# How does one deal with an author's weak argument?

I recently came across my old cluster of Zettels on Scott Young's Drilldown Method. I thought at first that his method would only be helpful to enhance my Zettelkasten workfow. It turns out that it's helpful for practicing skills too.

However, I'm stuck with one Zettel where I cite him making a weak argument to establish the goal of one of the stages. I'm not sure what to do with it. I'm confident in that I can improve it, but should I get rid of his or keep it?

Any hints would be much appreciated.

• How do you deal with weak arguments in general?

Why is the argument weak?

I am a Zettler

• edited November 2021

How do you deal with weak arguments in general?

I've mostly encountered good arguments, so this hardly comes up. When this has happened, I skipped the bad arguments while doing the first pass of the Barbell Method of reading. Sometimes, those arguments sparked my own. Sadly, I can't find any examples.

Why is the argument weak?

This is what he writes about the practice stage of his method:

Practice problems are huge for boosting your understanding, but there are two main efficiency traps you can get caught in if you’re not careful.

# 1 – Not Getting Immediate Feedback

The research is clear: if you want to learn, you need immediate feedback. The best way to do this is to go question-by-question with the solution key in hand. Once you’ve finished a question, check yourself against the provided solutions. Practice without feedback, or with delayed feedback, drastically hinders effectiveness.

# 2 – Grinding Problems

Like the students who fall into the trap of believing that most learning occurs in the classroom, some students believe understanding is generated mostly from practice questions. While you can eventually build an understanding simply by grinding through practice, it’s slow and inefficient.

Practice problems should be used to highlight areas you need to develop a better intuition for. Then techniques like the Feynman technique, which I’ll discuss, handle that process much more efficiently.

Non-technical subjects, ones where you mostly need to understand concepts, not solve problems, can often get away with minimal practice problem work. In these subjects, you’re better off spending more time on the third phase, developing insight.

I wrote his argument for the goal as follows (simplified):

Practice problems enhance your understanding, but can lead nowhere if done wrong. Thus, the practice stage should be about doing practice problems to identify gaps in your understanding. Then, the next stage can deal with them.

Aside from the lack of proof for things such as "practice problems boost understanding," I think that it's weak because it's missing a lot of important premises.

I could improve it as follows:

Practice problems improve understanding.

They can lead nowhere if done wrong. E.g.: Grinding, non-immediate feedback, and working in groups or blocking time to solve problems you got stuck on.

Learning is about going down the layers of understanding.

Practice on a skill, such as doing practice problems, must sit on top of a deep understanding of the ideas behind it. E.g.: If you want to practice advanced combos in Skullgirls, you need to know about combos, dramatic tension, and infinity burst.

You need to know what you don't know so you can understand it deeply and not commit mistakes.

The Drilldown Method aims to drill down the layers of understanding.

Therefore, the goal of the practice stage should be to use practice problems to identify gaps in your understanding. Afterwards, the stage that follows can address them.

I drew most of this from his blog post, so now I'm not sure.

Edit: Fixed the incorrect formatting of the text using > and changed "citation" to "proof."

Post edited by Annabella on
• @Dilan_Zelsky said:
Aside from the lack of proof for things such as "practice problems boost understanding," I think that it's weak because it's missing a lot of important premises.

Personally I don't think that is a very controversial claim. I wouldn't expect the author to elaborate on that in the context of his blog.

I could improve it as follows:

Why exactly do you think Cal Newport's method is weak? Since you're asking what to do when you come across a weak argument, I would produce a counter argument or attack a premise in the authors argument, but you've only listed implicit claim(s) you think he is resting his claim about practice problems boosting understanding on.

Zettelkasten is love. Zettelkasten is life.

• edited November 2021

@joshA

@Dilan_Zelsky said:
Aside from the lack of proof for things such as "practice problems boost understanding," I think that it's weak because it's missing a lot of important premises.

@joshA said:
Personally I don't think that is a very controversial claim. I wouldn't expect the author to elaborate on that in the context of his blog.

Fair enough, I suppose. Still, when I get the chance, I'd like to dig deep into that claim.

@Dilan_Zelsky said:
I could improve it as follows:

@joshA said:
Why exactly do you think Cal Newport's method is weak? Since you're asking what to do when you come across a weak argument, I would produce a counter argument or attack a premise in the authors argument, but you've only listed implicit claim(s) you think he is resting his claim about practice problems boosting understanding on.

I don't find the method weak.

@Dilan_Zelsky said:
I thought at first that his method would only be helpful to enhance my Zettelkasten workfow. It turns out that it's helpful for practicing skills too.

Regarding the argument, I think that I thought of it wrong. I agree with it, but would like expand on it. Perhaps the most appropiate thing is to make an argument in favor of his.

E.g.:

Practice problems enhance your understanding, but can lead nowhere if done wrong.[newport2012+mlai10daeiu] Thus, the practice stage should be about doing practice problems to identify gaps in your understanding.[newport2012+mlai10daeiu] Then, the next stage can deal with them.[newport2012+mlai10daeiu]

I agree with the author.

Learning is about going down the layers of understanding. That's what the method is about.

Additionally, practicing a skill must sit on top of a deep understanding of the ideas behind it.

