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Article Link: Why Progressive Summarization Must Die

Hey all, I hope you don't mind the self-publish share. I've been hearing a lot about "Progressive Summarization" being THE WAY from so many people lately that I felt compelled to get people to question that assumption.

I reference @ctietze 's "Collector's Fallacy" and attempt to extend the concept to cover some aspects of Prog Sum, calling it the "Summarizer's Fallacy."

The tone is a little bit more abrasive than I'm normally comfortable with, but I thought it was needed, again, because I've been bombarded by people thinking Prog Sum is the only way. Even if you don't agree, hopefully it's a thought-provoking piece: https://medium.com/@nickmilo22/why-progressive-summarization-must-die-c2635d1f79f1?source=friends_link&sk=6cc3056a43a51f8de0bc907e7a76c0fb

Comments

  • @nickmilo22 this is a bold essay. You make a great argument for focusing on idea creation as the path to engagement with the material you encounter. Your "Like begets like" example is intriguing.

    @nickmilo22 said:
    The tone is a little bit more abrasive than I'm normally comfortable with, but I thought it was needed, again, because I've been bombarded by people thinking Prog Sum is the only way.

    Progressive Summarization (PS) might be a way of starting the project of building a Zettelkasten that should eventually be grown out of, the sooner the better. The balance between PS and PI should shift towards Curating Ideas as we develop the skills and experience. PS isn't all bad if we have some Progressive Ideation (PI) producing original ideas. Original ideas that come out of PI can hybridize with 'someone else's ideas' captured by PS. You make it clear that leaving behind PS and moving towards PI is mature and valuable to the project of knowledge building.

    Great essay.

    Will Simpson
    I'm a Zettelnant.
    Research: Rationalism, Zen, Non-fiction Creative Writing
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @nickmilo22

    Any thinking about knowledge work is highly welcomed. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • I think that Progressive Summarization (PS) aims to shrink the
    information into the minimum information. For example, when you read a
    book, you aim to summary the whole book into one paragraph. The
    technique is to filter the information.

    The problem of PS, is that, all the ideas you have when you consume
    something is somehow valuable. The filter processes prevents you from
    build an another important perspective that you might learn from
    other material.

    Progressive ideation (PI) treats every interesting ideas at moment as
    a potential bridge to a better perspective. An important side effect
    is that PI breaks down the big task into small pieces. Just as Luhmann
    never force himself on a single hard question, he only did "easy"
    thing. I have the same experience. When I working on the "easy" thing,
    I become more focus and I like feeling of being the moment. This will
    help myself to do more "small" tasks. Pretty much like a road in
    mountain helping me to climb huge mountains. A similar idea is
    mechanism of pulley. The core thing is to convert a big task into
    small but actionable tasks.

  • Thanks all for your feedback and interesting perspectives. Like most things, somewhere in the middle the truth lies.

  • GBCGBC
    edited August 15

    @nickmilo22 said:
    Thanks all for your feedback and interesting perspectives. Like most things, somewhere in the middle the truth lies.

    And as with most things, it surely depends on your required objective / outcome.

  • I tried reading but Iost interest soon after the Progressive Ideation Creates Real Value. I skimmed the rest but nothing captured my interest. What I read felt very patronizing and vague IMHO. Sorry

  • I've re-read your article this morning, and it doesn't sit easily with me.

    Your point appears to be that progressive summarisation is a blatant waste of time, time that would be better spent on 'ideating' or, in existing terminology to find new connections between existing ideas, or again more informally, to 'join the dots'. This, I think, is an immediate weakness in the article: introducing the unfamiliar term 'progressive ideation' appears to suggest that the article is introducing new thinking, whereas the concept of progressing knowledge by finding new connections between existing facts is extremely well established. In fact, it's what is discussed at length in this forum on a regular basis.

    You then present 'progressive summarisation' and 'progressive ideation' as an 'either / or' activity. You say 'That large chunk of time is terribly wasteful. Instead (my emphasis) it could have gone to developing your own nuanced perspective to the ideas you encounter, then connecting them with other ideas you’ve already encountered.'

