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    I started using Anki a few months ago, after a long time of being frustrated with my poor memory. I read this comic during my research into solutions, but what really pushed me to start using spaced repetition was this essay.

    So far, I’m very happy with Anki. I started off by putting in a new vocab word every day. I’m gradually ramping up what I add. Anything from programming facts (how do you make text bold with CSS) to details about books I read (in The English Patient, what is Kip’s job).

    I review my cards roughly once a day, and the result feels empowering. Being able to recall most of the info during review sessions makes me aware of the fact that I would have forgotten most of it without Anki.

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      How did memory fetishization start? I’m not knocking the post for providing a method of remembering but why remember things? The bottleneck in knowledge work isn’t how much you have crammed in your head. The bottleneck is how quickly you can navigate and do fuzzy matching in a high level conceptual space of ideas.

      As far as I know there is no correlation between remembering all the parts of the biological cell and this have level navigation and fuzzy concept matching.

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        why remember things?

        Depends on your purpose. Most users of spaced repetition do so to learn a languages. Sure, a computer can translate for you, but it’s not the same socially as being fluent. And generally speaking, we require medical doctors to prove they know medical doctor things by examination, sans Siri. On a more personal level, memorizing family birthdays is a bit more useful than a calendar event.

        But setting aside the demands of society, knowing things can be useful for the productivity of knowledge workers. For example, I have Anki cards for coreutils, and Python built-ins. These are pretty useful, as having to Google basic things like ‘python ascii value int’ slows you down, and in many cases, you may not think to search for things you didn’t know exist. Or in the course of conversations about hiring at work, it’s helpful to have the citation ’Schmidt and Hunter ‘98’ on tap, since Googling for it can be rather difficult and certainly derails the productive flow of conversation.

        Beyond that, at a high level, one small part of knowledge work is synthesis – the process of combining ideas into a greater whole. Having recall level access to facts seems useful for synthesis.

        As far as I know there is no correlation between remembering all the parts of the biological cell and this have level navigation and fuzzy concept matching.

        As I’ve tried to convey, part of this is about relevance. If you’re an aspiring pharma researcher, maybe that information is relevant. Hopefully you recognize it as an example chosen to resonate with the audience’s K-12 experience with a memorization activity. It’s up to you really, to determine which things are worth remembering. Organelles probably aren’t it.

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          Thanks for unpacking your reasoning. Although I disagree about synthesis being a small part of knowledge work. I’d say the majority is synthesis and a small part is recalling facts.

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          I agree navigating high level conceptual spaces is where the real work of insight and creativity is done. But quick access to memory is part of this navigation. And I say this as someone who is stronger in the former skill than the latter.

          For example, say I’m solving some problem in ruby. The flash of insight about the algorithm or high-level solution may occur in under a minute, or even seconds. But if I have to check the documentation for Enumerable, or regex, or how to read files, etc, that can add up to a 5-10x difference in time to a finished solution. And now say I’m working on a much larger problem (a project) that involves the above scenario happening many times over. The slowdown is not merely linear. Eventually you reach a place where it’s simply not worth doing a project that would be doing if you were faster.

          And even with programs like Dash, a good IDE, fast internet and expert google skills, etc, etc, nothing can compete in speed with the instant recall of memory.

          See also: http://jsomers.net/blog/speed-matters

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            Fluency with ideas is important but I think that is still different from memorization.

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              For a counterpoint that you mind find compelling, I suggest reading Part II of this essay.

              Long-term memory is sometimes disparaged. It’s common for people to denigrate “rote memory”, especially in the classroom. I’ve heard from many people that they dropped some class – organic chemistry is common – because it was “just a bunch of facts, and I wanted something involving more understanding”.

              I won’t defend bad classroom teaching, or the way organic chemistry is often taught. But it’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of memory. I used to believe such tropes about the low importance of memory. But I now believe memory is at the foundation of our cognition.

              His personal anecdote:

              Over the years, I’ve often helped people learn technical subjects such as quantum mechanics. Over time you come to see patterns in how people get stuck. One common pattern is that people think they’re getting stuck on esoteric, complex issues. But when you dig down it turns out they’re having a hard time with basic notation and terminology. It’s difficult to understand quantum mechanics when you’re unclear about every third word or piece of notation! Every sentence is a struggle.

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                But this is still different from memorization no? Being familiar with notation is different from recalling the notation. I wouldn’t expect folks taking their first logic course to be familiar with all the axioms and simple tautologies but I also wouldn’t expect them to memorize the axioms as a substitute for understanding how proofs are derived.

                But maybe we are talking past each other here because I’m not denying that memory is an important component of cognition. I’m questioning the usefulness of spaced repetition as a cognitive and problem solving aid.

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                  How did memory fetishization start? I’m not knocking the post for providing a method of remembering but why remember things?


