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Speed Reading Is a Core Life Skill

speed reading is a necessary skill for any serious attempt at a good life. like touch typing.

speed reading skills include:

  • rapid serial visual presentation
  • listening to sped up audio, including with text-to-speech
  • effective skimming and searching
  • speed reading paper books (optional for most people, who can get ebooks of most stuff they read)
  • being able to keep up. being able to understand and retain what you read at higher speeds

(yeah there's a couple exceptions like blind people. not many.)

reading is a huge part of learning. if you read twice as fast then you can read twice as much stuff. then you can learn way more.

if you don't learn this stuff, you're basically just going to have a worse life. you'll spend more time per book. you'll lose time. not learning to read fast is basically just throwing away part of your life (unless you don't read much, which is a different way of throwing your life away).

another skill any reasonable person trying to have a good life would learn is how to use google search well. lots of people suck at finding stuff with google (like they choose search terms poorly and misjudge which search results to click on) and don't realize it and don't do anything to get better. another common way people use google badly is they search the wrong thing and then start clicking links instead of recognizing the got the wrong results and doing a new search immediately.


Elliot Temple on August 23, 2016

Messages (22)

I am kinda good with sped up audio but on text reading I am slow.

I don't believe in saving little time here and there.. I like saving big.. If I am going to waste 4 hours I should save that first before straining my eyes and brain trying to save a few minutes.

But it is a good skill to have.. Maybe I will learn it in 10-15 years


FF at 4:39 AM on August 23, 2016 | #6586 | reply | quote

if a book would take 10 hours to read normally, then with speed reading you could read it in 5 or fewer hours. it's not a couple minute difference.


Anonymous at 4:51 AM on August 23, 2016 | #6587 | reply | quote

> if a book would take 10 hours to read normally, then with speed reading you could read it in 5 or fewer hours. it's not a couple minute difference.

Hmmm..You are right. But you need good guessing about what the author is saying and comprehension skills before getting into speed reading right?

I grasp 75-80% of what I read in super easy books and only 50-60% on medium level books..

Wow.. Thanks for the reply.. I am very grateful to you whoever you are (Elliot doesn't want you to talk to me)


FF at 5:07 AM on August 23, 2016 | #6588 | reply | quote

speed reading with low comprehension can still be good.

say you could read a book in 10 hours with 50% comprehension.

or you could read it in 5 hours with 35% comprehension.

reading it twice at the faster speed could be more comprehension in the same 10 hours.


Anonymous at 5:24 AM on August 23, 2016 | #6590 | reply | quote

> speed reading with low comprehension can still be good.

Okay.

> say you could read a book in 10 hours with 50% comprehension.

> or you could read it in 5 hours with 35% comprehension.

That would be awesome.

> reading it twice at the faster speed could be more comprehension in the same 10 hours.

I didn't think of that.

But what about enjoyment? Won't you get tired or strained?

Moving eyes rapidly like REM will hurt my eye.

Would you recommend people to read Atlas Shrugged through speed reading?

It is a very very very lengthy book.

Elliot said he downloaded and rejected many speed reading apps. Has he found anything good yet?

I have many speed reading books in my iBooks library.. I don't know if any of those have good advise.


FF at 8:20 AM on August 23, 2016 | #6591 | reply | quote

> Moving eyes rapidly like REM will hurt my eye.

you didn't even try to look up what RSVP is. you don't move your eyes to speed read. that's part of why it works!

speed reading isn't stressful if you don't go at your max speed. if you can read 700 wpm, and then you turn it down to 450 then it's like relaxing easy mode and you can pay full attention. and you're still reading like double a regular guy.

the Outread app is ok. or Spreeder website.


Anonymous at 12:20 PM on August 23, 2016 | #6592 | reply | quote

I read 3 chunk words at 300 wpm.. That was fun.. (spreeder)

I will slowly increase the speed as I improve.


FF at 6:36 PM on August 23, 2016 | #6593 | reply | quote

Now I am using 450 Wpm speed to read lengthy news articles..

I usually skim news and look for key words but Spreeding is much more fun.


FF at 11:17 PM on August 24, 2016 | #6595 | reply | quote

Speed Reading Success Story

@#6595

others take note! speed reading is amazing. try it...


Anonymous at 11:21 PM on August 24, 2016 | #6596 | reply | quote

I am reading Curi's older blog posts on spreeder now.

I have reduced the speeds to 310 wpm so I can retain and grasp more of what I read.


FF at 6:14 AM on August 25, 2016 | #6597 | reply | quote

Regular non-speed reading is even more of a core life skill, and most people aren't good enough at it. They can do it but they don't have mastery where it works great on autopilot.

