Makers, week -5: memory is a choice

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934), “Epitelio y neuroglia primitivos de ratón” (Glial cells of the mouse spinal cord), 1899, ink and pencil on paper. Courtesy of Instituto Cajal (CSIC), Madrid.

Learning is difficult, in part because the mechanisms of the brain are not the easiest to understand. However if there’s one insight that really stuck with me from last week’s excursion into learning how to learn, it’s that it’s possible to ‘make memory a choice’.

I’ve always just assumed I have terrible memory, and that this will stick with me forever, and forever limit what I can and cannot do. I think this approach is misguided. It’s worth trying to practice memory, especially as there are no so many tools that appear to make the job easier, such as Anki.

By making flashcards of things that you’re trying to remember (I tested it out with key words from a textbook that I’m reading), and repeatedly testing yourself on them over a long period of time, it’s almost guaranteed to stick if you practice correctly and if you’ve designed the flashcards well.

Unfortunately not all of the useful-est software is the prettiest. The desktop client for Anki has much to be desired in terms of looks, but if it bothers you, just try and use the app (iOS or Android) or the web client as much as possible. Derek Banas of YouTube coding tutorial fame has done a video tutorial on Anki (the desktop version) to give you an idea of what features are available. I actually chose to use the web version in the end (https://ankiweb.net) as then I didn’t need to worry about synchronisation issues and also, it definitely just looks nicer. I think you need the desktop client to create cards though, so you might need to get familiar with both.

As well as learning how to learn, something I covered in my last blog post, I’ve been thinking that I should catch up with some non-coding work for a week or so to give my brain a little bit of rest before diving in to the Makers course.

As I’m extremely interested in the impacts of artificial intelligence, which is a popular topic of concern among effective altruists, I’ve been reading more of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, which is the standard textbook on AI by two of the leading practitioners in the field. I’ve also been doing some writing practice — apart from this blog series on preparing for Makers, I wrote a review/listicle of Jacy Reese’s upcoming new book, ‘The End of Animal Farming’, which should be released later in 2018.

It’s been refreshing stepping away from the world of web development and Ruby temporarily, but I’m excited to plunge back in from the middle of next week. My pre-course starts in September.

That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for the next update, which will be week -4 of 12, on my last free week before the pre-course.

Slowly does it.