You have 4 summaries left

The Lunar Society

Andy Matuschak - Self-Teaching, Spaced Repetition, & Why Books Don’t Work

Wed Jul 12 2023
MemoryEducationLearningPsychologyCognitive ProcessesEffective Learning StrategiesHypertextCrowdfundingDesign Process


This episode explores the role of memory in learning, different approaches in educational psychology, effective learning strategies, and the challenges in the education system. It also delves into the connection between memory and knowledge compilation, cognitive processes, and various learning techniques. The episode discusses the impact of hypertext on writing practices, crowdfunding research projects, and decision-making processes at Apple. Additionally, it explores the design process, cognitive processes, and the use of space repetition in learning.


Memory is crucial for understanding difficult concepts

Memory plays a vital role in our ability to comprehend complex ideas and retain information.

Different approaches in educational psychology

Educational psychology encompasses a range of approaches, from authoritarian to unschooling and Montessori.

Active reading and metacognition enhance learning

Asking questions while reading actively and outsourcing metacognition can improve comprehension and retention.

Effective learning strategies involve self-motivation

Using syllabi as guides, embedding review questions in texts, and deciding what content is necessary are key strategies for self-learners.

Memory aids knowledge compilation

Repeated exposure to learned information helps in compiling knowledge into higher-level patterns for generalization.

Memory enhances cognitive processes

Memory plays a crucial role in day-to-day experiences, understanding complex arguments, and guiding attention.

Designing effective learning tools

Games and interactive mediums have the potential to create engaging learning experiences. Apprenticeships offer active learning opportunities.

Challenges in the education system

The education system often focuses on making students do things they don't want to do, hindering motivation and engagement.

Improving education requires addressing individual needs

Tailoring education to individual goals and interests can enhance motivation and learning outcomes.

Crowdfunding research projects

Crowdfunding can be a viable option for researchers, but marketing efforts and market response play crucial roles in success.


  1. Memory and Learning
  2. Approaches in Educational Psychology
  3. Active Reading and Metacognition
  4. Effective Learning Strategies
  5. Memory and Knowledge Compilation
  6. Memory and Cognitive Processes
  7. Cognitive Processes and Learning Techniques
  8. Effective Learning Strategies and Language Acquisition
  9. Learning Methods and Educational Mediums
  10. Design, Education, and Learning Approaches
  11. Education System and Learning Motivation
  12. Challenges in Education and Learning
  13. Education System and Schooling
  14. Education Progress and Teaching Methods
  15. Tutors and Teaching Methods
  16. Hypertext and Writing Practices
  17. Journaling and Writing Practices
  18. Building Tools and Crowdfunding Research
  19. Crowdfunding Research and Writing Practices
  20. Publishing and Marketing Research
  21. Writing Practices and Design Solutions
  22. Design Process and Decision-Making at Apple
  23. Cognitive Processes and Learning Techniques

Memory and Learning

00:00 - 07:20

  • Memory plays a crucial role in our ability to understand difficult concepts.
  • LLM's (Learning, Language, and Memory) depend on our ability to externalize and manipulate information.
  • Many students lack motivation or struggle to connect what they're learning with their interests.
  • Being a skillful reader can lead to better understanding and retention of material.

Approaches in Educational Psychology

00:00 - 07:20

  • The education system often focuses on making students do things they don't want to do, rather than helping them achieve their goals.
  • Different approaches in educational psychology range from authoritarian to unschooling and Montessori.
  • Most educational efforts are focused on the bottom quartile of students.

Active Reading and Metacognition

06:59 - 13:47

  • There are two models for why people fail to retain material: forgetting or never understanding in the first place.
  • Active reading involves asking and answering questions.
  • Design modifications can boost conscientiousness in learning.
  • Outsourcing metacognition can help with difficult material.
  • Using a syllabus as a guide can aid self-motivated learning.
  • Embedding review questions in texts helps with retention and metacognition.
  • Adjunct questions prompt reflection on learned material.
  • Deciding what content is necessary to learn is a common challenge for self-learners.

Effective Learning Strategies

13:29 - 20:31

  • Outsourcing the answer to what you need to study can be a mistake
  • Don't feel obligated to follow a textbook exhaustively if it doesn't relate to what you want to know
  • Syllabi act as scaffolding in education, providing simpler versions of questions and worked examples
  • As you become more capable, the scaffolding should be removed for more effective learning
  • In subjects with lower cognitive demand, like computer science, less reliance on syllabi is needed
  • Intro courses or textbooks can provide helpful context for learning about a subject
  • Outsourcing knowledge can help fill gaps and expose learners to new opportunities
  • Forgetting some details from reading is okay if your goal is absorbing different perspectives
  • Knowledge compilation involves turning individual facts into higher-level patterns for generalization

