If Ideas Had Shapes

A quoteblog ranging from philosophers in bathrobes to galaxy-rises

Category: Social Science

Lewis Thomas – Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1983)

The social scientists have a long way to go to catch up, but they may be up to the most important scientific business of all, if and when they finally get down to the right questions. Our behavior toward each other is the strangest, most unpredictable, and almost entirely unaccountable of all the phenomena with which we are obliged to live.

“Making Science Work”


Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

And I would argue that we humans are most human when we’re improving ourselves.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

…you don’t build mental representations by thinking about something; you build them by trying to do something, failing, revising, and trying again, over and over. When you’re done, not only have you developed an effective mental representation for the skill you were developing, but you have also absorbed a great deal of information connected with that skill.

When preparing a lesson plan, determining what a student should be able to do is far more effective than determining what that student should know. It then turns out that the knowing part comes along for the ride.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Deliberate practice is all about the skills. You pick up the necessary knowledge in order to develop the skills; knowledge should never be an end in itself.

(Posted because I find it an interesting claim. I agree with the first part, under the assumption that you are pursuing development of a skill. But that is not always the goal, so the last part is far too sweeping.)

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

What can we learn from expert performers about what it takes to keep going?

Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. It may seem natural to assume that these people who maintain intense practice schedules for years have some rare gift of willpower or “grit” or “stick-to-itiveness” that the rest of us just lack, but that would be a mistake for two very compelling reasons.

First, there is little scientific evidence for the existence of a general “willpower” that can be applied in any situation. … In fact, if anything, the available evidence indicates that willpower is a very situation-specific attribute. …

When you quit something that you had initially wanted to do, it’s because the reasons to stop eventually came to outweigh the reasons to continue. Thus, to maintain your motivation you can either strengthen the reasons to keep going or weaken the reasons to quit.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Does it push people to get outside their comfort zones and attempt to do things that are not easy for them? Does it offer immediate feedback on the performance and on what can be done to improve it? Have those who developed the approach identified the best performers in that particular area and determined what sets them apart from everyone else? Is the practice designed to develop the particular skills that experts in the field possess? A yes answer to all those questions may not guarantee that an approach will be effective, but it will certainly make that much more likely.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

…anyone can improve, but it requires the right approach. If you are not improving, it’s not because you lack innate talent; it’s because you’re not practicing the right way. Once you understand this, improvement becomes a matter of figuring out what the “right way” is.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Doing the same thing over and over again in exactly the same way is not a recipe for improvement; it is a recipe for stagnation and gradual decline.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Finally, a good teacher can give you valuable feedback you couldn’t get any other way. Effective feedback is about more than whether you did something right or wrong. A good math teacher, for instance, will look at more than the answer to a problem; he’ll look at exactly how the student got the answer as a way of understanding the mental representations the student was using. If needed, he’ll offer advice on how to think more effectively about the problem.

Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool – Peak (2016)

Deliberate practice is purposeful practice that knows where it is going and how to get there.