Augmenting Long-term Memory

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  • The capacity of memory is extremely large; the bottleneck is retrieval/recall.
  • On average, it takes me about 8 seconds to review a card. Suppose I was using conventional flashcards, and reviewing them (say) once a week. If I wanted to remember something for the next 20 years, I’d need 20 years times 52 weeks per year times 8 seconds per card. That works out to a total review time of just over 2 hours for each card.
  • I’ll only need 4 to 7 minutes of total review time over the entire 20 years. Those estimates allow for occasional failed reviews, resetting the time interval. That’s a factor of more than 20 in savings over the more than 2 hours required with conventional flashcards.
  • First, if memorizing a fact seems worth 10 minutes of my time in the future, then I do it. Second, and superseding the first, if a fact seems striking then into Anki it goes, regardless of whether it seems worth 10 minutes of my future time or not.
  • Anki works much better when used in service to some personal creative project.
  • Include sources and citations with all of your Anki cards so that you can identify misleading information
  • Another useful pattern while reading papers is Ankifying figures
  • Make most Anki questions and answers as atomic as possible
  • Anki isn’t just a tool for memorizing simple facts. It’s a tool for understanding almost anything.
  • Put another way: to really internalize a process, it’s not enough just to review Anki cards. You need to carry out the process, in context. And you need to solve real problems with it.
  • One fun pattern is to go back to my old, pre-Anki notes on books, and to Ankify them. This can often be done quickly, and gives me a greater return on the time I’ve invested in now mostly-forgotten books
  • It’s like they’re trying to compose a beautiful sonnet in French, but only know 200 words of French.
    • If people focused more on remembering the basics, and worried less about the “difficult” high-level issues, they’d find the high-level issues took care of themselves.
    • I now believe memory of the basics is often the single largest barrier to understanding. If you have a system such as Anki for overcoming that barrier, then you will find it much, much easier to read into new fields.
  • Ebbinghaus Forgetting curve and memory curve forgetting-curve memory-curve
  • “Distributed practice”, meaning practice which is distributed in time, ideally in a way designed to maximally promote retention.