Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mind The (Knowledge) Gap

The Supermemo FAQ website is very poorly organized; imagine a very messy desk filled with papers, each paper more interesting than the last. The Supermemo site is like that; filled with interesting information, but not very easy to access.

Supermemo (And other programs that seek to accomplish the same purpose) creates within the user a very interesting way of thinking. (I recall reading this on the Supermemo site, but I forget where) When you encounter a concept that you do not understand, the simple solution is this: Throw relevant incremental reading material at it. Decode the material into flashcards, and retain with Supermemo. If you still find some gaps in your knowledge, simply throw more incremental reading material into Supermemo.

A policy of many institutions is to simply "throw money at" potential problems (Illegal drug trade, problems in the education system, etc.). In that same way (But with greater success than institutions), when you encounter ignorance with yourself, simply throw incremental reading material at Supermemo, and over time the ignorance will go away.

This philosophy of progressive and never-ending learning is very appealing to self-learners because it makes knowledge gaps less intimidating. Too often people are embarrassed to admit to a gap in their knowledge, so rather than try to bridge the gap, they simply don't acknowledge or do anything about it. I think this reaction can be partly attributed to the anticipation of the critical "You mean you didn't know that!?" sort-of response that I frequently hear from others. I hate it when I hear others criticize unintentional ignorance. Willful ignorance is another story, but if someone doesn't understand something, rather than focus on the gap, I prefer to take action in order to fill the gap.

So if you are ignorant about a subject, your response should not be "I don't know about that." Rather, it should be "I don't know about that YET."
With sources such as Wisegeek and HowStuffworks, ignorance is exciting to encounter. Why? Because that means you are about to become less ignorant. The process of becoming less ignorant is one of the best feelings in the world.


  1. I love using incremental reading in that way. Just throwing in 5-10 new articles on a new subject feels like a new adventure awaiting. And the process of going through this articles is no less exciting.

    There is a certain book you may like, called "a perfect mess", which is quite interesting on the topic of disorder - for example, in the SM FAQ's and probably in the whole process of SuperMemo, which randomizes presentation of elements.

    Finally, I agree in your distinction between intentional and unintentional ignorance. Those who do not care to understand new or difficult things never expand their minds, and instead let them shrink. Personally, this is what I call being "stupid".

  2. You raised valid point about people. Indeed too many people are embarrassed to admit a gap in their knowledge and rather than admit it, they try to avoid losing face. I find myself doing that occasionally too.

    Reading this article reminded me of a xkcd webcomic about the same thing. Hope you like it: