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Getting past “names don't matter”: I'm a theoretical physicist by training. There is a famous story in physics, told by Richard Feynman, dismissing the value of knowing the names of things. As a child, Feynman was out playing in a field with a know-it-all kid. Here's what happened, in Feynman's telling*: One kid says to me, “See that bird? What kind of bird is that?” I said, “I haven't the slightest idea what kind of a bird it is.” He says, “It'a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn't teach you anything!” But it was the opposite. He [Feynman's father] had already taught me: “See that bird?” he says. “It's a Spencer's warbler.” (I knew he didn't know the real name.) “Well, in Italian, it's a Chutto Lapittida. In Portuguese, it's a Bom da Peida… You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird! You'll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird. So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing — that's what counts.” (I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.) Feynman (or his father) goes on to a thoughtful discussion of real knowledge: observing behavior, understanding the reasons for it, and so on. It's a good story. But it goes too far: names do matter. Maybe not as much as the know-it-all kid thought, and they're not usually a deep kind of knowledge. But they're the foundation that allows you to build up a network of knowledge. This trope that names don't matter was repeatedly drilled into me during my scientific training. When I began using Anki, at first I felt somewhat silly putting questions about names for things into the system. But now I do it enthusiastically, knowing that it's an early step along the way to understanding. Anki is useful for names of all kinds of things, but I find it particularly helpful for non-verbal things. For instance, I put in questions about artworks, like: “What does the artist Emily Hare's painting Howl look like?” Answer: I put that question in for two reasons. The main reason is that I like to remember the experience of the painting from time to time. And the other is to put a name to the painting*. If I wanted to think more analytically about the painting – say, about the clever use of color gradients – I could add more detailed questions. But I'm pretty happy just committing the experience of the image to memory.
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owner: Silenceisgood - (no access) - augmentingcognition_com_ltm_html.pdf, p1


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