In relation to that:

“Follow the fun” is as misleading as it is vague. Sure there are people whose parents are like “I don’t care what you like, just be a doctor” and that sucks. And yes some people are underly sensitive to some sorts of problems which their emotions warn them about. But being overly sensitive to some things is common too (often some of each for the same person). And most people simply don’t find reading (or writing) fun. This isn’t because they lack the right gene for reading. It’s nothing innate. It’s a solvable problem. But following the fun will just lead them to do something else instead of solve the problem. More broadly, fun-following over means problem-avoiding. Whatever problems people can’t solve almost immediately are generally what people find isn’t fun. But people can e.g. improve their reading skill, so reading goes from something they can do to something they can do *easily* (so now roughly their full attention can be on the story or ideas, just like touch typing isn’t distracting for a good typist), and then they can find reading fun. There are other blockers which are also skills issues, like not knowing to usually skip prefaces make reading less fun. And not knowing how to *practice* abstract ideas so you can actually use them in your life, instead of just saying “yeah I agree”, can make reading them seem pointless and therefore boring. People who avoid everything they’re bad at, or which doesn’t come easily to them, generally end up with bad lives where *they are unhappy* and aren’t having much fun. If you can find a full blown *beginning of infinity* (a path that’s leading you to infinite progress about all of life, some learning that’s robust and broad enough to eventually branch out and cover everything) that’s easy and fun every step of the way, that’s great. But if (like almost everyone) you don’t have that, then you have to do something hard or less fun … or else you’re giving up on ongoing progress in your life, which will make you miserable in the long run.

"Follow the fun" or "The fun criterion" is advocated by Lulie and more ambiguously David Deutsch, but without any substantive statement of what it means, or how it addresses any objections. Since there's nothing significant to engage/debate with, I'm not currently going to rewrite the above as a bunch of separate paragraphs and explain everything. The other side presents no real case and won't take questions, which makes it hard to discuss. I wrote a little something because I think they're hurting people and making people's lives less fun with bad advice, because some people listen a bit and feel justified in avoiding everything they find challenging.

Problems are inevitable. You have to face and solve problems. It's OK to be stuck on some and try something else but you need to actually try a decent amount to find out you're stuck, and you need to look for substantive alternatives instead of just having shallow fun, like parties and TV, dominate your life. DD thinks lots of things people like aren't *real* fun but hasn't been explaining that qualifier to people.


curi at 10:41 AM on February 25, 2020 | #15609 | reply | quote

This 17-language study found people read at 184 words per minute on average. I haven't reviewed the quality of the scientific details.

https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2166061


curi at 11:29 AM on February 25, 2020 | #15611 | reply | quote

https://andymatuschak.org/books/

Article about books (and lectures) not working well for learning. After some explanation about the problem:

> I acknowledged earlier that of course, some people *do* absorb knowledge from books. Indeed, those are the people who really do think about what they're reading. The process is often invisible. These readers' inner monologues have sounds like: "This idea reminds me of…," "This point conflicts with…," "I don't really understand how…," etc. If they take some notes, they're not simply transcribing the author's words: they're summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing.

>

> Unfortunately, these tactics don't come easily. Readers must learn specific reflective strategies. "What questions should I be asking? How should I summarize what I'm reading?" Readers must run their own feedback loops. "Did I understand that? Should I re-read it? Consult another text?" Readers must understand their own cognition. "What does it feel like to understand something? Where are my blind spots?"

>

> These skills fall into a bucket which learning science calls "metacognition." The experimental evidence suggests that it's challenging to learn these types of skills, and that many adults lack them.

The experimental evidence is shitty and he goes on to get things wrong based on pseudo-science. But I liked his description of metacognition with examples of questions people can ask themselves while reading and ways those can be hard.

Big picture the article says books and lectures work poorly because they have the wrong epistemology: they misunderstand how people learn. Their misconception is "transmissionism", which is basically Popper's bucket theory of mind (that Popper described and criticized). People learn by having info transmitted to them, e.g.: I think of ideas, I write words on this web page, you read the words, now you learned the ideas. Basically it's super naive that just transmitting (communicating) the info is all that's needed for learning.


curi at 11:36 AM on February 25, 2020 | #15612 | reply | quote

Article about what makes scientific research teams effective:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dCjz5mgQdiv57wWGz/ingredients-for-creating-disruptive-research-teams

> To facilitate internal communications outside of formal structures, teams seem to benefit from shared spaces that allow for these exchanges to occur. Establishing a shared physical space that encourages interaction seems to be most important.

*Why* are shared physical spaces so important?

A lot of the reason, IMO, is because of how bad people are at using text: at reading and communicating with words and computers instead of with real time voice chat and IRL tools. This is a skills issue that people would benefit a ton from improving at.


curi at 11:43 AM on February 25, 2020 | #15613 | reply | quote

#15609

> I think they're hurting people and making people's lives less fun with bad advice, because some people listen a bit and feel justified in avoiding everything they find challenging.

I think it's worse than that. There are people who start avoiding challenging things *because* of the fun criterion. They aren't just using it to justify pre-existing behaviour. They get the new idea that everything should be fun: anything that isn't immediately fun is coercive/suffering and bad for learning so must be avoided.


Anonymous at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2020 | #15645 | reply | quote

#15645

The way I wrote that implies that I think curi disagrees with my point. Just to be clear, I don't think I am disagreeing with him. I am just pointing out a way it is even worse than his example.


