Speed reading is not magic

Flipping the text while reading

My best friend Whit from college was visiting, and we were playing Lunar Silver Star Story-2 together.

What got irritating was going into towns with people to talk to. I would want to read the whole dialog, but Whit would be flipping through it.

I said, "Okay - what did that guy just say. You zipped by it so fast, you may have gotten the idea, but you certainly can't tell me what he said word for word."

So Whit told me, word for word, what the guy we were talking with had just said. We checked it, and Whit was right - he had gotten every single word.

I was speechless.

So, it's clear to me that speed reading is real.

My thoughts so far on Speed-reading are: That it consists of collecting patterns of words into chunks, much as we collect patterns of letters into words. It consists of "knowing where the text is leading", and searching for deviations or variations from a standard course. Speed reading has variable speed. There are parts that are like a highway, and parts that are like a gravel road, or driving through snow. You don't go the same speed all over the place. Things that require significant amounts of thought still require significant amounts of thought. You can't just speed read through a piece on mathematics, unless you are a skilled mathematician. You can't just speed read through an API doc, unless you are already familiar with the general problem domain.

The last idea may be wrong. People may build meta-knowledge facilities that allow them to quickly build complex knowledge structures in their mind, across subjects, but I have never seen evidence of it.

A good analogy is game playing - the game is hard when you start, but over time, you chunk collections of moves in your mind, and can just glance and perform. Speed reading is like learning to play a new game.


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