Saturday, 29 October 2011

hyperbolic hyperbole

What's with hyperbolic discounting? It's everywhere! I first consciously noticed the term at a workshop about six weeks ago, and now I can't turn around without tripping over another paper, article, or blog post on the subject. The most recent example is a post I read yesterday, from the [citation needed] blog, about how Future Self is able to be so much more productive than Present Self: "things that would take me a week of full-time work in the Now apparently take me only five to ten minutes when I plan them three months ahead of time". The post also contains the wonderful:
It’s about large-scale automated synthesis of human functional neuroimaging data. In fact, it’s so about that that that’s the title of the paper*.
Yet I didn't even notice how wonderful it was, until I read the footnote:
* Three “that”s in a row! What are the odds! Good luck parsing that sentence!
Three "that"s in a row, and yet I parsed it just fine. It reminds me of the time (many years ago) when my English teacher at school expressed surprise at how bad a speller I was (I'm better now, partly due to several decades more practice, but mainly due to spell-checkers). "I don't understand how you can spell so poorly given you read so much." It took me a while to realise that some people see the letters in the words they read; when I'm deeply into reading something (fiction or technical) I don't even see the words. I know when I've been pulled out of the book when I start seeing the words. That may be because something is wrong, which may include a misspelling. But there's a big difference between recognition (I see it and know it's wrong) and recall (I can spell it from scratch).

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