[Zettel Feedback] Range - David Epstein (overview)
I'm picking up the remainder of Epstein's "Range" to complete my old notes.
During the process, I reviewed the overview note for the book that I created in my video series.
I have a couple of things planned to break this long note up. I also faintly recall the urge to refactor parts, i.e. stopping to stick to the chapters, and instead re-group the bullet points below per topic.
I don't expect anyone to read this word-by-word
- Do you share the feeling that this is overwhelmingly long?
- Did you read the book and have a different structure?
201909171553 Range - David Epstein
Epstein positions his arguments to refute the a claim of the 10000-hour-rule camp of getting expertise: that more time and deliberate practice is all there is.
[] Ericsson's "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance" focused on practice volume as a characteristic of experts.
- [] Deliberate practice depends on high volume of repetition, and practicing according to the design of a teacher for feedback.
- Also see notes on Colvin, "Talent is Overrated"[#colvin2008talent]: only deliberate practice makes perfect.[] My first contact with the topic.
Epstein cites many studies to make the point that Great Britain's Summer Olympics high-performers were recruited among late developers
- During peak performance, elite athletes practice more[see graph p5][#epstein2019range]
- During early development, elite athletes spent less time on deliberate practice than "near elite" athletes[see graph p7][#epstein2019range]
- Elite athletes played different sports in their youth and specialized late[#epstein2019range]
Funny anecdote used by Epstein to brain-wash me into thinking that specialization can cause trouble: [] Cardiac patients are less likely to die when cardiologists are absent during an annual meeting.
- Epstein uses this for rhetorics. Boo!
Chapter 1: The Cult of the Head Start
Wicked vs kind learning environments
- [] Kind learning environments
- [] Wicked learning environments
Chess is a kind learning environment and thus not a good example of real-world learning and excellence
- Chess computers free resources of humans to produce strategies.[] Tactics take time to develop but are ultimately easy to replace by automatons.
- [] strategy vs tactics
- see Whitehead: [] Automation frees cognitive capacity for important things. Automate the tactics and you can be creative with strategies.
The basis of the 10000 hour rule (chess prodigies, Ericsson's music students) is solely kind learning environments and does not make for good advice on "how to become a pro at anything"
- Self-help books, again, totally miss reality: They favor a cool catchphrase like "The 10,000 hour Rule". Applicability is irrelevant, I like to think, when I look at their practice.
[] Savants excel at their skill without innovating
- "cognitive entrenchment": when you develop skill, you get worse at adapting to new, similar situations, when your skill gets in the way
- Life itself is full of wicked learning environments (except when they're "kind")
- [] Wicked learning environments: unclear rules, possibly lacking repetitive patterns altogether
- [] Deliberate practice could be impossible in wicked learning environments
Chapter 2: How the Wicked World Was Made
Connecting the dots:
Modern world is not a kind learning environment, but a wicked one, because it is changing. Deliberate practice and specialization doesn't fit this environment.
To use a common metaphor, premodern people miss the forest for the trees; modern people miss the trees for the forest.[#epstein2019range]
"Premodern" is "not industrialized" in this chapter.[#epstein2019range]
Modern world is rapidly changing, and thus wicked[#epstein2019range]
- "Pretending the world is like golf and chess is comforting. It makes for a tidy kind-world message, and some very compelling books."[#epstein2019range] But it's not accurate to model your reality after this.
