Learning a list of herbs with lists of their actions

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anonymous wrote:

I must learn TCM. I must learn dozens of herbs each of which has many actions on the body.

Here is a good web site with information on actions and indications for Chinese herbs: http://www.americandragon.com/IndividualHerbsIndex2.html

Let's choose a single herb: http://www.americandragon.com/Individualherbsupdate/SuMu.html

See my items below and my dilemmas. What do you think?

Proposed items

anonymous wrote:

Item 0: [Note: starting from 0 - C convention :-)]
Q: Su Mu - english
A: Sappan Wood

Item 1:
Q: Sappan Wood - pinyin
A: Su Mu

Item 2:
Q: Su Mu - action 1
A: Invigorates Blood circulation

Item 3:
Q: Su Mu - action 2
A: Dispels Blood Stasis

Item 4:
Q: Su Mu - action 3
A: Reduces swellings

Item 5:
Q: Su Mu - action 4
A: Opens the channels and alleviates pain

Item 6:
Q: Su Mu - action 5
A: Stops bleeding

Item 7:
Q: Su Mu - indication/syndrome 1
A: Blood Stasis such as postpartum abdominal pain and amenorrhea [A: 
perhaps too long but I am not sure if creating cloze deletions or 
simpler items would be better]

Item 8:
Q: Su Mu - indication/syndrome 2
A: Pain and swelling due to Blood Stasis from fall, fractures, 
contusions or sprains

Item 9:
Q: Su Mu - indication/syndrome 3
A: Excessive postpartum bleeding

Item 10:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 1
A: Pregnancy

Item 11:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 2
A: Menorrhagia

Item 12:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 3
A: If no Blood Stasis

Item 13:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 4
A: If lochia has been cleared

Item 14:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 5
A: If abdominal pain due to Blood Deficiency

Item 15:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 6
A: Extremely large doses can cause coma and death

Item 16:
Q: Su Mu - contraindication 7
A: Do not store in an iron container

Item 17:
Q: Su Mu - taste
A: Sweet, Salty, Acrid (Slightly Acrid)

Item 18:
Q: Su Mu - temperature
A: Neutral

Item 19:
Q: Su Mu: entering meridians
A: Heart, Liver, Spleen

Item 20:
Q: Su Mu: Dosage
A: 3-10g; Maximum Dosage: 15g [A: Too complex? Break up into two items?]

My concerns

anonymous wrote:

I am not sure if asking for action 1, action 2, action 3, etc (items 2 to 6), is the best way to go, but I do not want to give the game away by creating cloze deletions. Would you think of a better way of formulating knowledge items for multiple actions and indications for herbs? It would also be nice to retain a correlation between the actions and the indications/syndromes, which is what the table rows on the web page represent.

Similarly, I am not too happy to ask about Su Mu - contraindication 1 to 7 (items 10 to 16), but is there a better way to do it? Cloze deletions could perhaps be used, but then you get an interference between items. In Anki you can define siblings and during reviews siblings are postponed to avoid reviewing the related items (cards) on the same day. I am not keen on it because I do not think there is a way to express this information in a flat text file that can be imported into Anki (or SuperMemo). I believe it is better to randomize a collection and learn siblings at different times. That way the chance of having to review siblings on the same day in the future is minimised.

If one still decided to use cloze deletions, what would be the best way to formulate them for actions and contraindications?

Finally, I want to keep things really simple and would prefer to have a single large collection. There is a way in Anki to create subsets based on filtered items (cards), but I have not investigated this option yet and I am not too concerned about it (perhaps mistakenly).

I would use SM16 now if there was a counterpart on Android - sadly, currently the Android app for SM does not read SM16 databases. But, as I said several times, I do not want to be tied to any solutions and my datasets, in text format, should, by design, be easy to migrate to Anki/SM/Memrise/etc if needed (but without the learning history - sigh).


Your approach is natural, but will quickly cause a lot of problems once you increase the number of items. Large number of items will quickly increase interference, memory lapses, boredom, repetitiveness, and may lead to discouragement (esp. if you are new in the game of large repetition volumes).

Memorizing sets and lists is always a formula for trouble, esp. when you go into hundreds, let alone thousands of items.

