The Feedback Problem

First: The problem of other minds
Previous: Experimental Apparatus

“Let me practice my free throw from different distances so that I can throw well wherever I am in the game”.  Anders Ericsson (10,000 hours guy) in Peak, talks about deliberate practice.  He also talks about the difficulty in getting feedback.

Feedback is the hardest part of learning anything.  Good feedback and you can go from chopsticks to beethoven in simple steps.  Technically speaking, the “hard part” of the skill is not the part which requires you to physically press the buttons on a piano.  Or the part that requires you to work out how to move the piece in tetris to where you want it to go. The part of the chess game that is moving the piece to the next location on the board.  The part of poker that is reading the cards and knowing which ones you have.

Most games have a basic level of skill that isn’t that hard.  Anyone can play tennis provided they can hold a racket and swing.. Okay maybe you need eyeballs and the ability to move around a court too but the barrier isn’t much higher than that.  Some skills require more, unicycle actually takes balance, that might take longer to learn, and some games are complicated like this too.

Bad feedback is also useful.  From the books, How to Measure Anything, Superforecasters, and everyone in the quantified self movement… Even a shitty piece of feedback has a Value of Information that can be valuable.  One of my favourite poor pieces of feedback is when I added to my Self Form, “did I stick to my diet today? yes/no/maybe”.  Like magic for a month I stuck to my diet and I lost 2kg.  One good clean feedback measure and I made leaps. (Sure enough, eventually other problems got in my way, but it was a good start.)

The feedback problem asks, “How would I know if I am improving?”.  For a musician, that might be to recording yourself playing then listen back to what you sound like.  For a farmer, that might be to weigh or count the crop and compare that to last year. For a scientist that might be repeated tests for reliability, and for someone with an emotionally trauma history that might look like “I don’t feel terrible”.

Next: Emotional training model

Cross posted to Lesswrong

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