Friday, February 1, 2019

Passwords and Muscle Memory

Brent Simmons:

What I realized is that — probably for many years — I didn’t actually know my password. I couldn’t have told you what it is. I just relied on my fingers to know it. And since it always worked, I never thought to question it.

And then, one day at random, my fingers failed. And the more I tried to figure it out — trying things that seemed likely — the more I worried I was fuzzing my muscle memory.

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I wonder if Brent was particularly stressed at the time? I once forgot the four-digit PIN to my bank card while trying to get money out to buy an important Christmas present on Christmas Eve (oops.) It came back to me a few hours later, once I'd calmed down...

Reminds me of playing piano. When you first learn a piece, you're reading the sheet music and are consciously moving your hands appropriately. As you play it more often, your muscle-memory starts taking over - your brain is associating the expected sounds with the appropriate muscle movements and you stop thinking about the specific notes you're playing.

After a while, this becomes so ingrained that it becomes difficult to play from the sheet music, because it ends up becoming a distraction. And if you stop playing for a while, your half-remembered muscle memory can make it more difficult than it was when you were just starting out (and reading the sheet music).

And if you're ever forced to play a simplified version from non-standard notation (e.g. playing Rock Band 3 in Pro Keyboard mode), it can be downright painful, because your muscle memory keeps on directing your hands to places different from where the game wants.

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