Memory and Knowledge Compilation

20:02 - 26:41

  • Knowledge compilation is the process of turning individual facts into higher-level patterns that can be generalized and applied in various contexts.
  • Repeated exposure and usage of learned information is necessary for effective knowledge compilation.
  • The podcast host reflects on how he sometimes forgets the content of conversations with interesting people, despite feeling like he had more context at the time.
  • Improvement as an interviewer comes from developing patterns and generating good questions based on reading material.
  • Tyler Cowen's writing obligations, such as blogging daily and publishing books regularly, contribute to his integration of information.
  • Tyler Cowen's blog posts often have a first draft mentality, allowing him to think out loud and produce decent takes quickly.
  • Memorization can involve learning trivia or committing specific details to memory for modeling purposes.
  • Memory plays a crucial role in understanding difficult arguments and processing information on a day-to-day basis.

Memory and Cognitive Processes

26:14 - 33:09

  • Memory plays a crucial role in our day-to-day experiences and activities.
  • Understanding complex arguments relies on our ability to recall relevant information from memory.
  • Creativity often stems from noticing surprising connections or contradictions, which requires having relevant information stored in memory.
  • Having a well-developed memory can enhance one's ability to evaluate ideas and contribute to high-level discussions.
  • Explicit memorization is important for reliable recall and testing against known information.
  • Forgetting certain details may actually help us generalize insights and focus on what is important.
  • Memory helps guide attention by prioritizing important information while suppressing less relevant details.
  • There are theories suggesting that forgetting serves as a protective mechanism against traumatic memories.
  • Memories are not completely lost and can be retrieved with proper cues, even after long periods of time.
  • Memory capacity seems to have upper bounds, but individuals with specialized training or skills can surpass normal limits.

Cognitive Processes and Learning Techniques

32:51 - 39:33

  • Spreading activation is a cognitive process where memory is encoded in weights on connections
  • Predictive utility theory suggests that the brain predicts the usefulness of retrieving information
  • Repeatedly accessing something increases the prediction of its utility
  • Memory practice improves comprehension and understanding of problems
  • Engineering tasks at Apple were familiar and well-practiced, leading to better performance
  • Learning new things is easier when there are existing connections to relate them to
  • Research involves discovering new information and making things that don't exist
  • Synthesizing unfamiliar literatures is necessary for answering complex questions
  • Swanson linking involves finding connections between esoteric results in different fields
  • Reading clusters of books may help relevant information come up naturally

Effective Learning Strategies and Language Acquisition

39:14 - 46:15

  • Immersion learning is more effective than space repetition practice in language acquisition.
  • Explicit practice, such as setting up cards, can be a way to bootstrap and get into a position for naturalistic reinforcement.
  • For rare diagnoses or creative insights, naturalistic reinforcement may not be frequent enough, requiring explicit practice.
  • Regular activities in many fields are the things that need reinforcement.
  • Stamina can be developed through managing energy levels and structuring the day.
  • Learning quantum mechanics is cognitively demanding but less draining on the energies of men compared to research work.
  • The attention and intensity required for studying sentence by sentence is more exhausting than reading through textbooks casually.
  • Engaging with a book emotionally and opening curiosity and attention can make reading more engaging and less adversarial.

Learning Methods and Educational Mediums

45:48 - 53:10

  • Video is a medium that has taken off and engages people, but often doesn't lead to deep understanding.
  • Games have the potential to create engaging and interactive learning experiences, like The Witness by Jonathan Blow.
  • Educational games have been attempted, but they often serve a different purpose than traditional texts or videos.
  • There is a need for a mass medium that combines the active learning of games with the structure of courses like NAND to Tetris.
  • Apprenticeship is an example of a non-mass medium that allows for active learning and participation in a community.
  • Streaming videos can be an effective way to learn tacit knowledge, but feedback and filtering out irrelevant information are challenges.
  • More designer streamers could provide valuable insights into disciplines like programming that require both explicit and tacit knowledge.

Design, Education, and Learning Approaches

52:43 - 59:37

  • There is a lack of designer streamers in comparison to programming streamers.
  • Programming has a lot of resources available for learning, but there is still tacit knowledge that needs to be developed.
  • Design and other domains require more hands-on feedback and haven't figured out how to communicate it effectively.
  • The reason there are more resources on programming is because it's more legible and easier to understand.
  • Programming can feel like a video game due to the sense of direct contact with the environment and constant feedback.
  • It feels great when you make progress in programming, but often there are additional challenges that keep you going.
  • Not every field can be transformed into something with rapid feedback and a sense of forward progress, but most fields can get closer than they currently are.
  • Design often feels like exploring a combinatorial search space, trying many different options before finding what works.
  • Designers often duplicate artboards in Figma as they explore different possibilities, but it doesn't always feel like progress.
  • Some designers are obsessed with design because the problems they solve are highly tractable and have finite search spaces.
  • Designing posters is an example of a problem that designers enjoy because it allows them to turn the crank and make incremental improvements.

