Two Wrongs

Reading Slightly More Incrementally

Reading Slightly More Incrementally

Some people have asked how I can learn so much from what I read. I don’t believe I do – in fact, I believe I squander most of what learning potential does exist. I’m trying to change that, and this is how. Starting back up with spaced repetition has afforded me to also read non-fiction books differently.

Before spaced repetition1 I.e. in practise since I started reading more heavily again, which was around the summer of 2019 I think. Thanks, Joel, for inspiring me to start reading again!, I used to:

  1. Read one book at a time in one pass, making notes as I went.
  2. Make use of my new knowledge immediately as I gained it.
  3. A few weeks after finishing the book, review the notes.
  4. A few more weeks after that, forget everything I learned from that book.

This mostly worked, but the last part is really annoying.

I have read a lot of stuff, and a lot of it has been useful knowledge. On this web page2 At the time I write this article. I have published about 300,000 words. My private reading notes currently sit at around 1.5 million words.3 Which I happen to know is 50 % more than all seven Harry Potter books together!. If somewhat technical English prose has, to a first approximation, 6 bits of entropy per word4 The Word Entropy of Natural Languages; Bentz & Alikaniotis; 2016. Available online., that means I have made notes worth just over 1 MB of raw information.5 Which means it’s half a kilobyte per day on average. Crazy!

It’s a little sad that I have learned 1 MB of stuff and forgotten it again. Sure, I can usually find what I need to re-learn in my notes, and if not, at least the notes point me to roughly which part of the book I need to re-read. But looking things up in the notes or re-reading the relevant parts of a book is slow and breaks flow. It’s also a little embarrassing that I hypothetically know all these neat techniques6 Like how to compute effect size (odds ratio) from a contingency table. but if someone asks me to do it on the spot, I still have to look it up.

Especially annoying is forgetting basic notation and foundational arguments presented early in the book. Usually, they are needed to understand the later parts of the book, but I have forgotten them by the time I get to them so again, I have to go back to the notes.

My method of reading is the best I’ve had so far, but I sense there’s room for improvement. I have started trying a different method of reading, inspired by Wozniak’s idea of incremental reading7 Incremental Learning; Wozniak; 2013. Available online., but not going quite as far. Here are some changes I’ve made:

I’m sure I’ll discover more changes as I go.

Referencing This Article