    Presentations of the knowledge management process vary but are often variations of 'collect-organise-summarise-analyse-synthesise-decision make' . Your article obscures the fact that 'summarising' and the 'analysis / synthesis' involved in your concept of ideation are different steps of the same process. Indeed, it casts them as competitors with the suggestion that only one should come out as the winner. This is clearly a mistake: it would be like suggesting that sanding a door is a waste of time that is better spent in applying paint. The better advice here, in both cases, must surely be that each step should be done to a level that is appropriate to the desired outcome - doing anything more might indeed be a waste of time, but leaving steps undone (or underdone) may have significant impact on the quality of the outcome.

    Since you admit that the outcome of effort should be the connection of newly encountered ideas with previously encountered ideas, the immediate question is where should such previous ideas be stored so they can be revisited when such new connections are discovered. Surely not in one's head. Not only are our minds limited with respect to how much specific detail they can hold, our thoughts are also subject to any number of cognitive biases that threaten the integrity of new ideas. Established academic and KM principles exist in part to counter such biases. Yet if we are not going to store ideas solely in our head, we need a way of storing them elsewhere - perhaps progressive summarisation is just one tool that exists to create that store of ideas in the appropriate circumstances.

    To this end, it isn't at all clear whether your article is meant as an argument against progressive summarisation as a technique, as the title suggests, or against the act of summarisation (by any means) itself, which the body suggests. In other words, it's unclear as to whether you are claiming that the 'summarising' step of the established knowledge management process is wrong, or whether you accept that it is a valid step but that the specific technique known as progressive summarising is the wrong way of going about it. I think your article would have benefited from a more clearly drawn argument rather than relying on what you have admitted is abrasive language.

    Furthermore, that abrasive language along with the blatant dismissal (with no argument) of academic approaches is very consistent with the 'post truth', 'false news', 'down with experts' world in which we find ourselves. That alone is enough to make me uncomfortable.

    If I've read your article correctly then, whilst the point you are trying to make isn't clearly presented, you seem to be saying that the outcome of reading should be the progression of new ideas rather than the collection of old ones. This point, however, is nothing new. Have I overlooked something that I should have picked up on? I will admit that, like @Splattack, my reading of your article was strongly affected by the tone, and although I did persevere to the end I may have missed something that renders my points as set out above less relevant.

  • @nickmilo22 said:
    The tone is a little bit more abrasive than I'm normally comfortable with, but I thought it was needed, again, because I've been bombarded by people thinking Prog Sum is the only way. Even if you don't agree, hopefully it's a thought-provoking piece

    @nickmilo22 I enjoyed this text. The "abrasive tone" was for me a characteristic part of your thinking. Although I tend to use too many caveats in my writing, I admire writers who don't feel the urge to constantly do this. Having said that, I think it is paramount to also note, that critique and other opinions are welcomed (as you did here: "We need you to be your best self. We need you to share your unique perspective and ideas with the rest of us").

    Now to the substance of your argument. Like the author said himself:

    @nickmilo22 said:
    Thanks all for your feedback and interesting perspectives. Like most things, somewhere in the middle the truth lies.

    the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Especially in an academic setting, it is at times necessary to summerise and to repeat others arguments. For example when trying to understand a particular field of research, this summerising and repeating is essential. Only after understanding and internalising what others have thought before, one's own thoughts can be integrated and elaborated.

    Is your argument also applicable to an educational perspective? For me your idea of Progressive Ideation is closely linked to the educational theory of Constructionism. The idea being, that through understanding concepts through building one's knowledge from first principles, people can build mental models themselves, that might be more applicable to the learner.

    Indeed Progressive Ideation is not a new concept. Nevertheless I think @nickmilo22's text is valuable because it highlights the importance of thinking for yourself.


    @GBC said:
    Furthermore, that abrasive language along with the blatant dismissal (with no argument) of academic approaches is very consistent with the 'post truth', 'false news', 'down with experts' world in which we find ourselves. That alone is enough to make me uncomfortable.

    Maybe I missed something, but i don't see @GBC 's point, that the text dismissed academic approaches. (this might also be because of my mediocre english skills) Therefor I also don't see "the 'post truth', 'false news', 'down with experts' world" worldview reflected in this text.

  • GBCGBC
    edited August 16

    Interesting response, thank you.

