Weekly I/O #57
Reason not to Quit, Forward Testing Effect, Immediate Connection to Creation, Sit Down to Write, Die Young Late
Weekly I/O is a project where I share my learning Input/Output. Every Sunday, I write an email newsletter with five things I discovered and learned that week.
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The below is extracted from the email sent on Mar 12, 2023
1. For habits, there are only a few reasons to keep on something and a truckload of reasons to quit. All we can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.
Book: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir
In Haruki’s words:
“Running every day is a kind of lifeline for me, so I’m not going to lay off or quit just because I’m busy. If I used being busy as an excuse not to run, I’d never run again. I have only a few reasons to keep on running, and a truckload of them to quit. All I can do is keep those few reasons nicely polished.”
2. Forward testing effect: Taking an exam before learning the subject can enhance future learning of that subject.
The forward testing effect is a phenomenon observed in memory retrieval research where testing one’s memory of information that has not yet been learned can enhance future learning of related information. In other words, taking an exam before learning the subject can improve future learning of that subject.
Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the forward testing effect. Some researchers suggest that attempting to find answers to questions that have yet to be learned can strengthen one’s ability to search for and identify relevant information when it is later encountered. It is like paving a road to a building that hasn’t been built. The destination has yet to exist, but the road has been paved so that the resources are pre-allocated for finding the answer.
Other researchers propose that the effect may be related to attentional processes, where attempting to answer unknown questions can focus one’s attention on potential relevant information. This reminds me of the days when I took the GRE reading comprehension exam, where I figured out the fastest way to complete the exam was to skim through the questions first to get a general overview of an article.
3. Creators need immediate connections to what they are creating because so much creation is discovery. We discover nothing if we cannot see the process of our changes effectively.
Video: Bret Victor — Inventing on Principle
Creators need immediate connections to what they are creating. When we are making something, and we make a change or a decision, we need to see the effect immediately. There cannot be any delay, and there cannot be anything hidden.
So much creation and art are discoveries. If we have to compile and wait whenever we make a change, we cannot see what we are doing effectively. If we cannot observe the process of our changes, we cannot discover anything.
This reminds me of my experience building Virtual Reality (VR) applications. Because Unity (the software used to build VR applications) has to compile for a long time in Mac to render any scene into a VR headset, there’s always a delay between I make the code change and I see what the change actually looks like. This gap destroys the flow of building things. A better way should be WYSIWYG in the 3D scene. Maybe VR can only be developed in VR.
4. The secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.
Book: The War of Art
Sitting down to write is way more difficult than writing. Of course, writing is hard, and writing well takes a lot of effort. However, it’s much harder just to sit down and write against procrastination without any single burst of motivation. When we already sit down and start to write, writing is not that hard anymore.
Haruki also mentioned in his book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: A Memoir, that the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed to him that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.
5. “The idea is to die young as late as possible.” — Ashley Montagu
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