Superlearning: are there any limitations?

After reaching 1000wpm at 80% comprehension a superlearner feels that he/she owns the world and that the sky is the limit. But wait for  a month or two and there is  disappointment “I reached my limit?”, rationalization “I do not need to read any faster?”, bargaining “Can I read with the same speed in a language I barely know?” and even grief “I can speedread everything I want except the financial reports I really need to read fast”.

Why does this happen? With proper saccade training your eyes are capable of reading well above 2,000wpm, maybe into 10,000wpm area. But your brain refuses to handle excessive information: the information may be too complex for the brain to process (numbers and formulas) or too strange to visualize (abstract ideas and foreign languages), or simply you are limited by the capacity of your working memory.

Wait… It is very intuitive to understand that the complex or strange information is hard to handle, but what is the working memory limitation? It is very simple to learn that working memory is the function of the brain where most of the understanding/retention happens.  Working memory can handle ~7 items at a time, and can renew the list of items at some measurable processing speed which is physiologically determined. Therefore if you renew these 7 items fast enough the brain reaches its limit.

It is a bit strange to understand that some obscure  working memory characteristic is the bottleneck of the whole learning process. So it is only natural to cheat a little.

  • The working memory is organized to remember differences. If you take a marker and encode its details, you encode mainly differences and can encode more than 7 details.
  • The working memory is less sensitive to the size of the items, so you can pack several details into one item.
  • You can multitask juggling more than one instance of working memory.

The higher complexity and number of the items, the harder it is for the working memory to do its job and soon you understand there is no way around it. You train the working memory using progressive overload principle, effectively forcing the brain to allocate more neural resources to working memory. This method works well, especially with students who suffer from chemical dis-balance (strong ADHD or similar) or development dis-balance  (did not learn enough in the young age).

A fully developed superlearner will use his working memory to the point that an Olympic runner uses his legs, yet like legs the working memory is limited. To be faster and more accurate you need to choose speed vs retention for every paragraph, every sentence. And then you reach the next limitation: you cannot do any better than the text allows. The complexity of the text is proportional to the new details introduced by the text.  The more similar texts you know the fewer details are introduced by the new text. Then you get to what I consider to be the final limitation of the superlearner.

At the end you are limited only by your own knowledge. THE MORE YOU KNOW THE FASTER YOU LEARN!


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