- "Like chess masters and firefighters, premodern villagers relied on things being the same tomorrow as they were yesterday. [...] They [...] failed at learning without experience. [...] Faced with any problem they had not directly experienced before, the remote villagers were completely lost. That is not an option for us."[italics his, 53][#epstein2019range]
I need to find the connection between abstract thinking and surviving in a wicked world
Modern world favors abstract thinking but doesn't teach the necessary tools
- see Flynn's findings that general IQ increases with every generation in the 20th century[#epstein2019range]
premodern people stick to concrete things, modern people rely on abstraction: they wear "scientific spectacles"[attributed to Flynn, 44][#epstein2019range] when they observe the world. They apply inference called eduction[]
- premodern farmers getting in touch with the modern world learn this (to some extent)
Education focuses on specialization instead of transferable knowledge
- No correlation between grade point average (GPA) and scores in a critical thinking test[47--48][#epstein2019range]
- University majors are mostly confined to their fields and cannot apply similar reasoning to unknown problems in other domains.[#epstein2019range]
- [] Mental representations are domain specific
Teach "Computational Thinking"[] to enable more people to think in terms appropriate in modernity?
A rapidly changing, wicked world demands conceptual reasoning skills to connect new ideas and work across contexts. Relying on concrete experience doesn't suffice.[#epstein2019range]
- Epstein postulates this, but there can be no evidence for this claim. It's an inference based on his findings.
The texts cited in this chapter only support that
- Premodern villagers don't use abstractions like citizens of industrialized societies do.
- Schools and universities do not test for abstraction and cross-domain knowledge transfers but for specialization. (So you neither learn this stuff in school.)
- Average IQ increases with each generation in industrialized societies. IQ tests measure, among other things, inference via Raven's Progressive Matrices.[] (So the average ability does increase, even though the skills aren't taught.)
- This doesn't make sense for Epstein to also put forward, because it appears to weaken his claim.
- Generous interpretation: the IQ tests are supposed to test for abstraction from items to rules of an underlying sequence; but cross-domain knowledge transfer is a totally different beast. (Ignore the lack of teaching abstration.)
What's missing from the above:
premodern villagers are not prepared for modernity; but Epstein's claim would be that industrialized societies aren't prepared, either, while the advances he's telling about stem from these
- Is this about parenting? Replicating success? Making exceptional performance and outliers the norm? 823749i21u34opi12u3412384
what's the real connection between "wicked world" and "conceptual reasoning"? The cases of premodern villagers do not pertain kind learning environments, but a less demanding, still existential struggle to survive in the harsh environments of the real world.
Epstein is begging the question: "But it is certainly true that modern life requires range, making connections across far-flung domains and ideas."[#epstein2019range] #yourelame 💩
Chapter 3: When Less of the Same Is More
- Featuring Epstein's first detailed case for people with ranged skill acquisition: the figlie del coro learned to play a ton of different music instruments and were widely regarded to be the best musicians of their time. (A story Epstein tells across 15 pages. Nice to read, but shallow in substance.)
dangerous consequences of sticking to the narrative of early specialization and orderly, linear skill acquisition
- coach Ian Yates is approached by parents who want their kids to do "what the Olypians are doing right now, not what the Olympians were doing when they were twelve or thirteen"[no original source, 65][#epstein2019range]
- instructional "Tiger Mom" book could be an interesting continuation of the extreme of disciplined teaching of your children #parenting
Improvisation could be hindered by rules
- [] Self-taught jazz musicians sound more interesting than those from school, allegedly because they experiment more and "learn to solve problems" (which is not backed by anything, of course)
improvisation may require not to self-criticize during the process[#epstein2019range]
- [] Jazz improvisation could shut down self-censoring
analogy of learning to play music and first language learning: you don't learn by a book, but acquire skill through observation and natural experimentation[#epstein2019range]
Why is improvisation an important topic for Epstein? I see a vague arc from improvisation to creativity to leading an interesting life, or to being an expert who can bring progress to his/her field.[] Struggling could be important to become great.
Chapter 4: Learning, Fast and Slow
Sacrifice the present for the future:[]
Fast learning: quick (timely?) feedback; favoring current progress[making?]
- [] Intuition of progress cannot be trusted; this positive feeling is what you must sacrifice
- [] Interleaved learning is more effective than massed learning, but 83% of Kornell's participants did believe massing was just as effective or more effective than spacing. Intuition cannot be trusted.
