alexpgp: (Default)
There is a group on Facebook called "Memorization is NOT the same as learning." The group description is a fairly long ramble that kept me in suspense owing to the fact that "learning" was never defined, past some vague indicated equivalence to "understanding" (also left for the reader to grok) and nonequivalence to "memorization."

The most cogent argument in the text goes like this:
If you had an aneurysm (go ahead, look it up), would you want a surgeon, who has to operate on you, that made straight A's by memorization, or a surgeon who made A's by actually learning about the brain and all of its functionings, that they know your brain is not just located in your head and is not just surrounded by your skull, but really understand what everything in there does.
Now, the way I see it, it makes sense that "a surgeon who made A's by actually learning about the brain" would be superior to one who just memorized because something took place in addition to memorization. The surgeon who "learned" would also have "memorized," no? (Or is it conceivable that a surgeon who "learned" all about the brain might ever have to look up "aneurysm"?)

Yet in my experience, the empirical evidence of the past couple of generations shows a marked trend away from memorization in education, in favor of... what? Learning, presumably? But that, you see, makes no sense, since as I see it, the path to the city of understanding passes through the suburb of memorization. (Said another way, if you haven't memorized the meaning of the word "aneurysm," you can't possibly understand the nature of aneurysms.)

Language interpretation provides a canvas, of sorts, on which to illustrate this.

If, as an interpreter, you understand an utterance, then you can generally muddle your way through an interpretation, even if you don't know the proper terminology in the "other" language, simply by explaining what was said using words you do know. (Example, if you don't know the word for "earthquake" in the target language, you can interpret it as "an event during which the surface of the earth shakes and vibrates.")

In such cases, the listeners will generally supply the missing word, which must be memorized on the spot, lest you end up explaining the word again the next time it is used. (In my experience, such memorization is fairly easy, mostly due to the embarrassment of not having known the word to begin with, but I digress...) Using the proper term after it's been pointed out to you shows that you're bright, alert, and on the bounce, which is always good.

On the other hand, if you don't understand the meaning of what the speaker is saying, then you can't explain it to listeners using other words and your performance as an interpreter will ride principally on memorized vocabulary. (If you don't have an adequate vocabulary, then your only remaining alternative is to ask the speaker to explain what he or she meant, and that's really a sort of last resort, because it calls everyone's attention to the gap in your knowledge, and if you have to do this more than once or twice, your rep as an interpreter ends up severely scuffed.)

So then what keeps good interpreters from looking bad in situations where their understanding of the subject at hand is limited? Memorized vocabulary. What allows interpreters of average intelligence to gain a basic understanding of a subject when thrust into the role of repeating what is said between parties engaged in a subject discussion? Memorized vocabulary.

And all of the above applies squared and cubed when it comes to simultaneous interpretation.

Understanding doesn't occur in a vacuum; it requires a "something" to reside in one's consciousness for the understanding to occur.

What that something is, though, is a likely subject for another time.

alexpgp: (Default)
That's a joke.

I woke up this morning at 5:15 and felt pretty wide awake as I returned to the supine position after rolling over to turn off the alarm clock. The next thing I know, I awake with a start and it's 5:50 am, and it's elbows and other body parts trying to coordinate movement in one general direction, said direction being out the door and on the way to JSC for another exciting day as a space-to-ground interpreter.

So of course, for the second day in a row, I forget critical stuff at home. Not all of it, but still...

I took advantage of the fact that my Zaurus runs Apache and - in between exchanges - modified/simplified an old cgi file that in effect gives new life to an old script I once used as an online glossary. I also "upgraded" the code from The Wiki Way to a version called Zwiki, which provides some additional functionality over the former.

I have been listening to Spanish CDs pretty faithfully in the car both to and from work, and am finding that the going is tougher now that I am on disc 6, which continues the theme started in disc 5 - to which I listened almost four times. Said theme is verb conjugation in the present tense, and enough detail has been introduced as to keep me in a fog as I drive (relatively speaking, I do not feel myself losing touch with the road). Despite the emphasis the Thomas approach puts on not memorizing or taking notes, one must keep in mind that there are "nine and sixty" approaches to various tasks, and that what may work for some people won't work so well for others.

In fact, I am reminded of the old NLP idea - or at least I associate it with "neurolinguistic programming" - to the effect that some people learn best when information is presented visually, while others profit most from hearing the information, while still others need to write down what they are trying to learn, so as to get their muscles involved. Myself, I believe I fall into the latter category; I learn best - or I feel most comfortable in a learning setting - when I write down what I have to learn.

Natalie called earlier to say she would be visiting the museum and then stopping by her Wing Chun class, so I better take advantage of the lull and finish what needs finishing.

alexpgp: (Default)
There's an interesting interview with Bruce Sterling at Reason magazine. One point that echoes some thoughts I've had:
reason: I think there are some positive social changes happening as a result of this spontaneous database building and Web page building. There are more and more of us who reflexively look things up.

Sterling: There is a Google blindness. It’s a kind of common wisdom generator, but it’s not necessarily going to get you to the real story of what’s actually going on.

reason: As today’s children get older they’re internalizing Boolean search logic, and they actually do show some discrimination and drill down to the useful information.

Sterling: It is a form of literacy that’s really peculiar. Socrates used to talk about this: "The problem with writing is that no one memorizes the Iliad any more. You’ve got to just know all of it. And how can you call yourself an educated man if you cannot recite Book Three, not missing a single epithet?" He’s got a point there. ... It has a profound effect on literary composition. I’ve got Google up all the time. It gives you this veneer of command of the facts which you do not, in point of fact, have. It’s extremely useful for novelists but somewhat dangerous if you’re pretending to be a brain surgeon.
I might add that it's positively fatal if you intend to creatively synthesize new concepts from old ones. If, for example, you lack the awareness of Fact No. 1 when confronted with Fact No. 2, you will not be able to make any connection between the two and derive Fact No. 3.

This is the primary problem with the approach that says "All I really need to know to be an engineer is F = ma, because I can derive everything else from that equation." (I must confess this was my approach as an undergraduate.) Not to mention the devastation that might occur if, in the case Sterling cites, one's access to Google disappears owing either to natural disaster or the effective closure of the Internet due to a massive stake-out of IP claims.

There are parallels to Socrates' observation of how writing caused people to cease memorization.

For example, I came of working age at a time when slide rules were in common use in college; for me, the electronic calculator was a convenience. There wasn't anything I couldn't do on TI-99 that I couldn't do on a slipstick, that I couldn't do by hand if required. Today, some - if not most - public schools train kids in the use of calculators from the get-go, which leads me to believe that most such kids will find themselves at sea, arithmetically, if the calculator batteries give out.

Another example: I somehow ended up with some considerable skill at spelling, acquired at a time when the answer to "How is it spelled?" was "Look it up in the dictionary!" Today, when I use a spell checker with my word processor, it's a means of catching typographical errors and not a method for converting a stream of semirandom letters wholesale into actual English words.

If writing killed memorization, then the use of writing to access massive reference sources may well cause people to allow their powers of recall to atrophy to altogether residual levels, while preserving the illusion of literacy.



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