E.g.: If you want to practice advanced combos in Skullgirls, you need to know about combos, dramatic tension, and infinity burst.

And lastly, you need to know what you don't know so you can understand it deeply and not commit mistakes.

So, it makes sense that this is the goal for the stage.

What do you think?

• edited November 2021

@Dilan_Zelsky said:
What do you think?

I suppose it's about what you're really trying to accomplish. I for one would keep a seperate note with my own learning methods. In one note I'd capture Cal Newport's method as clearly as possible. Then in my own note, I may link to it as inspiration for a part of my own method. Ultimately you are developing your own method with idiosyncrasies personal to you. That is your "synthesis".

Just be really clear why you are trying to replicate Newport's argument & worried about evidence, weakness of argument etc. I do this sometimes & realise I'm just making notes for the sake of making notes, not to any end.

Zettelkasten is love. Zettelkasten is life.

• edited November 2021

@joshA

Ah, I didn't think of that! Very clever. I'm trying to develop a method for learning skills and his isn't sufficient, so it makes sense to make separate notes for this.

By the way, you mention "synthesis." I suppose you're alluding to the three layers of evidence. Can I ask you a question about that?

I have a Zettel on how to learn faster with a Zettelkasten drawing from Scott's method. Soon, I will read a blog post from the Zettelkasten blog exactly about that. What should I do? I'm worried mainly if it turns out that it's all exactly the same. This is also one of my biggest issues with the model: The exact same idea on different layers.

• edited November 2021

@Dilan_Zelsky said:
I have a Zettel on how to learn faster with a Zettelkasten drawing from Scott's method. Soon, I will read a blog post from the Zettelkasten blog exactly about that. What should I do? I'm worried mainly if it turns out that it's all exactly the same. This is also one of my biggest issues with the model: The exact same idea on different layers.

Can you explain the situation a bit more? (Maybe I'm a bit dense here, but I had a hard time following what the actual problems were in this thread )

I understand your example this way:

• You read Scott's article on learning; you came up with an idea of how to combine this with the Zettelkasten Method of note-taking. ("synthesis")
• Now you don't know what to do with the new input.

If there's no new information, just a sign that someone else thought up exactly the same, why, I'd start with adding a reference to the blog post:

Foo McBar wrote something similar in "Fast learning and ZK".[#20211109mcbar]

[...]

[#20211109mcbar]: Foo McBar: "Fast learning and ZK", 2021-11-09, https://foo.mc.bar/post/

If the note turns into an overview, this might become a list item in a list of similar ideas, where yours is just one of many.

• My ZK and learning approach[[202111091206] is ... summary here ...

• Foo McBar wrote something similar in "Fast learning and ZK".[#20211109mcbar]
• Jane Doe's approach emphasizes mind mapping instead of note-taking.[[202111091207]]

In other words, I don't see why you wouldn't add more references or supportive claims to the note just because it's """"only"""" made by you. As if that makes it worse

-- If I may be so bold: it sounds like a strict sense of note types gets in the way of merely writing down what is going on in the world.

Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

• I think that it's weak because it's missing a lot of important premises. I could improve it as follows:

There you go. Choices are:

1. Refute it.
2. Improve it.

It is about knowledge and knowledge is about five aspects: truth, usefulness, beauty, simpleness, relevancy.

You decided to go on the path of truth. So, you can add premises, improve them, change the argument structure etc. What you are reading is mud and you can mold it.

I am a Zettler

• edited November 2021

@ctietze

@ctietze said:

Can you explain the situation a bit more? (Maybe I'm a bit dense here, but I had a hard time following what the actual problems were in this thread )

I'm bad with words, so I appreciate it that you ask for elaboration. Here are the problems:

1. In a Zettel, I describe an argument made by Scott Young. I find it weak and would like to improve it. However, I don't know how to improve it. This is what I had in mind:
• Cite only their premises, include mine, and leave the conclusion without citation.
• Make a separate Zettel for their argument. Then, make another Zettel for mine where I replicate theirs but add my premises. I would drop citations for that argument. I would also mention that I find Scott's argument weak, which is why I came up with mine.
2. In another Zettel, I describe a method to learn faster with a Zettelkasten. I came up with that idea after reading Scott's blog post. I will read a blog post on a similar idea: Learning faster with a Zettelkasten. I'm worried that when I process my reading notes, I'll create a note about the exact same idea. This is troublesome because it breaks the three layers of evidence. My note is a synthesis and the new note a pattern.

You made a correct interpretation of the second. And I really like your advice about it. This problem was showing up at every corner of my journey and was driving me insane. So thank you.

Oh, and after reading Sascha's reply, I'll do this for the first problem: "Cite only their premises, include mine, and leave the conclusion without citation."

• @sfast

@sfast said:

I think that it's weak because it's missing a lot of important premises. I could improve it as follows:

There you go. Choices are:

1. Refute it.
2. Improve it.

It is about knowledge and knowledge is about five aspects: truth, usefulness, beauty, simpleness, relevancy.

You decided to go on the path of truth. So, you can add premises, improve them, change the argument structure etc. What you are reading is mud and you can mold it.

Cool! I'll do just that. Thanks a lot!