TITLE: Impatience, A Barrier At All Scales AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 04, 2013 5:54 PM DESC: ----- BODY: One of the barriers to learning that Dan Heisman sees in chessplayers is finding the patience to play slower. When playing any game, a person has to play slow enough to discern the consequences of moves. The chess world is complicated by the fact that games in tournament settings are timed, with a limit on the time a player can take for a certain number of moves. Over-the-board chess is played at a varieties of time limit, historically ranging from five minutes for the entire game (lightning chess) to forty moves in two and a half hours (world championship matches). Different time controls lead to different kinds of game. Improvement at "serious" chess -- slow chess -- requires playing slower, at longer time controls. You have to practice thinking about moves and plans at a deeper level. Just as we have to train our bodies to run long distances, we have to train our chess brains to work at longer time controls. This requires both stamina and patience. Sometimes, our brains are capable of thinking for long periods about a position, but our psyche wants to push, move faster. The barrier here is impatience "in the small", at scale of an individual game. We see the same thing in novice programmers, who think they should be able to write a complicated program as quickly as they read a web comic or watch a YouTube video. Read the problem description; write the code. One of the important parts of most introductory programming courses is helping students learn patience at the level of writing a single program. Another important kind of patience plays a role in the large, at learning scale. Some people want to get good fast: learn some syntax, write a few programs, and -- bam! -- be an expert. Peter Norvig has written the canonical treatment of long-term patience in learning to program.
jazz pianist Bill Evans, with Miles Davis
Of course, some talented people do get good fast, or at least they seem to become good faster than we do. That can be frustrating, especially when we are struggling. But that fact is, most of us have to take time to get good at anything. Even the most accomplished artists know that. I'm reminded of this comment from Bill Evans, one of the greatest jazz pianists of the second half of the 20th century, in The Universal Mind of Bill Evans:
"Most people just don't realize the immensity of the problem," Evans says, "and either because they can't conquer immediately they think they haven't got the ability, or they're so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through. But if you do understand the problem, then I think you can enjoy your whole trip through."
Learning to write software well is an immense task. The most successful programmers recognize this early and enjoy the trip. This kind of patience, over the long term, makes it a lot easier to take on the barriers that inevitably appear along the way. ~~~~ PHOTO. Jazz pianist Bill Evans with Miles Davis, courtesy Photos of musicians at Tumblr. -----