In the Pocket: Loose Change #2

On the Beauty of Distance and Interval

This “In the Pocket” series consists of random yet connected goodness shared in short-form.

On the Beauty of Distance

I was never much into reading science fiction as a kid. I came to it late in life. But as I’ve wisened up, I’ve become enchanted by the lens the genre brings on imagined, adjacent worlds. And on the characters facing the challenges within those worlds.

From Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series to N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth series, I’m enamored of the journey I take as a sci-fi reader. Thrown into an unfamiliar world fraught with upside-down fundamental laws that make existence wild and precarious, to say the least, we are invited to see our own real world anew by the frame adjustment.

Today October 21st would be the birthday of one of the greats, Ursula K. Le Guin. Many of her 22 novels and 11 collections of short stories are still on my “To Read Someday” shelf, but this quote from her novel The Dispossessed felt salient, timely and timeless:

“You need distance, interval,” she wrote. You need both/and. I think the close-up frame has great value, looking at things closely, akin to what I wrote in the Warbler principle piece last week. But the contingent is true too, I agree; it’s the change of frame that renews.

On the Bounty of Interval

Speaking of intervals, I learned about a new mental model recently that has impacts on how we optimize our memory and learning, and more tactically, how we improve our productivity day by day. It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect, named after Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik.

She followed her curiosity almost a hundred years ago. She conducted an experiment whose results suggested that completing a task of any kind triggers the process of forgetting that task and its content and learning.

But a desire to complete an as-yet-unfinished task will forge the task and its content deeper into a person’s memory until it has been completed.

The act of forgetting, new research shows, is the default state of the brain and is triggered by internal, neural mechanisms. The schools of productivity thought that promote the more aggressive ‘get it done’ approach may be leading to thin outcomes as it relates to learning, memory, and even presence. Training the mind with an interval like this breaks the forgetting protocol, albeit only partially.

The obvious extrapolation use is any scenario in which memorization or tactical learning is called for. In a roundabout way, this also explains the often-cited adage about writing, that one should stop writing in the middle of a flow or scene. The break will cause ideas to flourish passively, and upon returning, a deeper, protracted exploration will manifest.

I’m excited to let this one marinate; I’m curious in what other walks of life this model might apply. Open to your thoughts, dear reader.

On Interval Immersions for Language Learning

Ever since moving to Los Angeles in 2005, I’ve wanted to learn to speak Spanish. I studied French throughout school, so I had a foundational facility with romance language writ large. But all my attempts over time pretty much failed, whether it was early Rosetta Stone (spent like a minute with it) or later Duolingo (had a good couple of weeks or so). The systems weren’t sticky enough for me (AKA I got lazy or distracted.)

Just a few weeks ago, I learned about Toucan which is a fascinating system. I install the Toucan Chrome extension, and for any site I open in my browser, Toucan automatically translates individual words appearing on the page into the desired language. So in brief, rapid-interval bursts throughout the day, you’re exposed to the language. As stated above, it would stand to reason that this would forge more memory and learning of the language the more intervals there are.

We’ll see if I make it past a month.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.


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