Education System and Learning Motivation

59:20 - 1:06:39

  • Tools and ideas for average students in the education system would be different from those for highly motivated students.
  • The education system often focuses on making students do things they don't want to do, rather than helping them achieve their own goals.
  • Inquiry learning and authentic questions can help engage students and align learning with their goals.
  • Dynamic media representations, like plastic blocks, can facilitate natural exploration and experimentation in learning.
  • Social interaction and peer engagement can reduce the need for willpower and enhance learning outcomes.
  • Most people in the educational space focus on helping bottom quartile performing students due to motivations related to equal opportunities and addressing injustices.
  • There is value in focusing on cool new ideas coming from disaffected or bored students performing at lower percentiles in school.

Challenges in Education and Learning

1:06:31 - 1:13:09

  • Opting out of helping people learn can hinder the development of interesting inventions.
  • Learning doesn't always have to be fun; it can involve some level of misery.
  • Misery in learning may come from feeling like you're not progressing or struggling.
  • Modern memory systems can make learning certain subjects less unpleasant.
  • Solving interesting problems can make learning more enjoyable.
  • Using new tools to endorse traditional education methods is a valid approach.
  • There is a tension between authoritarian and unschooling approaches to education.
  • Willpower and discipline are sometimes necessary for learning, even if it's not always joyful.

Education System and Schooling

1:12:51 - 1:19:50

  • Memorization in high school was inefficient and uncertain.
  • Learning the taxonomy is trivial and cost-effective.
  • School serves multiple purposes beyond instruction.
  • Consider unbundling the different purposes of schooling.
  • During the pandemic, pods with hired teachers were cost-effective.
  • Explore models like Powder House School with coaching roles.
  • Structuring education for hypothetical children would involve thorough consideration.
  • Expose children to various topics and possibilities while expressing consequences of actions.
  • Improving education has been an intractable problem historically.
  • Progress in education may be hindered by relative stasis and lack of utilization of new tools.

Education Progress and Teaching Methods

1:19:34 - 1:27:13

  • There has been progress in education, with more teenagers graduating high school and a decrease in illiteracy.
  • The bottom quartile of the population has seen significant educational attainment improvement.
  • The ceiling for educational achievement is difficult to raise, as it often relies on factors outside of mass schooling.
  • Aristocratic tutors and personalized education may still play a role in producing top-level thinkers.
  • Expensive tutors may not necessarily be the best, as even having another warm body present can contribute to tutoring efficacy.
  • Having an inspiring individual as a tutor may be more important than their expertise or cost.

Tutors and Teaching Methods

1:26:51 - 1:33:54

  • Having an inspiring tutor like Aristotle can play a significant role in shaping worldview and motivation.
  • Expensive tutors are often more inspiring, but it's unclear if they are necessarily better.
  • The availability of post-doc tutors has increased, but it doesn't mean that the top 1% are getting more.
  • Efforts have been made to disseminate effective teaching methods, such as interweaving subjects instead of using blocked units.
  • There is no conclusive evidence on whether teachers have improved over the years compared to the past.
  • Teaching used to be one of the few occupations available for intelligent women, but now there is more competition from other fields.
  • Being a good teacher requires empathy, effective communication, and care rather than just intelligence or domain knowledge.
  • Math teachers need mathematical familiarity and ability for inquiry-oriented classes and creative problem-solving.
  • Hypertext hasn't significantly changed online writing because encyclopedic entries already stood on their own before hypertext existed.
  • Wikipedia is a good starting point for research but not always the best explanation or introduction to a topic.
  • Hypertext is effective for navigation and quick access to specific information.

Hypertext and Writing Practices

1:33:24 - 1:40:53

  • Wikipedia is a good jumping off point for exploring topics, but not always the best introduction or explanation.
  • Hypertext is effective for reference and navigation, especially for texts like encyclopedias and dictionaries.
  • Most concepts require a narrative arc and are not well-suited for hypertext.
  • Hypertext novels struggle with maintaining coherence due to the need for consistent reference points.
  • Hypertext is useful for note-taking and organizing thoughts as a writer.
  • Some people, like Tyler and Bernhard, can integrate vast amounts of information without explicit note-taking systems.
  • Matt Levine's newsletter demonstrates the value of recreating explanations daily to reflect current thinking and experiences.
  • Combining ephemeral journaling with durable reference notes can be useful, but there is no clear model for when one is better than the other.
  • Narrating blog posts may not work well due to reliance on hypertext norms for jokes and sarcasm.
  • Linking to past newsletters or blog posts approximates durable notes without the ability to revise over time.