    @Sönke said:
    Like the author said himself... the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

    My immediate thought is that the author did not make this concession in the article itself, but here on the forum in a later post. The article itself, which is the focus of my response, makes an unequivocal statement that progressive summarisation should die. I am always uncomfortable about black and white statements being published about things that are much more nuanced - yes, it's fun to read abrasive articles that appeal to emotion rather than giving well drawn arguments but is it good writing? Is it even responsible writing, given that Medium has a broad readership which undoubtedly contains (perhaps insufficiently supported) young people trying to find their way in knowledge development or in academia? I'm not sure I have an answer to that, but I feel uncomfortable about it.

    I would further argue that the truth does not 'lie somewhere in the middle' since there is, and can be, no 'one' truth as to whether summarising is appropriate since the approach that we each need to adopt is, as in anything, hugely dependent on many factors: our own starting point, the way our individual brains work, the subjects we are reading and what we specifically want to achieve. You draw this out yourself in talking about different approaches that might be required in the academic setting where you echo my own thinking that summarising is often necessary.

    This closely reflects my own experience. I am studying for a second degree that requires (specifically requires, as stated in the marking criteria) a demonstration of clear understanding of existing thinking. Higher marks will be gained by showing some independent thinking but, crucially, this has to be shown in addition to, and not in place of, what is basically a thoughtful reconstruction or summary of existing thinking. Therefore, when I am studying for this purpose, making the right kind of summary notes (which admittedly is not achieved by the techniques set out in progressive summarisation) is an unquestionably essential part of my studying at my specific current level, and is an equally essential step to then being able to form my own views.

    In contrast, over the summer, I took time out of formal studies to read broadly about various sociological issues that we are witnessing in the world and took no summary notes at all, instead noting specific points in order to seed and progress my own ideas. My note taking here moved much more closely to what is often discussed on this forum as the holy grail of knowledge management, but it was appropriate only because it matched my desired outcome.

    So I would argue there is no truth, in the middle or otherwise. There are a range of approaches that become more or less appropriate depending on the combination of factors I mentioned above.

    @Sönke said: Maybe I missed something, but i don't see @GBC 's point, that the text dismissed academic approaches.

    I was referring mainly to comments about the academic approach being relegated to the article footnotes. This, by implication, detaches the academic approach from the claimed aim and value of knowledge development. This is a big departure since, for many years, a firm grounding in academic skills was thought to be a helpful, if not essential, foundation for knowledge work. Personally, whilst I don't think that formal academia should be essential (that just promotes elitism), I feel that the rigour and critical thinking it promotes are needed more than ever. That is to say, it is not without flaws, and maybe we can adopt the useful aspects without continuing to fully embrace, but to detach it entirely without a strong argument for that move feels uncomfortable for me. Here in the UK, we've had statements such as 'we've had enough of experts', and this felt, to me, like it is moving along the same lines.

    Post edited by GBC on
  • GBCGBC
    edited August 16

    This additional post was originally to say that I wasn't going to adjust a point in the above post that I realised I had made badly, and then I decided to remove the point anyway. I can't work out how to delete posts...

    Post edited by GBC on
  • Thanks for all contributions. This is very much experimental territory for me.

    @GBC I’m unable to fully read, digest, and respond at the present moment; but just one clarification... In the article I tried to make clear that summarizing and “progressive Summarization” are two different things.

    “ Summarizing is an important skill. We summarize all the time. It’s valuable to summarize a meeting, or to distill ideas. And many times we summarize in more than a single session. But that’s not what we mean when we say “Progressive Summarization”.”

    All points are appreciated and hopefully will find the time to address them in turn.

  • Your title is clickbait. There is a big difference between being provocative and attention-grabbing gimmicks You are smart, articulate, and have a talent for reframing ideas and concepts in a way people can relate to and understand, and they like. I have seen it here and in other forums. Lose the gimmick; you don't need it. Your words and ability speak for themselves.

  • @MikeBraddock I hear you, thank you, and agree about the tone.

    It hasn’t sat well with me; and it gets in the way of the message. Time is minimal for me right now, but I plan to revise the article title and clarify parts of the argument. Thank you.

  • Mm. Looks like there's a roast a cookin' in here. I hope to swing by a little later and throw some beef shoulder on the flame.

  • @nickmilo22 said:
    Thanks for all contributions. This is very much experimental territory for me.

