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February 27, 2009

Understanding Mistakes

I believe you can learn a lot by trying to understand how your own mind works. It can help you to make sense of why you make mistakes, or why you forget things, and to have confidence that your mistakes are a natural consequence of being human.

I can't claim any kind of psychological knowledge, but I understand my own mind as a powerful pattern matching engine. It matches patterns in what I see or hear, then matches patterns in my own memory, then patterns in random noise leading to things like dreams and new ideas. And it'll do that matching of patterns with an enormous amount of subjectivity.

For me, this leads to two main failures. The first is the making of false assumptions.based on what I was expecting rather than what I objectively perceive. Today, I answered the door and perceived the person I was expecting to be arriving at around that time, even though they were someone completely different - they look fairly similar, but not hugely. But then, I've always had a bit of trouble recognising faces. On many other occasions, I've read text and seen the words as something different, to the point where I could visualise the shapes of the incorrect words on the page.

The other main failure is to do with memory. My mind certainly doesn't work like a computer. I can't program it to bring something back to my attention at a pre-programmed moment. Remembering things, for me, relies entirely on setting up something to remind me. For example, I keep supplies of general bathroom stuff in my room, bringing them down to the bathroom as necessary. When it's time to bring the new tube of toothpaste down, I'll always forget to do so unless I physically put the new tube in my dressing gown pocket. This kind of thing happens with almost 100% consistency.

I think it's important to keep this kind of consideration in mind.  So to speak.

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