Monthly Archives: July 2011

Mind/Brain more like muscles than a computer

People sometimes write about the brain being like a muscle that gets stronger with exercise.  Here’s a more specific thought:

Both the mind and a computer acquire new capabilities after receiving certain inputs: Teaching in the case of the mind and software (i.e., programs) in the case of the computer.  (This is not to say that teaching is the only or even the most effective way.) However, there is a difference which is critical to teachers and students.  The computer can use its new capabilities immediately after new software is installed, and, for the most part, the quality of the new capabilities, being determined by the software contents, remains fixed at its original level. (An upgrade really is adding new software or replacing portions of old by new.)  On the other hand, the usability of new mental capabilities grows with practice, usually only develops incrementally, and decays when unused.  The brain is more like a system of muscles that together grow in strength in the course of repeating and perfecting new physical tasks than a computer’s hard drive that perfectly stores the entire capability ready for the computer to perform when the program is launched.

Hence the lesson for teachers and students is that mere presentation and memorization of content is utterly insufficient for effective learning.

Hackers and Painters


Hackers and Painters

Essay on how “hacking” i.e. building excellent software differs from science in that it is a kind of “making” like painting.

Way Out Web Postings

Here I accumulate some perhaps shocking, unbelievable, etc. stuff that might have some truth to it:

  1. from

    “I occasionally need to read mathematics journal articles for programming work that I do, and I find there are often things I simply cannot understand without enough caffeine in my system. The level of abstraction required to understand a mathematical proof is sometimes just too high for me to cope with otherwise.

    Sidebar: I think everyone has a natural “resting” level of abstraction that they are comfortable with; a programmer’s resting abstraction level is on average above that of a non-programmer’s, but professional mathematicians are another level above that. (The worst part is that some of them are additionally normal, friendly people who can socialise and play sports… Not that I’m jealous, of course.)”

Are All-Nighters Actually Good for Learning?

Today I did a Google search for “Computer programming all night learning” to pursue the idea that “doing all nighters” actually is beneficial for learning programming, contrary to conventional wisdom. Successful students, instructors developing assignment prototypes and practitioners often do this. It feels natural.  Why?

  1. Learning Computer Science  Avoidance of magic code; Empathy; Practice/Drill; Lectures suck; … other links.
  2. An academic paper on motivating intro. cs courses with game programming projects: Students pulling all-nighters seems to be evidence that the motivation is successful, which is different from addressing the effects of all-nighters.