Serialise Your Mind Published Mon Jul 25 02:00:00 SAST 2016
This is a draft. Critical feedback is welcomed in the comments at the bottom of the page.
Most people suck at explaining. I think it's because it is hard to serialise your mind. To convey an idea, you have to encode a tree-like[^1] neural network as a sequence of words that will construct the same shape in the mind of another.
When building a pyramid, you don't place the capstone[^2] first. And ideas, like real-world structures, build on prior foundations. By analogy, you can convey ideas faster by leveraging prior knowledge.
One of Clojure's strengths is that its core data structures[^data-structures] are easily serialised. Consider the mathematical expression
(3 × 4) + 5. We can represent the order of operations as a tree:
[^data-structures]: Lists, vectors, hash-maps and sets.
The Lisp expression
(+ (* 3 4) 5)evaluates to 17 and is written in parenthesised prefix notation. When the source code of a computer program is deserialised, it is stored in memory as an expression tree[^3].
Ideas are harder to serialise because they are stored as connections between neurons, which are connected via multiple routes. Idea A refers to B and B refers to A. What should their order be? This makes them tricky to encode sequentially without a good syntax for referencing undefined concepts.
English makes provision for unnamed things and how they relate spatially, but I am curious if prepositions in other languages like German make explaining easier by mapping more closely to how memories are stored[^4].
The problem of serially ordering ideas suggests that a good notation for conveying ideas will have native support for declaring undefined references, like x in math, and late-binding of definitions. Or, you should explain related concepts in parallel.
In the board game 30 Seconds you design clues that will prompt your teammates to say a term. I love this game because it trains you to serialise your thoughts and transmit them without error or distortion.
One strategy that rarely distorts for me is a top-down definition followed by bottom-up clues to trigger episodic memory:
"Famous formula 1 driver," (top-down category)
"who drove for Ferrari and had a ski accident." (bottom-up events)
Answer: Michael Schumacher.
That works well for recalling old knowledge, but what about teaching new concepts? A good protocol is the ADEPT method:
- Use an Analogy,
- Plain English, and
- a Technical description.
Did it work for this essay?
Explaining is a skill. It takes empathy to place yourself in the mind of another and build on their foundation. With the right strategy and practice, you should beat me at 30 Seconds.
[^1]: Assuming ideas are stored as connections between neurons, which can be modelled as recurrent neural networks and cycles are hard to serialise, hard to serialise, hard to serialise. [^2]: The tip, or final piece of a pyramid. [^3]: Computer programs are represented as abstract syntax trees, or ASTs. [^4]: Linguistic relativity.