On Learning, Language, and Psychology…

Within the past six months, I somehow stumbled upon LESSWRONG and added its feed of posts to my RSS reader of choice. Recently, I came across the following post, and it deeply moved me:

Mark Eichenlaub: How to develop scientific intuition

This post itself is a beautiful gem, but I found the real treasure trove in Mr. Eichenlaub’s answer to this Quora question:

Do grad school students remember everything they were taught in college all the time?

His highly upvoted answer is long, but well worth the read. It eloquently relays concepts about learning, language, and psychology that deeply resonate with me. I hope reading the answer will make you smile and think as much as it did for me.

My parents have done an outstanding job of instilling in me the importance of developing intuition rather than memorizing facts and formulas. When I become a parent, or otherwise have the opportunity to mentor a young learner, I hope to be able to do the same thing.

Intuition, Computers, and User Experience…

In his email quoted on Lesswrong, Mark mentions that he thinks of intuition “as the ability to quickly coordinate a large number of small heuristics”, and that those heuristics “are often pretty local and small in scope.” I love how this applies so clearly to the way I subconsciously think about using computers after having used them for so many years. More broadly, I love how this applies to design and user experience.

When I use a computer running Windows, here are just a few of the small and local heuristics I regularly apply without thinking:

  • Left-clicking inside an editable text field will bring focus to that text field, enabling me to use my keyboard to type
  • Pressing a hotkey combination that involves the Windows key will apply to the OS, not necessarily to the window that’s currently in focus
    • For example, if I press Windows+1, it’ll open the first application pinned to the Taskbar, even if I’m in a full-screen application
  • Right-clicking most anything will bring up a context menu related to the thing I clicked
  • When running a tabbed application like Chrome, if I press CTRL+TAB on my keyboard, I’ll cycle through open tabs

Perhaps none of these heuristics would be immediately obvious to anyone using a Windows computer for the first time. At this point, I apply them without thinking.

The articles linked above encouraged me to be mindful of the heuristics that I regularly apply to computing. They also encouraged me to carefully consider what heuristics others apply when using computing devices. This will undoubtedly make me a more competent designer moving forward.

There is more to say on this buzzing around in my head, but I’ve already delayed pressing the Publish button on this post for far too long. Perhaps I will return later…

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