    @GBC I’m unable to fully read, digest, and respond at the present moment; but just one clarification... In the article I tried to make clear that summarizing and “progressive Summarization” are two different things.

    “ Summarizing is an important skill. We summarize all the time. It’s valuable to summarize a meeting, or to distill ideas. And many times we summarize in more than a single session. But that’s not what we mean when we say “Progressive Summarization”.”

    All points are appreciated and hopefully will find the time to address them in turn.

    Cheers, Nick. On reflection, my response may have been a little robust, although since your article was design to provoke a reaction you might say that's a sign of success :smile:

    For clarity, I was not so much reacting to the overall message (that developing own ideas is superior to collecting other people's ideas, which is of course something I agree with) as to the tone and what I perceived as the flaws in the argument. To clarify the last point, although you did include a descriptive distinction between PS as tool and S in general, I didn't pick up the distinction in the argument itself. On my reading, the title of your argument and the introduction was about one (PS) and the remainder seemed to be about the other (S in general), which obscured your argument. Admittedly, I did only skim it rather than study it closely (although this is consistent with my approach to all Medium articles), but I came away unclear as to whether your point was that PS as a technique is too time heavy or that summarising itself is too time heavy.

    If it's the first, then to my mind the article would have benefited from the suggestion of other techniques. If the latter, then (for my money) the article could have made the move between 'I keep hearing a lot about PS right now, which is keeping the focus of reading on the summarising of existing thoughts' to 'but let's not forget there's a superior objective for knowledge work, which is ideation' a little more elegantly. I think either of these approaches would also have made the title less objectionable, although I understand the need for a grabbing title on Medium, and I imagine you wouldn't have used it elsewhere.

    I'm wondering whether a good starting place would be for us to compare notes on what we mean by connecting dots (which I'm taking to be your ideation). One 'connects the dots' when learning, and one also connects dots to develop 'new in the world' ideas. Yet in the first, those connections are not 'new in the world' but are new to us, since we're learning what's already out there as an essential first step to developing our own thinking. The second is our own addition to the world, of potentially new thoughts and opinions. There's place, I would like to think, in Zettelkasten for both. I suggest that the first is also an implicit part of knowledge work, even though the explicit output is the second. I think your article was focussing on the latter type of dot connecting, hence why you mentioned academic approaches only in the footnotes. Yet if I'm right, and I can't see that I'm not, that both are essential in their own place, perhaps drawing out that both are valid but that you are focussing on the latter would be useful.

    Anyway, you can ignore me entirely, of course. These are only my thoughts and they hold no more weight than yours. I enjoyed your article - it got me thinking.

  • No beef shoulder I'm afraid. Good read. I perceived no abrasiveness in your tone. I am actually quite appalled by some of the criticism of how you come across in this piece. @nickmilo22, you spent a fine portion of this essay encouraging people and "calling to action". I empathize with your argument to an extent, but I also agree with others who seem to believe that you took summarization and ideation to be mutually exclusive practices rather than lily pads along a single stream.

    I believe that @Will is correct in his statement that there is a time to know when and where to stop summarizing. Your argument that we have the public schools to blame is a valid one to me.

    IMO, summarization itself is a dynamic practice that depends on the complexity of what you're engaging with. The tools one has to their avail also count. Sometimes both summarization and ideation can occur simultaneously. In truth, I feel like one should aspire to perform one or the other when taking a note. Again, this depends on the depth of the material and the environment that they are working on it in.

    For instance I have found that there are some material, certain books for example, must go into a Tinderbox document immediately as I read them. I need to be mapping, linking, stamping, outlining, and browsing all at once because whatever it is that I'm reading has stimulated my mind to the point where I would prefer to be in an environment that can accommodate its activity. Other books, brief articles, informative blog posts or what have you -- not so much. These things can either be outlined and strictly "summarized" in a low-energy, low-stakes affair that allows me to become "familiar" with the piece. While my thoughts ruminate, I can make entries into my slipbox (be it the physical one or my folder of markdown notes). Eventually, certain concepts and observations can make their way into Tinderbox.

    The foxtrot of "knowledge work" involves many steps. Each individual depending on their trade and the manner in which they process information has to discover where their material and the notes that are derived from them is meant to take them.

