1 min read4th Oct 20222 comments
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I felt a jolt of excitement when I overheard a non-Rat (at least looking) person casually drop "Slack" during a conversation.

I work at a mid-sized software company based in the SF Bay area. The person talking was a director in my organization. The context was about setting aside time for chewing over problems--not trying to solve them, but just looking at them to see the broader context in which the problem exists.

I've been thinking about AllAmericanBreakfast's recent shortform posts about mentition. It's because I've been teaching myself three new things and I noticed that one practice I engage in regularly is playing with problems in my head. But this practice seems to largely depend on how good I am at something.

Anecdotal examples:

  • Teaching myself TLA+. It's a programming language used to specify models, which helps verify whether an algorithm behaves like it should, especially concurrent algorithms.
    • I have a few examples that I've looked at (from the course). Throughout the day, I'll turn these around in my mind, looking at different facets, moving things around and occasionally hit on an insight.
  • Going through Bayesian Statistics the Fun Way for a much needed refresher on bayesian stats.
    • Here too I have a few simple examples, problems taken straight from the book, that I turn over in my head. It's harder, though, because different "objects", like numerators and denominators, are hard for my mind to hold onto for long. I need more focus.
  • Writing. Specifically, creative nonfiction.
    • Here, I have a few essays that I really liked that I'm playing with. But this one is the hardest of all to wrestle with in my mind. Ideas, sentences, paragraphs feel so liquid and unholdable. I can only do this type of work with pen and paper or a text editor.

In the first case, in which I have some years of experience, thinking and focusing feels easy. Even in a weird language I've never seen before, I can see "things" and "relationships" and "sequences" and play around with them.

In the last case, there are almost no things, no relationships. It's all one mixed up soup. Only recently did I learn, thanks to a class, about things like ledes, nut graphs, points/themes, angles, calls to action, etc. and this has been an immense help in slowly learning how to "turn around" these things in my mind.

So, if this generalizes in any way, it seems that ramping up to a state where you can do mentition requires first learning to see the structure of whatever it is you're learning. Sort of like priming the pump. Afterwards, there's a lot less "ugh" and a lot more play.