In incremental reading, you would try to make this whole work more semantic, more mnemonic, and more entertaining.

For example, you might formulate a topic:

Topic: Su Mu - better circulation, less swelling, less pain, less bleeding 

(better circulation implies all the other actions, unless there is an extra analgesic action)

You turn it fast into items:

Q: Su Mu - [...](systemic action), less swelling, less pain, less bleeding
A: better circulation
Q: Su Mu - better circulation, [...](edema), less pain, less bleeding
A: less swelling 

A hint is tolerable here as better circulation, esp, of the lymph, will have the said effect as well.

Q: Su Mu - better circulation, less swelling, [...](NS action), less bleeding
A: less pain

etc. etc.

Note the mnemonic value of deriving all items from a single sentence. This is a sort of a textual mindmap.

Those examples are just rough ideas. YOU will know best what mnemonic hooks and tricks you might use to make learning fast and enjoyable. Naturally, there is nothing better than a practical use of the acquired knowledge in new and interesting contexts. This should help you color your knowledge without giving away vital memory links that would help you cheat your way into false remembering.


anonymous wrote:

Hmm, I am not sure if incremental reading approach can scale up to the study of hundreds of herbs.

Let's try to solve this problem by re-formulating it as a more general problem. We want to memorize n to m relationships - n herbs can have m actions. Some herbs share the same actions, but they may also have actions that are unique to them. In general, each herb can have many actions, and any single action can be shared by many herbs. It sounds very much the same like studying pharmacology: drugs, their actions, applications, side effects, dosages. Ideally, one would like to memorize the exact wording of each drug's information leaflet.

Before I continue - I did re-read your web page on enumerations: http://super-memory.com/articles/20rules.htm#Enumerations

I want to be able to actively recall all information on each herb, so cloze tests are probably insufficient here: http://www.cluteinstitute.com/ojs/index.php/TLC/article/view/4197/4262 (wait until an inner window opens up and populates)

See: Is cloze deletion an efficient tool in learning?

“This finding is very significant because it suggests that the cloze test which is regarded as a good tool for improving students’ reading comprehension skills may be a perception only. The fact is that it is not true; therefore, it is time for us to re-focus on the teaching of the claimed effective reading strategies...”

I realize that I am up against the challenges posed by enumerations, interference, minimum information principle. Many pharmacology/medical/nursing students struggle with the same problem: http://forums.studentdoctor.net/threads/best-way-to-learn-drug-names-indications.843269/ http://www.nursingshow.com/student-nurse-tips/study-memorizing-drug-info/

People’s ideas on memorising drug info: - flash cards - colours - alphabetic ordering - memorize 2-3 drugs at a time - learn class by class - use acronyms - pictures, songs, memory palaces, funny stories, mnemonics, mind maps

It looks very individualistic - one needs to come up with their own method which works for them, their own mind map / semantic net. Is there no scientifically proven generic method for memorising n to m relationships? I do not expect miracles, I can work hard, but do not want to work harder than necessary.

Answer to Doubts

Piotr Wozniak responded:

  • incremental reading will scale up better than your proposed approach. Only when a large number of items comes into play will interference and monotony start playing a significant role. Those are less noticeable in incremental reading!
  • memorizing n x m relationships is a learning nightmare by definition. Lists, sets and enumerations are prime targets in efficient knowledge formulation! They need to be tackled with mnemonics, with context, or, whenever possible, avoided altogether
  • if you approach a medical student right after completing his degree and ask about n x m relations in pharmacology, you will be amazed or horrified how little straight A students remember! A good student will have a good idea what drugs do, how they work, and will derive a lot of "list knowledge" from the systemic understanding of the human body. A good doctor goes a step further and makes lots of new mnemonic connections with cases she has encountered in real life! Neither a student nor a good doctor excel in n x m fluency. They compensate well by understanding the underlying science of pharmacology.
  • you are right, there is no generalized solution to the problem of memorizing n x m relationships (lists, sets, enumerations, etc.). Human memory has not evolved to memorize enumerations. It needs to be tricked into remembering by various costly techniques. Incremental reading and real-life employment of knowledge are among the cheapest solutions conceivable. Future might bring "implantable Google", but that's still a bit far ahead.


Can we get a commentary about the "clozes are not a good tool" bit?