On linear scans

In certain circles, these are pretty popular:

  1. Checklists (and especially the Gawande book);
  2. 80-20 thinking;
  3. Stoicism.

If you like these, you should probably want to have memorized (or readily available) lists of things to check for in certain situations. They're (1) checklists that (2) a Pareto thinker should think capture most of the relevant possibility space and (3) are an aspect of the human need to have (suitable, reasonable) triggered responses and algorithms at the ready.

You might be wondering about (3): in brief, the ancient Stoics and their skeptical counterparts spent a lot of time thinking about both specific responses to have to hand in certain situations and about formulas or algorithms for generating such responses. I think this sort of sophisticated treatment of (what we might call) cognitive triggers is an underappreciated aspect of ancient Greek philosophy.

Some concrete examples: If a baby is crying, there's a pretty good chance it has something to do with fatigue, hunger, a diaper, a burp, some specific physical pain, or being too hot or cold. If I'm stuck on the Wordle, probably there's a repeated letter I haven't considered, I'm making some bad assumption about a vowel-consonant pattern, or I'm subvocally mispronouncing one of the letters.

Maybe you've often read this advice or something like it a lot. (Good!) I'm still struck by both how often people over-estimate the probability that something way out of the ordinary is happening and how often people simply fail to implement this sort of linear scan of most relevant items. (So much of the value of bug-tracking systems is in forcing people to list what they've tried and in so doing realize that they've missed one of the likeliest causes.)

This is another set of reasons to train with spaced repetition.

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