Slow learning: punishingly slow progress now, far better results later
- backed by studies that emphasize/test knowledge retrieval, not cross-domain expertise or anything funny
repetition (fast learning?) is less important than struggle (slow learning?)[#epstein2019range]
- "flexible knowledge"[#epstein2019range]
- [] Interleaved learning
- monkey experiments: give more hints during practice improves immediate results but worsens performance on test day than letting them struggle in practice[#epstein2019range]
- Air Force students observation as anecdote: math classes where students had lower grades (harder classes) surprisingly resulted in students being able to perform better later, while classes where students had higher grades (easier, more liked classes) resulted in worse math performance in subsequent classes
- "training with hints did not produce any lasting learning"[citing Kornell, 87][#epstein2019range]
- pacing during class isn't worth a dime: topics are covered once, in succession, but rehashing at regular intervals is more useful
- I have this stuff in my study logs, do I need to relate this to Epstein? I would rather like to point at Epstein's book to show: "here, even Epstein's research brought forth this point", but what for? Social proof of a (well-)researched practice?
- supported through "Desirable difficulties"[]: some obstacles improve long-term retrieval
- Epstein has to exaggerate again! "Desirable difficulties like making connections and interleaving make knowledge flexible, useful for problems that never appeared in training"[#epstein2019range] -- this doesn't cite anything, and it's not backed by what I found in the Kornell study[#kornell2008spacing], but I should read more carefully
- WOULD be useful for knowledge work/Zettelkasten, but only with proper backup of this claim!!
Cult of the head start again: early childhood education programs teach "closed" skills through repetition and memorizing procedures which everyone eventually picks up, while "open" skills would be more beneficial
- reading earlier than peers is probably easier to market to eager parents
- reading earlier does not produce a lasting advantage[#epstein2019range]
- how come Epstein sooner or later refers to the headstart stuff, where parents want to teach their children something early? Do I not see the relevance because the phenomenon is easier to spot in the U.S.? In Germany, children begin to practice a second language in primary school nowadays; is that just the same stuff? Is Epstein's agenda less about telling me how to approach obstacles in life, and more about how I should raise my children? Is this a book about learning instead of succeeding in life?
Chapter 5: Thinking Outside Experience
First encounter of what I'd call "Range":
To have creative ideas and solve problems in your domain, it helps to know things of different domains.
Outside view is important. Ignore the details, because details will make your decisions worse:
- [] Inside view and outside view estimates differ a lot
- [] Irrational perseverance, maybe through fear of sunk-cost: ignoring the data you have
- [] Details make your judgment worse
- Models and analogies can help tackle a totally new concept: Kepler's idea of "action at a distance" between celestial bodies had nothing to draw from, so he evaluated his idea through the use of analogies.[#epstein2019range]
- "Duncker's radiation problem"[#epstein2019range]: you need to apply radiation therapy but cannot use a concentrated ray without risking the patient's life. Through stories about hypothetical generals and small-town firefighters you're supposed to draw analogies to solve the problem. 10% solve it without stories, 30% after hearing one story, 50% after hearing both stories. (more than 50% never solve it)
- When you use analogies, prefer to use distant analogies over those that are similar to the problem at hand: this can produce far more interesting or creative approaches. #problemsolving [#epstein2019range]
- [] Experts use abstraction of a concrete problem
[#epstein2019range]: David Epstein (2019): Range. why generalists triumph in a specialized world, New York: Riverhead Books.
[#colvin2008talent]: Geoff Colvin (2008): Talent is Overrated. What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, New York: Portfolio.
[#ericsson1993delprac]: K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Th. Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer (1993): The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Psychological Review 3, 1993, Vol. 100, S. 363--406.
[#kornell2008spacing]: Nate Kornell and Robert A Bjork (2008): Learning concepts and categories: is spacing the "enemy of induction"?, Psychol Sci 6, 2008, Vol. 19, S. 585-592.
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