Anonymous at 2:07 PM on February 26, 2020 | #15647 | reply | quote

Listening at 800 wpm

Around Sep 2019, HN User CAMLORN wrote about how he listens to text read by a speech synthesizer at 800 wpm:

> I'm at roughly 800 words a minute with a synth, with the proven ability to top out at 1219. 800 or so is the norm among programmers. In order to get it we normally end up using older synths which sound way less natural because modern synthesis techniques can't go that fast. There's a trade-off between natural sounding and 500+ words a minute, and the market now strongly prefers the former [...]

> 1219 is a record as far as I know. We measured it explicitly by getting the screen reader to read a passage and dividing. I spent months working up from 800 to do it and lost the skill once I stopped (there was a marked level of decreased comprehension post 1000, but I was able to program there; still, in the end, not worth it). When I try to described the required mental state it comes out very much like I'm on drugs. Most of us who reach 800 or so stay there, though not always that fast for i.e. pleasure reading (I do novels at about 400). it's built up slowly over time, either more or less explicitly. I did it because I was in high school doing muds and got tired of not being able to keep up; it took about 6-8 months of committing to turn the synth faster once a week no matter what, keeping it there and dealing with a day or two of mild headaches. Note that for most blind people these days, total synthesis time per day is around 10+ hours; this stuff replaces the pencil, the novel, etc. Others just seem to naturally do it. You have little choice, it's effectively a 1 dimensional interface, so from time to time you find a reason to bump the knob. And that's enough.

> Whether and how much the skill transfers to normal human speech, or even between synths, is person-specific. I can't do Youtube at much beyond 2x. Others can. It's definitely a learned skill.

It’s interesting that the artificial-sounding voices (he refers to them as “harsh” below) are more intelligible at high speed than the more natural-sounding voices. I think I remember hearing someone on an FI forum say that they can listen to text in Voice Dream Reader faster than they can listen to the same text read by a human in a sped-up audiobook. I wonder if there exist less-natural VDR voices that are faster to listen to than the more-realistic voices.

Below are a few other quotes from CAMLORN. (No further comments by me below.)

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20888191 :

> I did an entire CS degree at 800 words a minute. I program in any programming language you care to name (including the initial learning) at that speed as well. For more complicated concepts I stay at that speed, but pause after every paragraph or so to chunk the content as needed. I'm doing this thread at that speed. Pretty much the only time I slow it down is pleasure reading or sometimes articles when i want to go off and do chores while I listen, but even then it's still faster than human speech.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20888220

> [Old speech synths are] harsh. But you get used to it in about a week. [...] part of what allows them to stay intelligible is the harshness.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21653653 :

> In the long run I discovered that incredibly fast speech rates scale better than braille for most tasks outside educational settings [...]


Alisa at 8:15 PM on May 16, 2020 | #16543 | reply | quote

I continue to use the Paul voice in VDR, which can go up to 700 wpm, which I can listen at but usually don't (700 is hard and stresses comprehension, especially if not also reading along visually). Paul is one of the older voices that sounds less natural than the newer types of voices they added. I don't know how it compares to the synths he's talking about.

If you know good synth software for high speed let me know what to try using.


curi at 8:38 PM on May 16, 2020 | #16544 | reply | quote

#16543 You forgot to say/quote that CAMLORN is blind and that's why he's so into this. Major context!


curi at 9:24 PM on May 16, 2020 | #16545 | reply | quote

brew install espeak

espeak -s 800 "I will attempt to remember and find the time to take my demo recording of this on Rust compiler source code that's currently in dropbox and put it up somewhere more permanent. I doubt Dropbox will care for me much if I allow HN-volume traffic to hit my account. It's Espeak using an NVDA fork with an additional voice that some of us like, so vanilla espeak is in the ballpark."

First impression ... it sounds awful. Paul VDR voice is much nicer and does 700. Replayed it at 700 and still much harder than Paul for me, though I'm used to Paul and not used to this. I didn't get his fork with extra voice, just used default.

Tried again at 500. Much more understandable for me but still not able to catch some words and still sounds awful without being used to it. Did again at 300 and could hear all the words while focusing.


curi at 9:34 PM on May 16, 2020 | #16546 | reply | quote

#16546 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20883169

> They're harsh. But you get used to it in about a week. Espeak is an atypically bad example, which is why NVDA experimented with a fork (and maybe one day the NVDA work will make it upstream).


curi at 9:37 PM on May 16, 2020 | #16547 | reply | quote

The Libby app on iOS does audiobook checkouts from libraries. It has a good UI and goes up to 3x speed. I'd expect there to be a similar Android app.

3x is a bit of a low max for me b/c I think some audio books are read at 150wpm or lower but overall it's a solid app and i recommend seeing if you can get some audiobooks from your library with it.

I wish they'd start syncing audio book playback to either the book text or a transcript of the reading. Sync with text is one of the major advantages of text-to-speech (another advantage is that there are way more ebooks you can TTS than audiobooks).


curi at 5:32 PM on September 30, 2020 | #18177 | reply | quote

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