Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Carey, How We Learn

Benedict Carey, a science reporter for The New York Times, has written a fast-paced, well-structured book that should have broad appeal. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens (Random House, forthcoming September 9) not only summarizes a wide range of research findings that challenge traditional views but offers useful tips for both teachers and students.

For instance, most people do better if they break out of routines—if, for example, they vary their study or practice locations. Distributed study time is more effective than concentrated study time. Mixing multiple skills in a practice session sharpens our grasp of all of them. Forgetting is critical to learning. And sleep—well, we all know the value of sleep to learning and creating.

Of particularly interest to traders may be the chapter entitled “Learning Without Thinking: Harnessing Perceptual Discrimination.”

Baseball stars (hitters) and chess masters both have what Carey calls a good eye, and none of them is able to describe exactly what that is. “Their eyes, and the visual systems in their brains, are extracting the most meaningful set of clues from a vast visual tapestry, and doing so instantaneously.” (p. 152)

Carey takes the reader back to the doodle experiment of Eleanor Gibson and her (unnamed) husband. Gibson showed that the brain perceives to learn; “it takes the differences it has detected between similar-looking notes or letters or figures, and uses those to help decipher new, previously unseen material.”

As Carey clarifies a key passage from Gibson’s 1969 book Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development, perceptual learning “is active. Our eyes (or ears, or other senses) are searching for the right clues. Automatically, no external reinforcement or help required. We have to pay attention, of course, but we don’t need to turn it on or tune it in. It’s self-correcting—it tunes itself. The system works to find the most critical perceptual signatures and filter out the rest. Baseball players see only the flares of motion that are relevant to judging a pitch’s trajectory—nothing else. The masters in Chase and Simon’s chess study considered fewer moves than the novices, because they’d developed such a good eye that it instantly pared down their choices, making it easier to find the most effective parry.” (pp. 156-57)

And good traders? They presumably have developed a similarly good eye. For those who want to train future traders Carey describes how to construct a basic perceptual learning module to build perceptual intuition. Success not guaranteed; by definition, in every field there are only a handful of people at the top of their game.

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