25 September 2010

Human performance, psychometry, and baseball statistics II

(This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 3 to follow.)

Today we examine learning curves and estimated time for mastery. To continue with the Lisp example, assuming you want to master Lisp, how much of your time should you plan to allocate for the task? K. Anders Ericson is the author of the relevant research findings. At a crude level of approximation, something like that takes ten thousand hours. This is a result I was first exposed to many years ago in the context of Buddhist meditation, in an Esalen conference presented by Helen Palmer (mostly known for her work on the Eneagram). She reported that to become skilled at Zen meditation requires ten thousand hours of practice. In the University of Wisconsin brain imaging meditation study , the subjects were Tibetan monks who had all logged a minimum of ten thousand hours of practice. The ten thousand hours of practice requirement was also reported popularly by Malcom Gladwell in his best-selling book Outliers. Another take on this: Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years. Ten thousand hours of 40-hour-weeks is five years, not ten; the number is imprecise, but the idea is consistent that ambitious projects take a daunting amount of time.

One of my dance teachers was fond of reminding me that practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice can make you perfect. For most of us even that is an exaggeration. I think we can reliably predict that ten thousand hours of very good practice will make you very good if you first possess an average amount of raw aptitude.

Baseball players display the 10 000 hour rule, or something very close to it, in their development. This is quantified in their statistics, and codified in the language of "rookie mistake". When you are the new guy, that is nearly always an acceptable excuse for the errors we all inevitably make in the beginning. One of the more popular verses in the I Ching is hexagram three "Difficulty at the beginning".

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.