Incremental Reading: A SimpleGuru Summary
Here's an explanation of the system I was using before I found SuperMemo. It is so simple that it will make it easy to do a comparison with SuperMemo's incremental reading tools.
I kept a stack of textbooks on a coffee table and when I wanted to study, I'd go and just pick up the first textbook on the top of the stack and start reading.
If if came across something interesting I'd make a note in the margin. As soon as i saw something which just started to bore me or i just started to feel tired I would take the book...
...and instead of putting it back on the top of the stack i'd put it at the bottom and then move the rest of the stack of books on top of that book.
When I felt I'd come across something worth remembering I'd maybe make a highlight.
Interleaving is when you mix materials on multiple different subjects and from many different sources in the same learning session.
It's like in my simple version of incremental reading: rather than just reading through the entire biology book or the entire anatomy book i switched between them according to my interests and whether I felt tired or bored.
The implementation of interleaving in SuperMemo is very simple: You can start reading an article and as soon as you reach a point where you start feeling tired or bored, you can simply hit next repetition and get teleported to the next article.
Since the value contained within articles and books is generally not evenly distributed, an incremental reading system needs a way to break up parts of the text so you can allocate your time to them according to their expected value.
The highlights that I made in the anatomy book are similar to SuperMemo's extract function because they indicate that a certain part of the text is more valuable.
Likewise, the notes in the margin that Newton made in his Waste Book implicitly give a higher priority to the ideas within the main text.
In SuperMemo, you can extract arbitrary sections of text and prioritize them separately from the parent article.
Cloze deletions are a very efficient way of turning extracts into flashcard questions.
The section I highlighted:
"In humans, the heart is approximately the size of a closed fist."
To turn the extract into a flashcard, I could "cloze" the words "closed fist".
This would create the following flashcard
Question: In humans, the heart is approx. the size of a [...].
Answer: closed fist
The queue portion of the priority queue basically refers to your list of articles or books.
"Priority" refers to the notion that each article or book in your queue should be assigned a priority based on its expected value. Articles with lots of mission critical information should be allocated more time than articles on celebrity gossip!
In my primitive version of incremental reading the stack of books can be seen as a very simple implementation of a priority queue.
For example when I finished reading the tree biology for beginners book, rather than placing it back on the top of the stack I placed it at the bottom of the stack. If I wanted to give it a higher priority I could have placed it in the middle of the stack, and then I would see it more often than the other books over time.
You can see an example of implicit prioritization in the Zettlekasten system: because all of the index cards are linked together, what you'll find over time is that you'll have hubs in the network that have many more links than the other cards. When you're writing an article with your Zettlekasten system and you are following the links between cards to generate new ideas, what you'll find is that you'll end up allocating more time to those index cards with a higher number of links.
In SuperMemo, your daily learning queue is sorted in order of priority. That means that you will begin each day studying the most valuable material. That way, if you don't make it all the way through your queue, you don't miss out on as much value.
The time you spend in the system is allocated heavily towards new information that you can easily "slot in" to your prior knowledge.
The entire system is designed to help you make dendritic progress, gradually extending your understanding of the world at the frontiers of your prior knowledge.
Spaced repetition is used to show you articles and flashcards repeatedly over time, allowing you to reenage with old ideas.
It allows you to maximize the amount of high priority knowledge that you have stored in your memory at a given point in time.
Spaced repetition is a fundamental part of an incremental reading system that most similar technologies miss out.
In incremental reading, knowledge is gradually converted from passive text to active flashcards. Active recall is used to reconsolidate memories at each repetition. One of the benefits of using spaced repetition is that it maximizes the amount of retrievable knowledge you can keep in your memory, which has many benefits for the creative process.
Any creative process requires a great deal of inferential knowledge that you can call upon during problem solving.
Creativity can be thought of as a conscious and unconscious search process the brain does to find useful associations. It's important to remember that the mechanism underlying creativity is an internal process for the brain, so you can't rely on external memory stores to maximally assist the creative process.
Knowledge stored in the mind.
Knowledge stored in the external system.
The systems I mentioned earlier tend to treat the knowledge stored within the external system and the knowledge stored within the mind as separate.
On the other hand, SuperMemo emphasises the use of spaced repetition to maintain the highest value knowledge stored in the external system in the mind too.
Knowledge stored in the external system and the mind.