    Again, I don't think that your tone is a problem. If anything, perhaps people are just unsettled with the level of confidence that you have in your argument despite its holes. No, Nick, it's not that you came off as brash, you just missed your mark a tad. Rather, your bullet hit its target but nicked the neck of the hostage who it took.

    At least this article has elicited responses that aren't divisive or hostile. You are not a criminal or a tyrant for wanting more from your peers in the Information Age. Keep your badge and your revolver, deputy, and get back to your beat.

  • Thanks for the feedback. As we are not automatons incapable of change, I've made a few changes to the article :)

    @GBC You’re right that later in the article I partially conflated "Progressive Summarization" with good ol’ fashioned summarizing. In parts, I actually confused myself with the terminology—which is one of the core issues I have with the term!

    I more clearly defined “Progressive Summarization “ and why it’s a poor title that—if over-used— encourages the habits of over-collecting, over-summarizing, and under-thinking —which ultimately leads to a less joyful digital note library as the years add up.

    @MikeBraddock Tonal adjustments throughout.

    I rewrote all references to basic summarizing and "Progressive Summarization" to more clearly and consistently show their differences.

    @GBC I added more to honor the superpower we all possess and use everyday to some degree: basic summarizing.

    I added a whole section after the intro to clearly articulate the argument against using the term “Progressive Summarization”. “Just in Time” Summarization is a more responsible term.

    To that point, I scrapped the phrase “Progressive Ideation,” as that is just as redundant (All Ideation is takes progressive steps!), and, since I felt compelled to provide some Nouny Thing, went with Ongoing Relational Ideation, but the title is far, far less important than the practice, which everyone here at zettelkasten.de already knows supremely well.

    RE Connecting the dots: I do mean both: learning And developing concepts over time. For the latter, that means adding layers of newness to the note over time; such as: reflections, examples, connections, references, counter-examples, etc.

    IMO, summarization itself is a dynamic practice that depends on the complexity of what you're engaging with. The tools one has to their avail also count. Sometimes both summarization and ideation can occur simultaneously. In truth, I feel like one should aspire to perform one or the other when taking a note. Again, this depends on the depth of the material and the environment that they are working on it in.

    Again, I don't think that your tone is a problem. If anything, perhaps people are just unsettled with the level of confidence that you have in your argument despite its holes. No, Nick, it's not that you came off as brash, you just missed your mark a tad. Rather, your bullet hit its target but nicked the neck of the hostage who it took

    @s41f Loved your commentary, and agree completely. I have no "beef shoulder" with summarizing, something I do and everyone with a working brain does all the time lol! So the article no longer nick the neck of the hostage!

  • After I finally read the article, I can agree with you in spirit: I think that one of the problems with note-taking and knowledge work in general is self-generated. It is the habit of post-poning work, post-poning hard thinking in the hopes that some inspiration might hit them, trying to make things easy, reduce cognitive load and things like this.

    There is a big difference in aiming for effciency and aiming to have it easier. To me, there is big emotional component to the issue that you unfolding in your article: The motivation of some people seems to be to ease some kind of burden.

    In training, I divide people in two categories: Some just want the best training tools and that's it. They don't care if something hurts or demands hard work. Other want to use the best training tools just to make their life easier. There is nothing wrong with neither motivation. But the first type of people will reach their goals. The second type of people will not reach their goals. (One of the jobs as a trainer is to show and demonstrate to the second type of people that they either give up on their goals or change their attitude)

    Through this lense, I see the same pattern. Some people push for thorough processing, using as little collection as possible, maximising the own words etc. Others, sometimes under the umbrella of efficiency, do the least work possible. I suspect that the pattern is true for the results also. The first type of people will reach their goals. The second type will struggle to get things done or experience the full productivity benefit of the Zettelkasten Method.

    tl;dr: I agree in spirit. I do not think the issue is methodological but emotional.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:

    Other want to use the best training tools just to make their life easier.

    This is a rather bizarre - and dismissive - thing to say. I've not seen anyone on here who has taken that view - I've just seen people who want different things out of their work, whether that's with The Archive or Zettelkasten - ie they have different needs, or goals.

    (One of the jobs as a trainer is to show and demonstrate to the second type of people that they either give up on their goals or change their attitude)

    Presumably, though, as a trainer you have already agreed with your trainee what their goals are - or you've made sure that they accept the goals that want them to achieve. I'm experienced in coaching myself, and this is the first stage of any coaching relationship - it's discussed and agreed.

