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Errors vs. Bugs

A thoughtful essay (link thanks to Robin) by "celandine13" on LiveJournal is titled "Errors vs. Bugs and the End of Stupidity". The author begins with her piano master teacher Phil Cohn's clever comment: "A pianist has to be kind of schizophrenic. You have to believe in telekinesis. You have to believe you have the power to move your fingers with your mind." She argues that when you make a mistake at the piano, or elsewhere in life, the best explanation is not that you're a lazy bum of a person or simply bad at the task. And perhaps just practicing harder to get your random error rate down isn't quite the right approach.

Instead, celandine13 contends, a far more productive model is that mistakes are semi-deterministic bugs like those that appear in computer programs, not uncontrollable stochastic errors that come and go. Then a problem doesn't happen because a person is stupid or sloppy or otherwise un-good, but for a specific diagnosable reason, a flaw that can be identified and fixed. Piano teacher Cohn, for instance, approached mistakes deliberately and non-judgmentally. As celandine13 says, "pretending you can move your fingers with your mind is a kind of mindfulness meditation that can make it easier to unlearn the calcified patterns of movement that cause mistakes." Likewise, she suggests, in teaching learning-disabled students:

Maybe nobody's actually stupid. Maybe the distinction between "He's got a learning disability" and "He's just lousy at math" is a false one. Maybe everybody should think of themselves as having learning disabilities, in the sense that our areas of weakness need to be acknowledged, investigated, paid special attention, and debugged.

Sounds a lot like Jon Kabat-Zinn's description: "Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally." Or Ayya Khema's mantra, "Awareness, No Blame, Change", or Adrianna Weisman and Jean Smith's "No Self-Blaming" exhortations. Or Joshua Foer's comments on efficient practice as developing and testing hypotheses about one's failures. Or in a sillier vein the Homer Simpson advice, "You can't keep blaming yourself. Just blame yourself once, and move on."

^z - 2012-05-04