Journaling and Writing Practices

1:40:32 - 1:47:57

  • Notes in a journal tend to be complete sentences and paragraphs, sometimes with links for context.
  • Looking at past journal entries can be seen as a failure of the net writing system.
  • There is value in prepping to a reasonable extent, but excessive prepping can feel dutiful and unpleasant.
  • Advice to do things fast and fail fast may not always lead to deep thinking about ideas.
  • Powerful design work often involves new ideas or primitives that change the way things are done.
  • Building an MVP rapidly may hinder the development of good ideas.
  • Testing an interesting idea rapidly is good advice once something worth testing exists.

Building Tools and Crowdfunding Research

1:47:28 - 1:54:37

  • When trying to think about what to do next, the idea of building a platform that generalizes a previous project came up.
  • The pandemic made the idea feel safe and feasible.
  • Building a highly general version of the platform wasn't the right approach for testing its effectiveness.
  • The aim is not to build a scalable solution at this moment, but rather to develop and refine the idea.
  • Sometimes it's necessary to have someone else help identify smaller pieces that can be built quickly.
  • Shipping out an MVP version of Orbit taught valuable lessons about its strengths and weaknesses in different contexts.
  • Building an interesting tool for thought is primarily a design problem, which engineers often struggle with.
  • People are drawn to tools for thought because they offer personal empowerment and expand our capacity for thinking.
  • A good crowdfunded research project should be understandable and interesting to others, as well as applicable to a broad audience with disposable income.

Crowdfunding Research and Writing Practices

2:00:57 - 2:07:40

  • Crowdfunding is a viable option for researchers who have already made progress in their projects.
  • Monthly updates may not be feasible for long-term research studies.
  • Crowdfunding can be a supplement to funding from high net worth individuals.
  • Starting crowdfunding early can help build a subscriber base over time.
  • Crowdfunding alone may not sustain a team or institution.
  • The success of crowdfunding as a researcher depends on the market force and marketing efforts.
  • The speaker avoids marketing their work to protect the integrity of their inquiry.
  • Choosing not to publish minimum viable papers has financial implications but allows for deeper investigation.

Publishing and Marketing Research

2:07:23 - 2:13:53

  • The speaker discusses the concept of minimum viable papers and how it is common to publish marginal insights as small papers.
  • The speaker prefers to write informal letters to their patrons instead of publishing every little insight.
  • Marketing can make it difficult to be honest with oneself and can be corrosive to discovery.
  • The speaker mentions Gorin as an example of someone who doesn't need to market their work because it is already impactful.
  • The speaker believes that the way Gwen presents his membership offering may be affecting his conversion rate on Patreon.
  • The speaker shares their experience with asking for support on Substack and how they had more success when they framed it as becoming a member rather than asking for donations.
  • There is a discussion about the value of time and offering bonus content behind a paywall.
  • The challenge of making subscriber-only content clear to others is mentioned, but the speaker feels conflicted about promoting it.
  • The speaker writes a lot for patrons but struggles with promoting subscriber-only material.

Writing Practices and Design Solutions

2:13:32 - 2:20:24

  • The speaker feels uncomfortable promoting subscriber-only content and prefers to make their work more accessible.
  • They suggest design solutions that visually and structurally indicate the presence of additional private content.
  • The speaker acknowledges that going viral is important for reaching a larger audience, but they prioritize providing a unique perspective rather than aiming for virality.
  • They mention examples of beneficial knowledge work practices that involve space repetition, such as writing papers regularly or mentoring students.
  • The speaker discusses the optimal amount of effort to put into a personal website, emphasizing the importance of considering its purpose and finding an ideal form of expression.

Design Process and Decision-Making at Apple

2:13:32 - 2:20:24

  • Understanding the shape of a project makes it less effortful to create.
  • The website creation was not an enormous project, but it has been widely used in commercial projects.
  • The design process at Apple is compartmentalized, with each person responsible for their own domain.
  • Constraints and trade-offs are determined by various teams within Apple.
  • Some priorities are internally determined, while others are decided by the executive team.
  • Individual leaders at all levels of the hierarchy have significant decision-making authority at Apple.
  • Craig Federighi, Head of Software at Apple, delegates most software-related decisions to others.

Cognitive Processes and Learning Techniques

2:20:02 - 2:24:10

  • At Apple, the management structure involves concentric rings of responsibility for leaders.
  • Leaders have direct control over about 5% of their responsibilities and keep an eye on a larger ring of responsibilities.
  • The majority of software-related decisions at Apple are delegated to others.
  • Space repetition is widely used in fields like medical studies and language learning.
  • There is a market for space repetition tools in language learning, but it could be used more creatively.
  • The lack of widespread adoption of space repetition for subjects like quantum physics is due to its correct pricing and the need for additional knowledge and resources.
  • The market's response to space repetition seems appropriate given its limitations.