                  I’m not denying that memory is an important component of cognition. I’m questioning the usefulness of spaced repetition as a cognitive and problem solving aid.

                  This post looks like the literal opposite position of your first. Sure, positions can evolve; but to pull a complete 180 in 3 or 4 posts definitely feeels disingenuous.

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                    Am I supposed to thank you for your adversarial responses? What do you suppose you are achieving here?

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                      Pointing out that you’re giving antithetical positions isn’t inherently adversarial. It could be that I’m trying to figure out what your actual position is, and giving you an opportunity to dispel any notions of dishonesty. Did you simply change your position, or are these to arguments compatible in some non-obvious way?

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                    I am currently taking two undergraduate physics courses (quantum physics and electromagnetism), and I’m using Anki a lot in the process. Before that, I’ve used Anki to (very successfully) help me pass the theoretical part of my driver’s exam.

                    You can use spaced repetition to blindly memorize a bunch of context-free facts. I use it for few such things: being able to recall the units or the value of Planck’s constant will make your life a bit easier at a few places in the course, but it certainly won’t make you pass the exam on its own, nor will it allow you to master advanced physical concepts.

                    However, the vast majority of the “cards” I made in Anki actually require me to do some derivations and use the facts in context; a lot of them are fairly complex so I need to do my cards with pencil & paper handy. I mostly use them to remember fundamentals (e.g. setting up the Schrödinger equation for example systems, proving & deriving equivalence between various forms of notation etc.), because being able to retrieve and use those quickly and efficiently makes everything much easier. It’s physics, after all: “new” concepts are constantly being built upon and tied into “old” concepts. At above-“introductory level” courses, the efficiency of your ability to recall the old will heavily influence your ability to acquire the new.

                    Bottom line, I use Anki as a glorified quizzing mechanism with built-in spaced repetition (and a load of bonus points for embedding MathJax). A fair deal of research has shown that spaced repetition and repeated quizzing are key to successful long-term retention of both rote facts, and complex concepts. I’m no expert on any of this, and most of it is inspired by the excellent book Make It Stick which came highly recommended from mutliple sources.

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                      Neat. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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                        I agree. SRL should go hand in hand with practice. Now I have used spaced repetition practice where you create decks of problems and that was also helpful. I often use physical index cards, but I have also used anki.

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                Nobody has ever learned anything without memory. Its simply not possible to match concepts if you don’t even remember the concepts to be matched. How would you even measure or compare two elements if you don’t have them in your memory? Sure you can memorize through using them, but it’s much more prone to holes than stepping through every item in a list.

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                  Because unlike a computer I can have flashes of insight without recalling lists of facts. Also, at what point did I say memory is not useful for cognition? The statements I made were about the utility of wholesale memorization and spaced repetition and the elevation of/emphasis on memory/memorization as a useful technique for achieving mastery in some domain.

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                    Ah. So those flashes of insight come from memory. Spaced repetition learning is a style of memorization that prioritizes that “flash of insight” style of recall. I suspect you likely have a good healthy memory, because if you didn’t it would be I think more obvious to you the value of these methods. I have ADHD which can interfere with memory formation, so these techniques have let me keep up and sometimes even surpass peers. It’s often used to gain a deeper synthesis of the material. By contrast the techniques I talked about in my post are more about putting ideas in your head like putting documents in a filing cabinet.

                    I think memory is fundamental to achieving mastery, however I have personally have traveled down the path of “memorizing through practice” and “memorizing through spaced repetition”. I would say that while you will potentially get holes in your learning if you only do memorization through practice, in real life it’s typically not a big deal. This is because most things you see, you’ll see most of the time. The things you rarely see will rarely come up. I do think if you need to learn something in short time span, space repetition learning is very hard to beat but it should come in conjunction with practice and not in place of. It’s very hard to get synthesis of the learning material without practice.

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                I wish the title of the link had “spaced repetition” in it, so I didn’t have to scroll through a laggy and annoying animated comic to get the gist of it

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                  It’s also almost completely unusable on mobile. It’s almost coherent in firefox’s reader mode, but the writing is pretty awful.

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                  If you want to see a LOT of techniques and people using these actively https://artofmemory.com/ is pretty helpful. I’m not affiliated with this site in any way. I used the major number system, pinning, and a basic memory palace (way easier than it sounds) to memorize a deck of cards with very little effort. These ways of memorizing though are more like using a mnemonic, you can extract the information at any time but you have explicitly think to access it. I personally like to pop a memory in my head using one of these techniques, and then practice it in my head in a spaced repetition style. That way I can practice at any time anywhere without any material implements. It’s not that much work to build up these techniques and once they are there you can simply use them with trivial effort.

                  After the 15th time of looking up something you feel like you should definitely know by now, its nice to have a way to just put things in your head for later reference. ADHD can interfere with memory formation so this stuff is extremely useful to me.