Monday, December 14, 2009

Art Appreciation

Over the last couple of years, in an effort to know a bit more about art history, I have been adding the works of famous artists to Supermemo. Among my favorite artists is Edward Hopper; even if people are present, his paintings evoke a calming atmosphere of solitude that I would love to escape to and spend time in.

Recently I had a conversation with someone about art history. I didn't realize until the subject came up that each of the paintings that I had put into Supermemo occupied a special place in my mind. Although I did not paint those pictures, I felt as though they were "mine," some sort of personal possession.

This leads to an interesting conclusion/question: If Supermemo can "force" one to become familiar with something (The works of a particular artist, for example), can Supermemo help shape your likes and dislikes? I think so, albeit in more subtle ways. For example, one could not simply make a flashcard that says, "I like Edward Hopper," and suddenly you enjoy the works of Edward Hopper; but you could learn about the artwork of Edward Hopper (What is the name of this painting? In what year was this painting made? etc.), and as time goes on, you become more and more familiar with his works. Eventually Edward Hopper's art will become like a familiar art gallery in your mind, and when you see one of his works "in the wild," you will say "Hey, that's a Hopper painting!"

To summarize: Spaced Repetition easily creates points of reference. This breeds familiarity, which begets a fondness for the subject under consideration.


  1. I'm currently using surusu to study Japanese, but I'm starting to get interested in your style of using SRSs for everything. What was it like when you started to branch out from just Japanese? I'm a little curious about your own story, your "adventure" with SRSing.

  2. I've really been considering starting an outside deck for "everything else" outside of Japanese. Do you really feel that keeping everything in a single deck is the best way to go?

    I follow the AJATT idea of staying all Japanese all the time, but lately I've been considering adding in some more difficult collegiate level English words as well as some good quotes.

    What do you think about keeping separate decks?

    By the way, this site is just wonderful. I wish you'd update more often, but I'm sure you're just busy adding more info to SM :)

  3. DJ: I'll make it the subject of another post. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Seth: Keeping everything in a single deck really is the way to go. Even now I keep separate decks for temporary purposes (Chinese vocab I get wrong frequently). Once I "learn" the stuff in the temporary deck, I put it into my normal, Supermemo deck. I find that such "alt-account" decks are not reviewed very frequently at all (I'm just afraid that the bad scores will do something bad to the algorithm in general, much like a leaky hole on a ship. It's probably just paranoia, but I can't bring myself to insert a bunch of stuff I know I'm going to get wrong 5-10 times. This is something I must eventually confront and do something about, as the present solution is not ideal). Anyways, 99.9% of everything I'm learning is all in a single deck. If I were you, I'd stick with a single deck, unless you're trying some sort of learning experiment. By creating a separate deck you suffer none of the bad consequences that could result (Incorrect grades, skewed "forgetting curve," etc.). So it has some potential usefulness.

    Using Spaced Repetition Software will make it clear to you that spaced repetition is the ideal way to learn anything. Once you agree with the methodology (Which seems to require experience with using the software), putting in additional information seems like a reasonable step. So yes, by all means try putting in a few vocabulary words or quotes. Just don't do TOO MANY at once, as it might become overwhelming and leave a bad taste in your mouth. Learning needs to be fun.

    As far as updates go, I'd rather update infrequently with interesting stuff than frequently with not-so-interesting stuff. Thanks for the encouraging thought, I'll be sure to update as soon as something interesting comes to mind (And it can be articulated in a meaningful way).

  4. I like your posts because they are in better English than the posts on the the other site.

  5. When I'm making a comment, I feel that I can be less articulate and more sloppy. But making a post is different, it's like writing a formal letter compared to sending a text message (At least it seems that way to me).

  6. "Spaced Repetition easily creates points of reference."

    I experience exactly that whenever I start on a new field. I usually look for the main facts on the field and quickly build a structure, firmly fixing it in my mind with the SRS. Also, the SRS "forces" me to express all the knowledge in a "question & answer" format, so one must really understand the information one's dealing with. But all this you know much better than me. :)

    Since SRSs are mostly used to language acquisition, I found your blog really refreshing. It's been a while since I started to SRS on everything that I like (history, physics, engineering, statistics, etc) and I ran into this problem: nobody knows about this, and when I try to explain the concept... they look at me in a funny way, you know? :)) So it's great to read your articles; I find myself unconsciously nodding when I'm reading them. Hope you keep updating us on your progress!

  7. That's awesome that others feel the same way. This is a method of learning that will not be tapped by many people, so we are always going to be in the minority (Unless something drastic happens, and SRS becomes accessible to the general public). It is also necessary to pool our knowledge together so others can benefit from our successes and failures.
    I have faced not only skepticism but also criticism for using SRS as much as I do; some seem to feel that I am making some sort of cheap "knock off" of what real knowledge is SUPPOSED to be, and by using a computer program to affect my life to such an extent I am making myself less human. To the contrary, my argument is that proper integration with SRS leads to intellectual liberation, freeing our mind to consider other ideas and arguments without having to worry about preserving the ones we already grasp.

    I personally think that the angry criticism stems from an overly pessimistic attitude ("Something THAT good can't exist, so if you claim that it does you're either wrong or stupid"). Or others could lack the necessary perseverance and are critical of others that have it. Or perhaps it is because such ones have problems with me...

    Regardless, we must continue to question our actions and always be looking for better ways to live and learn. Hopefully this blog will be a platform for such things.

  8. I believe you are totally right. Some people are just not open-minded and persistent enough to perform the mental shift required by the SRS. It requires a certain amount of discipline to do the repetitions every day, but not that much. The system is incredibly efficient and, as you said, it frees our mind from the burden of refreshing the already acquired knowledge. And, due to the nature of the Ebbinghaus curve, the number of reviews one gets to do every day is not so much related to the total number of facts in your deck but to the number of new facts you input daily. This means the SRS will "bite" you back if, in a certain period, you input a much bigger amount of new cards than you usually do. Well, at least that's my experience of it; that's why I prefer to keep a steady input rate of knowledge, although that's not always possible.

    What completely puzzles me is how SRS is still "off the radar" of the educational systems of the world. I don't know of any school/academy (and, for that matter, companies) that uses it. Do you? How is it in the US?

  9. I do not yet understand why so few people use Supermemo. Once I understood how Supermemo works, I couldn't imagine NOT using such a tool.