Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Response - Knowledge, Society And The Universe

Thank you for the interesting comments, I seldom meet others that wish to have a deep discussion on this subject.

"In the past information just to be the most valuable treasures. People would kill, literally, for some new information. Philosopher Locke was educated on this culture, but he change the way commonplace book where written, for him the most important part of taking notes about any thing interesting was the possibility of retrieving them."
Indeed, in the past, information and knowledge were most sought after by man due to the sheer scarcity of its existence. Today, knowledge of every type is abundant, but when something is abundant, it is easy to take such things for granted. Today, knowledge seems to be more valued at how entertaining it is.

"I find that people like your self are the type, that believe that information should be free. But then starts a philosophical dilemma, up to what point should we share our knowledge?, or what kind of knowledge should we freely share?"
Absolutely, I believe that certain knowledge should be free. Nobody can copyright reality or claim it as their own. If knowledge is simply uncovering the truth about our existence, this present reality, nobody should be able to claim it as their own. Reality is reality, it is not mine nor yours. Therefore, under ideal circumstances, knowledge should be free. But knowledge can be used for good purposes and bad purposes. What if someone would use such knowledge to kill millions of people? "He should not have access to knowledge, then." But we cannot read someone's mind and know their intent. Much like cutting the top of a weed but leaving the root, left to our present methods, man will only be able to tinker with the symptoms of the evils that plague us (By building prisons, amending laws, etc.).

In addition, humans possessing any great deal of power (Political, financial, etc.) are prone to abusing it. In my opinion, the system man has built up is too flawed and beyond hope of reform. Add to this religions that are designed to exploit this system of rule and the people within it, and you have a very combustible combination simply waiting for the spark to ignite it. Regardless of the bright forecast that others (Such as politicians) might present for the future, I fear that unless some sort of drastic action is taken soon, the total collapse of society is imminent. I only hope that after the smoke clears away, there are still people standing.

I am not some sort of paranoid anti-government tin-foil man, but no matter how I think about the various problems, I cannot see a happy ending within easy grasp. A while ago in a book I found an interesting quote by Henry Kissinger, and I put it in Supermemo: "Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed. History is a tale of efforts that failed, or aspirations that weren't realized... So, as a historian, one has to live with a sense of the inevitability of tragedy." I feel the same way.

"I hope it doesn't sound greedy, you know I like sharing my related experiences, but are constant questions on my mind."
I love sharing experiences also. The goal of this blog is to prevent others from repeating the same mistakes I made when using Supermemo.

"More and more, I think certifications should come with expiration dates."
That is an interesting observation, I never thought of it that way.

"I don't like using many of PW references because he is just to different then most people, he seems to be learning for learning per-se, without some obvious purpose..."
Yeah, I kind of get that same impression.

"Ahh, I welcome singulary, one were singularians have emotions, but were this emotions don't rule over rationality anymore."
The more I learn about science, the more I get the impression that the universe is made up of a set of very elegant and simple principles and patterns that are implemented beyond our comprehension. The more you magnify the small things or look further away at the big things, they all follow the same patterns and resemble one another, like an endless series of boxes within boxes. I will never learn all there is to know, but I will have a lot of fun finding out as much as I can about the universe.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Response - Remembering before Learning, What Constitutes Studying and What Makes You Happy?

This was written in response to a comment in the previous entry; it started to get long, so I figured "Why not make give it a home?"


Learn Meaningful Things Before You Remember
Supermemo is only as useful as the knowledge you put into it. If something is put into Supermemo, it should somehow be useful to your existence. If you fill Supermemo with things that are irrelevant to you, then a great deal of satisfaction will go away.

In the past, I have created a number of "test collections," filling them with a considerable amount of flashcards. Usually they are made up of big collections of Chinese and Spanish vocabulary words, science charts, etc. I had no prior encounter with the knowledge in these flashcards, I saw them for the first time in Supermemo. Also, I didn't really care about the knowledge itself. This was simply an experiment, "something to do."

Generally I found these collections to be frustrating and easy to forget. In time those collections were either abandoned altogether or "absorbed" after a great deal of time (and struggle, for I got them wrong many times).
I learned first hand that if I didn't spend time learning what I was trying to remember, Supermemo is a waste of time. Something must be learned first, then remembered later.

Which Wastes More Time?
As far as how much time is required to use Supermemo, compared to traditional systems of learning, Supermemo saves a great deal of time. This is because a majority of traditional learning entails cramming until a test, then forgetting the material after the test. Many hours and a great deal of stress is spent, with nothing to show for it but a receipt (In the form of some certificate, diploma, report card, etc.) that proves to the world you can spend many hours cramming and passing a test. It has proved to be a very inefficient system for most cases.

Rather than being a tool for short-term cramming, Supermemo works to ensure the long-term stability of your memories. The more one "outsources" their studying and remembering to Supermemo, Supermemo becomes more and more of a way of life. When you are making flashcards, or rewording and refining flashcards, THIS CONSTITUTES STUDYING; the very act of adding and refining flashcards MEANS that you are learning new things. This doesn't mean that you are wasting time, it means you are making progress.

For right now we have no choice but to deal with the constraints placed upon us by a flawed educational system. Still, Supermemo can help to soften the blow dealt by such a system. Much like trying to eat a three-course dinner in a brief span of time, schools expect one to process a great deal of material in a short amount of time. Because schools are obsessed with only the short-term results, long-term retention isn't viewed as the gigantic loss that it truly is.
If the amount of material is too great, one possibility is that you could cram the traditional way and and process the information in Supermemo after the test is over. Not an ideal solution, but we're not working in ideal circumstances.

Usefulness of Knowledge
In regards to the usefulness of knowledge, it is very true that knowledge itself carries no value until it is acted upon. The APPLICATION of knowledge should be the eventual goal of acquiring knowledge.

Rather than try to articulate this point, I would feel better pointing you to an article on the Supermemo site: ""

One of the main points is that 'Skills require learning, which requires knowledge. Learning does not have to be a process that simply occurs as time goes on, but technology can make learning into more of a controlled and conscious process.'

In regards to valuing knowledge when encountered in incremental reading, it is not necessary to determine the absolute value of information on first contact. You merely have to highlight and extract information that MIGHT be valuable. The real value will be determined as you review the information over the coming days and weeks. If deadlines or your circumstances require that you immediately go from reading to making flashcards (Therefore determining the value of information right away), that is certainly an option, but by no means a requirement.

Your comment also smacks upon a very core principle (Which I don't think I've posted on here): "What makes you happy?" While I very much enjoy learning, what matters most to me is connecting with other people. Absolute knowledge and principles are not subject to change and are predictable by nature, but PEOPLE possess such a wide spectrum of emotion and can express themselves in an infinite number of UNPREDICTABLE ways. The simple act of conversation, the exchange of ideas, the unique perspective, the humor, everything that ensues can be such a delightful and stimulating experience! While I enjoy learning new ideas, I enjoy discussing those ideas with others (Possibly more than the act of learning itself).

What information do I incrementally process? I work part time so I can pursue my own interests, so it is not necessary to incrementally read for my job; most of the learning I do is because of my own curiosity and interests. I enjoy understanding how things work. Even though certain pieces of knowledge are not very applicable in the real world (For example, understanding how owls are able to hear and determine where sounds are coming from), this brings order to the unknown, and this act brings a certain satisfaction and happiness.

But I must confess, the most valuable and enlightening information I have incrementally processed would have to be my ongoing study of the various works of philosophy, religion and science.
It is my goal to hear any meaningful attempt to answer the basic questions of life and purpose. I might not like some of the answers I find, I might not even agree with them, but the least I can do is understand that different perspective and make an informed decision about whether any theory, way of life, etc. is good or not.
It is my personal belief that the true meaning of life should not be determined by pandering to emotion, petty fear-mongering, pious self-righteousness/arrogance, etc., but rather it should be firmly rooted in knowledge and rationality. If there is a tao (道 - "Road," or "Way") of knowledge, rationality and wisdom, that's where I want to be.

Monday, April 5, 2010

How to Incrementally Read Anything

When I first started using Supermemo, it appeared that Incremental Reading was a valuable feature, but I never really used it.

Once I began experimenting with Incremental Reading (Successfully) and adopting the Incremental Reading mindset when I look at learning material, I am now fully convinced of its superiority for nearly all of my intellectual needs. It is light years ahead of its time, and like the core concepts that power Supermemo, eventually it will likely be utilized on almost every level of the educational system (However many years that takes). Until such a time comes, we can rely on the quirky program Supermemo to accomplish this task in a basic way. (I have my own vision of 'the perfect implementation of Superemo,' but I'll save that for some other time)

The only problem is that Incremental Reading in Supermemo works only with a pure electronic text that can be highlighted, copied and pasted. What if you have a pdf file, a physical book, magazine, etc.?

I have recently adopted a crude but (At least for me) workable solution for using the incremental reading mentality to process non-electronic books (Real books), pdfs, magazines, etc.

Simply create a new topic and use it as a bookmark for whatever you are reading.

For example: If I am reading a new Popular Science magazine (That I cannot yet get a digital copy of), I create a new topic within Supermemo and I title it: "Popular Science - April issue". I take the actual magazine and read it until I get bored, have to do something else, etc. If I find an interesting passage, I transcribe the sentence or paragraph into that topic and create an extract of that passage. When I stop reading I make a note of that in the topic; for example, If I stop on page 28 on the third paragraph, I change the topic to say "Popular Science - April issue; Resume on page 28, paragraph 3."

I then place the magazine in a box next to my computer labeled "Incremental Reading." When I see the topic "Popular Science - April issue," I resume reading. Create extracts only of interesting material, read until I stop, change the topic bookmark to reflect my progress, place in Incremental Reading box. Repeat until the magazine has been read.

I realize the proposed solution would not be ideal for all situations, but considering the limitations of the current technology, it will have to do. Also, your reading material (and a highlighter) can travel with you, and you can "save your progress" when you get back to your Supermemo pile.