Expanding Our Abilities: The Path to an Autonomous Self

Alessio Frateily

Hatched by Alessio Frateily

Sep 11, 2023

4 min read


Expanding Our Abilities: The Path to an Autonomous Self

In the words of A.N. Whitehead, "Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them." This idea resonates deeply with our human desire to make life easier and more efficient. We constantly strive to find optimal behaviors that require minimal mental effort, allowing us to level up and achieve new heights.

However, discovering these optimal behaviors is just the beginning. The true challenge lies in making them effortless. Consider the example of managing our sleep and diet. Once we have found algorithms that work effectively, why should we continue to drain our mental battery by constantly managing them? It's like operating new routines that demand our attention and consume up to 20% of our daily energy budget. Our fixed biological energy capacity serves as a fundamental constraint to what we can accomplish in life. To overcome or make optimal use of this limit, we turn to technology to expand and extend our abilities.

Throughout history, advancements in energy utilization have been the driving force behind humanity's progress. From the transition from hand-stitching to looms, from wagons to horses, and from horses to the combustion engine, each improvement has opened up new possibilities. Similarly, the shift from the abacus to computers has revolutionized the way we process information and solve complex problems. It is evident that humans are on the cusp of the next stage of advancement.

One area where technology has greatly impacted our ability to optimize our potential is in the realm of learning and education. Codecademy, for instance, has recognized the importance of personalized practice through the science of spaced repetition. This learning technique takes advantage of the spacing effect, which suggests that study sessions are more effective when spaced out over time. Instead of cramming a ton of concepts all at once, it is more beneficial to resurface topics periodically.

Spaced repetition, initially discovered by German psychologist Dr. Ebbinghaus, involves reintroducing concepts at specific intervals based on an individual's retention of the information. By actively recalling and interrupting the forgetting process at the right time, we can retain knowledge for longer periods and flatten the "forgetting curve." This technique has been successfully implemented through systems like the Leitner system, where flashcards are ordered based on performance. Correct answers result in cards being moved back in the deck to be seen less often, while incorrect answers bring them to the front for more frequent review.

Codecademy takes this concept a step further by utilizing learning data and the spaced repetition technique to algorithmically determine what areas individuals need to practice and when. They curate personalized practice packs that cater to each learner's progress, ensuring that they focus on the concepts they need to work on more. As learners become more knowledgeable about specific topics, these topics are surfaced less often, saving them time and effort.

By weaving what needs to be learned into each learner's journey, Codecademy ensures long-term retention of the information. They keep track of learning progress, including individual facts encountered, and bring them back based on chronological, correctness, and completeness data. Every smart practice session is tailored to the learner's needs, providing a clear understanding of why specific packs have been generated.

In light of these insights, here are three actionable pieces of advice for individuals seeking to enhance their learning and optimize their potential:

  • 1. Embrace technology: Leverage the power of technology to expand your abilities and overcome the limitations of your biological energy capacity. Seek out platforms and tools that utilize spaced repetition and personalized learning to enhance your retention and efficiency.
  • 2. Prioritize personalized practice: Recognize the value of personalized practice and spaced repetition in your learning journey. Rather than relying solely on traditional study methods, incorporate regular review sessions that reintroduce concepts at optimal intervals. This approach will lead to long-term retention and a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  • 3. Track your progress: Utilize data and analytics to monitor your learning progress. Keep a record of the concepts you encounter, the correctness of your responses, and the completeness of your knowledge. This information will guide you in identifying areas of weakness and help you tailor your practice sessions for maximum effectiveness.

In conclusion, as we strive for an autonomous self, it is crucial to find optimal behaviors that require minimal mental effort. Technology, such as the implementation of spaced repetition and personalized learning, plays a vital role in expanding our abilities and optimizing our potential. By embracing these strategies and tracking our progress, we can continue to advance and achieve new heights in our personal and professional lives.

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