February 01, 2012

In praise of muscle memory

A chance conversation with a fellow student after karate class last night prompted me to muse once again on good old muscle memory. A karate dojo is at least in part a place where you go to develop muscle memory. Martial artists train so they don't have to think

People have all kinds of "progressive" theories of learning, but when it comes to something you are really going to use--or something on which your life or the lives of others might depend--the smart money is on drill and repetition rather than thinking. If we really did have to stop at every point and consciously deliberate over next steps, not much would get done. And a lot of it would get done badly.

Drill is a way of making something a habit. And habit is what Aristotle, "master of those who know" according to Dante, famously described in his Ethics as "second nature."

Keyboarding is a case in point. El Cabrero is ancient enough to remember when typewriters ruled the world. When I was in high school, before the personal computer revolution, I took a typing class. This was something a bit unusual for a boy to do. Thank God I did it. I'm no speed demon, but my fingers know which way to go. I can't imagine what life would have been like with the hunt and peck method. And that's just one example.

More to come.

OCCUPYING OUR MINDS. Here's NPR on the unlikely impact of an unforeseen protest movement.

AND THE WINNER IS....Here are the "insect awards" from Wired Science.


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