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I was reading Marvin Minsky's The Society of Mind:

This (practice makes perfect) is really is quite curious. You might expect, instead, that the more you learned, the slower you would get-from having more knowledge from which to choose! How does practice speed things up?

Another related observation is that more practice also make things less effortful, to the extent that people can "autopilot" after practicing for long enough, like driving. But what makes this shift from consciousness to unconsciousness possible? What happens in the process?

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The cortex and more of the higher centers are involved in a process when we first learn it. For example it has been tested that basketball players can improve by simply thinking about shooting baskets and not actually doing it. Prior to puberty a lot of neurological " pruning" takes place. This was eloquently discussed in Satinovers book " The Quantum Brain" which talks about models of machine learning based on our understanding of the human brain. Once a process has been repeated over and over again several things seem to happen and one is definitely that neural pathways are reinforced and neural connections get stronger the more we use them. This is only part of the picture however. It appears that older parts of the brain, things closer to what we would call " reflexes" can take over a process that has been rehearsed over and over again. This would be a process occurring in the cerebellum that once required the cortex to fully participate in the process before it was rehearsed over and over. My college piano teacher told me that even though i had not practiced piano a lot in my 20's it would still be easier for me to learn piano again because i studied in my teens. This is an example of the neural connections being maintained even after years of non use, though anecdotal of course, but certainly there are millions of such examples. Hope this explanation helps. Now everyone go get that 10 000 hours in and become experts. :)

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There is a good book about this called The Talent Code. To sum it all up, when you are learning a skill, your entire nervous system is literally rewiring itself. Your myelin and neural pathways begin to restructure. The more a given skill is embedded in your nervous system, the more auto pilot it becomes. The more autopilot the skill becomes, the more it enables you to focus on higher level functions within the context of the skill since you have more attention freed.

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When you try to learn something your brain sends signals over the same path everytime. By going over that path over and over again the connection becomes stronger and stronger. Like an engravement.

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