Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stuff People Get Wrong: Quantum Leap

The third in the series of Stuff People Get Wrong.

In speech, people say "A Quantum Leap" to mean a very large change or jump. In reality, a Quantum Leap is actually the smallest leap possible.

A Quantum Leap is the transition of an electron from one quantum state to another quantum state... making it on the order of nanoseconds. To human eyes, it's basically instantaneous.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Improving over the O.K. Plateau

I just finished reading a very interesting article that looked into the world of memory athletes. The author shares some of his experiences and dialog with some intelligent/interesting people. While not intending to be, there are some extremely motivational and inspiring ideas within his article. The one that stood out to me was the idea of an O.K. Plateau and the reason we stop improving at things. I've ranted in the past about how I see people settle for mediocrity and this article really shed some light on the science behind what's going on.
From the article:
When people first learn to use a keyboard, they improve very quickly from sloppy single-finger pecking to careful two-handed typing, until eventually the fingers move effortlessly and the whole process becomes unconscious. At this point, most people’s typing skills stop progressing. They reach a plateau. If you think about it, it’s strange. We’ve always been told that practice makes perfect, and yet many people sit behind a keyboard for hours a day. So why don’t they just keeping getting better and better?
He goes on to explain the science behind the parts of the brain that are active when learning things and the parts of the brain that take over for more mechanical tasks. This is actually a good thing because it allows the brain to focus on more important things instead of taking time to break down the easy repetitive tasks. When your brain moves a task to the part of the brain that takes less cognitive reasoning, this level is called the O.K. Plateau.

So this O.K. Plateau is actually a really awesome thing when you're not trying to improve your typing skills and you're trying to focus on something else like writing a paper or coding a program. The times where it's not a great thing is when you want to improve over the O.K. Plateau and you don't realize that it's holding you back.
They’ve found that top achievers typically follow the same general pattern. They develop strategies for keeping out of the autonomous stage by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented and getting immediate feedback on their performance. Amateur musicians, for example, tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces. Similarly, the best ice skaters spend more of their practice time trying jumps that they land less often, while lesser skaters work more on jumps they’ve already mastered. In other words, regular practice simply isn’t enough. For all of our griping over our failing memories — the misplaced keys, the forgotten name, the factoid stuck on the tip of the tongue — our biggest failing may be that we forget how rarely we forget. To improve, we have to be constantly pushing ourselves beyond where we think our limits lie and then pay attention to how and why we fail.
When trying to improve it's important to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself into mistakes.