Archive for May 7th, 2010

A little experiment III

May 7, 2010

This one is a little bit different, and the associated poll questions are rather vague. I am curious to know what effect it would have on our ability to do routine manipulations if we could look at only one symbol at a time. Maybe at some point after the experiment I will say what my motivation is for this, but for now I want to influence what happens as little as possible.

After the fold, you will find a mathematical expression that can be simplified. Usually, one would look at the expression and take in chunks of it at a time, but I have embedded it in a lot of junk, so that that will not be possible. I want it to be easy to find the individual characters that make up the expression, but not easy to look at more than one at a time, so the non-junk characters are quite widely separated, but they are signalled by being enclosed in dollar signs. For example, to convey the expression e^x I would write something like


Your task, if you feel like participating in the experiment, is to simplify the expression as much as you can in your head. (If you write it down, then obviously it makes it completely pointless for me to have written it in this strange form.) I would then like to hear, in as much detail as you can remember, what thoughts went through your head, and in what order. I am particularly interested in what your eyes were doing and how they interacted with these thoughts. It may not be easy to remember all that, but if you do the best you can then I’ll be happy. (more…)