    I think what this really boils down to - based on this and on previous conversations we've had - is that you feel there is a goal of Zettelkasten to which everyone would benefit from aiming, and I (and some others) feel that it is a tool that, like most others, can be used in support of a number of slightly different goals. I think it's a pity that we've not been able to bridge that gap.

  • @GBC said:

    @sfast said:

    Other want to use the best training tools just to make their life easier.

    This is a rather bizarre - and dismissive - thing to say. I've not seen anyone on here who has taken that view - I've just seen people who want different things out of their work, whether that's with The Archive or Zettelkasten - ie they have different needs, or goals.

    It's not dismissive. It is just my observation. I do not judge, as implicated with the very next sentence in relation to the quoted sentence:

    @sfast said:
    Other want to use the best training tools just to make their life easier. There is nothing wrong with neither motivation.


    @GBC said:

    (One of the jobs as a trainer is to show and demonstrate to the second type of people that they either give up on their goals or change their attitude)

    Presumably, though, as a trainer you have already agreed with your trainee what their goals are - or you've made sure that they accept the goals that want them to achieve. I'm experienced in coaching myself, and this is the first stage of any coaching relationship - it's discussed and agreed.

    No. I have quite some clients who come disorientated and need to find goals in the first place. 95% of my clients state goals in the beginning that are some kind of excuse to start a difficult journey to change the course of their lifes. So, we need to revise the goals quite often.

    Addtionally, many people are quite bad at goal setting. We do have meaning crisis in the developed world for a reason. So, I am working on that and providing people with maps to navigate this strange world.

    @GBC said:
    I think what this really boils down to - based on this and on previous conversations we've had - is that you feel there is a goal of Zettelkasten to which everyone would benefit from aiming, and I (and some others) feel that it is a tool that, like most others, can be used in support of a number of slightly different goals.

    Not in the least. I couldn't care less what people want to do with their Zettelkasten. My job is to think of and provide solutions to problems.

    @GBC said:
    I think it's a pity that we've not been able to bridge that gap.

    Why? I, myself, can live very well with people not sharing my opinion. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • edited August 29

    @GBC you cannot read these posts as they were meant literally. @sfast is using the concepts of approach and goal interchangeably. This is done on purpose, he is being cynical.

    There's no need to waste your time discussing the goal because we are all agreeing on the goal, aren't we? We can safe a lot of time focusing on this new approach, instead. The only reason we cannot reach our goal is because of those that didn't see how important this approach is, it hasn't been done properly or the approach didn't work as seen on TV.

    Post edited by zk_1000 on

    my first Zettel uid: 202008120915

  • .> @zk_1000 said:

    @GBC you cannot read these posts as they were meant literally. @sfast is using the concepts of approach and goal interchangeably. This is done on purpose, he is being cynical.

    To what end?

    There's no need to waste your time discussing the goal because we are all agreeing on the goal, aren't we?

    No.

    We can safe a lot of time focusing on this new approach, instead. The only reason we cannot reach our goal is because of those that didn't see how important this approach is, it hasn't been done properly or the approach didn't work as seen on TV.

    Uh?

  • @zk_1000 @GBC

    Please do not interpret on my behalf ( @zk_1000 ) and please do not rely on interpration on what I wrote and why ( @GBC ). ;)

    I am a Zettler

  • GBCGBC
    edited August 29

    @sfast said:
    @zk_1000 @GBC

    Please do not interpret on my behalf ( @zk_1000 ) and please do not rely on interpration on what I wrote and why ( @GBC ). ;)

    😂

    Okay :smile:

  • @nickmilo22 I finally got back around to your article on Medium. Glad I revisited. Good choice on that title.

  • edited September 18

    The title @MikeBraddock is referring to is "The Potential Side Effects of Progressive Summarization" (I think at least). @nickmilo22 do you know about incremental reading from SuperMemo? I'm curious how close it is to the idea of progressive summarization.

    If I were to boil it down into a sentence, I'd say this.

    Summarization is a form of abstraction that allows you to pull out the most important ideas but progressive (repeated) summarization runs the risk of abstracting a piece of information into incomprehension.

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