and "extract" (Alt + X) relevant information, creating smaller and smaller chunks of text. This works best with digital text, but the same can be done by highlighting text in a physical book and manually inputting relevant information into Supermemo.

For example, let's say you want to incrementally read the article "White's Tree Frog" from Wikipedia.

Here is one paragraph from that article:

"The Green Tree Frog is larger than most Australian frogs, reaching 10 centimetres (4 inches) in length. The average lifespan of the frog in captivity, about sixteen years, is long in comparison with most frogs. Green Tree Frogs are docile and well suited to living near human dwellings. They are often found on windows or inside houses, eating insects drawn by the light."

This is far too big for one single flashcard, so we would highlight and "extract" pieces of this text so that we have smaller, more manageable chunks. Here are a few examples:

"The Green Tree Frog reaches 10 cm (4 inches) in length."
"The Green Tree Frog has an average lifespan of 16 years in captivity."
"The Green Tree Frog is often found on windows or inside houses because they eat insects drawn by the light."

Notice that the wording has to be changed slightly so that each chunk stands on its own without the other sentences. Replacing "they" with "Green Tree Frog," etc.

These three facts are now separate text chunks that would now be floating around in Supermemo. Eventually, we want to make flashcards out of these pieces of text; we don't want to simply read these three phrases passively over and over. So if we made them into flashcards, they might look like this:

"The Green Tree Frog is how many cm in length? 10cm (4 inches)"
"The Green Tree Frog has an average lifespan of how many years when in captivity? 16."
"The Green Tree Frog is often found on windows or inside houses. Why? They eat insects drawn by the light."

So with Incremental Reading, we are eating a big piece of text, digesting it, and extracting the nutritious useful bits of knowledge (Which will be retained forever, assuming that you are using an SRS program). One big benefit in doing this is that once a book or text has has been processed in this way, there is usually no need to read the book again. Useful concepts and knowledge contained in the book are now in your head; the book's job is done. It is like accomplishing a quest in an MMORPG. (Definition from WowWiki: "A quest is a task given to a player character that yields a reward when completed.") You completed the task, you have the reward of retained knowledge. Once you've done this, it's time to go on another quest and learn something else.

From what I read, "Swiss-cheesing" seems to be randomly looking at different passages within a text. While such a method no doubt is fun and satisfying, the purpose seems to be different then that of Incremental Reading. Incremental Reading is supposed to allow you to process information, extract valuable knowledge, then move on to other information. If a book or article has been read through Incremental Reading, never again should it be necessary to re-read the entire book. You might find smaller details that you missed (Like an artist "touching up" a finished painting), but the bulk of the information has been retained.

I'm not trying to criticize the "swiss cheese" method, I just think that the two accomplish different things.

Incremental Reading is like a slow-moving steamroller. It might take time to go over something (A large book, demanding class, etc.), but once it has been successfully read and processed, you'll never have to thoroughly read it again.

One benefit I've noticed is that when I use Incremental Reading to learn and process material, even though I am doing this by myself, I feel as if I am conversing with the authors of the material. Simplifying the wording of extracts and trying to make them context-free forces you to "kick around" different concepts in your head until you understand those concepts well enough to represent them in an articulate and concise manner.

I think that (For me) this is the most enjoyable part of Incremental Reading: As various ideas are running through my mind, as I try to follow the logic set forth in the reading material, making sense of it becomes almost like a mental dance; information from the past becomes as alive as ever, and as I work with those ideas, the universe ends up making a bit more sense than it did before. It feels similar to when I am in deep concentration, drawing a picture. I am totally absorbed in seeking symmetry of thought; the 'self construct' fades from my consciousness and for that moment I feel as if in a meditative state, as if I'm "at one with the world." Nothing has ever felt so mentally engaging and satisfying.

Here is a simple Incremental Reading chart to help visualize it.
Here is the Incremental Reading entry on Wikipedia.
Here is the Incremental Reading section on the Supermemo web site. While I can't say that I understand every aspect of the claims made, I can't disprove it. I have a feeling I'll agree once I'm more skilled at using Incremental Reading.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Story - Chapter 02 "I Know Kung-Fu"

For nearly a year, Supermemo remained strictly a Japanese learning tool. From time to time I would insert non-Japanese material.

Then came an intense training course for my job. For two weeks I attended a class during the day, and studied for the next day of class during the evening. I went to sleep, woke up the next day, did Supermemo (Only required 15 minutes or so), and went to class. After the first day of class, I thought to myself "This information is very valuable, and I'm spending a great deal of time learning it; I should at least TRY to use Supermemo to remember this stuff." For the remainder of those two weeks, after attending class, I would look over my course book and type out any relevant information that was discussed in class into a text document. At the conclusion of the class, I had about 200 good, solid statements that would be beneficial to commit to memory.

Over the next several months, I put these things into Supermemo, and I recalled them with as much ease as I did Japanese vocabulary. If I had trouble recalling them, the reason was likely that I structured the flashcard in an incorrect way. While on the job, I was talking with someone that attended the same class. I asked, "Do you remember such-and-such point?" My co-worker said "No, was that in the class?" This same thing happened with a number of others that attended the class; clearly it wasn't a fluke. What was the reason? We all went to the same class, experienced the same things, took notes over the same things, yet I seemed to be one of the only ones that could recall them all with such clarity. Was it because I was smarter or more talented? No, I was much younger and I'm just as prone to forget things as anybody else. I concluded that it was only because of Supermemo that I could recall this information.

The true value of this tool began to dawn on me. Not only could it be used to recall foreign-language words with ease, but it seemed that I could implant ANY thought or concept into my head, and (In theory) such things would be FOREVER at my disposal. It was like being a character in a computer game, and being granted access to the programmer's code. I suddenly realized the GREAT deal of potential control I had over my rational thought processes.

"The rules of the game had officially changed."