Monday, October 15, 2012

Cue building and reusing cues

When you learn something which is radically new to you, you have a nice and clean experiment which shows you the working of the mind. Lately I tried to recognize birds by the sound they make.
That is a situation where you have to relate unfamiliar sounds to unfamiliar birds. Which is a harsh thing to do. I recognized 3 states of the mind:

The baby stage.
The reason you cannot remember anything from the first 3 years of your life is that you had no cues. No cues, no retrieval. You train the sounds of the birds, but they simply don't stick.

The unrelated stage.
After two weeks of serious training, there are still 38 of the 42 birds I want to learn where I only recognize: "I know that I have heard this sound before, but I don't know to which bird it belongs".
The sound has become familiar, but there are no cues that relate it with other things.

The connected stage.
Here you connect the familiar sounds to familiar birds by cues.

Reusing cues.
Familiarization and cuebuilding are tedious and daunting processes which costs lots of time and energy. The people who can work miracles with their memory reuse their cues. Unfamiliar birdsounds can be described by familiar sounds. For instance "pit, pit, pit, oik, oink, oink, birdie, birdie" is much easier to remember than the very sounds themselves. Or take the waiter who represents new orders by organizing them in a building with chambers to which he is very familiar and which he virtually walks through. They call this "using templates with slots" if I'm not mistaken.

What has this to do with chess?
First of all I want to be in a reasonable physical condition when playing tournaments. So I subscribed to people who do sportive things in the woods. But sportive things are usually very boring for an active mind. So I decided to do some bird watching at the same time. Since you can't see no birds in a wood, I listen to their sounds.
Second, we encounter the same problems in chess. If you ever want to be able to visualize thickets of variations, you need to make use of an existing system of cues. Of templates. During a game there is no time to build new cues.


  1. We have more dramatic terrain in Northern England. Here is the walk that I did yesterday (but the other way around):

    You need your wits about you to move at speed when it is this wet underfoot! Rock climbing engages the body and brain, but it is best not to get injured like I did!

  2. The biggest chance for injuries in my sport is when someone pokes your eye out when changing the tips of their nordic walking sticks.