Thank you for this post! I like writing on paper (I don't think I'm negatively influenced by school actually, and it definitely helps me think) but I have an aversion to it because keeping it around is such a hassle. When I do write something down on paper I intend to digitalize it/scan it, but I don't actually do that. I'm already stuck with ten notebooks full of stuff; I don't want to accumulate more.

I manage to convert lecture notes into Anki cards though, so I suppose it's partially having a plan, and practicing.

Maybe a wh... (read more)

but I have an aversion to it because keeping it around is such a hassle

I've recently switched to doing most of my thinking on paper, and the key for me is not keeping the paper around. It's tempting to use paper as a long term storage for ideas, but I aim to use it solely as a working memory extension. I try and enforce this by tearing up a piece of paper as soon as I'm done using it to think (or if there's more space, I scribble out the existing writing). If I want to keep the idea recorded somewhere, I try to create the most bare bones set of key-words and question needed to regenerate the info, and I put those nuggets in an online wiki.

Paper Trauma

by Qiaochu_Yuan 1 min read31st Jan 201863 comments

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Andrew Critch thinks people should be spending more time than they currently are using paper as a working memory aid while thinking, especially large paper (for even more working memory). It is really astonishing how helpful this can be. We consistently encourage people to do it at CFAR workshops nearly every time they learn a new technique or attempt to debug themselves or each other.

Paper is both very helpful and very easy to use - so why aren't people already using it all the time (including me)? I have a few vivid memories of times at CFAR workshops where I had to prod two people who were having a cognitively intensive conversation to use paper as shared working memory, and by "people" I mean CFAR instructors. It's harder than it looks.

My guess is that people have unresolved aversions to paper coming from school, where paper was how other people forced you to do things like homework and tests.

Really, it's horrifying to think about how much of what you've written down on paper was entirely forced on you.

So, you'll need to do some work if you want to reclaim the right to write whatever you want on paper, instead of whatever you've been trained to write. Good luck. Here are some words to take with you on your way.

Just because you are writing on paper does not mean you are still in school.

Nobody is going to grade you.

This is not homework. This is not a test.

This is your mind.

This is your life.

Think.