Sunday, February 9, 2014


The following thoughts are connected to a short discussion about this article (Not well thought through as yet, so I apologize if they are muddled):

And also related to Jake Steinmann's blog post:

The discussion started with the comment that there are 'too many experts already' - Referring to the plethora of self titled experts on the internet, but also to lineages of 'experts', given a title through study, but perhaps study of something not exactly satisfying the standards of scientific rigor ... ahem ....

So the discussion moved on to whether there really are experts, whether they are 'useful', and what really separates an expert in a field from anyone else with an opinion?

Of course.
How about credentials? (Containing the implied reputation of the institute of study).
And how about track record in problem solving, or doing something for the common good? Is that a prerequisite?

.... But what if there are experts with experience and good credentials, yet who still get things wrong and cannot seem to predict outcomes or solve problems within their field? Are they still 'experts'?

After all, there are people who have studied how weather works for years and years ... yet who cannot predict or explain certain phenomena? Surely they are experts in their field? But the farmer who has worked the land for their whole life and has watched the weather through those many years .... They too are experts, right? And perhaps they are better at passing on their knowledge to others than theorists or someone building computer models ...?

OK ... Flip to the other end of the equation ... the non expert. We are all non-experts in most things, and need experts to help understand those things we do not know.

There is obviously not enough time in one life to understand everything about the universe, so, we hire a builder to build our house, we take our car to the mechanic, we go to school to learn about mathematics, or ceramics, and we might hire a guide if traveling in a place that is unfamiliar and dangerous.

All these practical skill sets that are fairly easy to rate. The house does not leak, the car works, 2+2 is 4 etc ...... But what of those knowledge sets that are harder to quantify in real life? Economics? Psychology? History?

Seems like you can be an expert here and still be dead wrong in your conclusions ..... So what does that mean? Is 'coming to a conclusion' the place where expertise fails? Or are those people really not experts at all?

Perhaps you can only be an expert in 'things' .... but not in thinking ..... Unless there is a way of seeing if your conclusions hold up in reality. (And where the edges of that reality are is another question ...)

I guess experts can be problem solvers, but perhaps a better description of true experts are those people that can see the right questions that need to be asked. See things as they really are ... the real problems that need to be solved, not just pull ideas out of the air as possible answers .......


Jake said...

Cool stuff. I want to comment on this, but apparently, my son's nap will be short today, so this will be a placeholder.

Jake said...

Okay then!

The question of "expertise" is interesting, especially when you're dealing with fields that hard to quantify.

Coach Blauer has this concept of a "subject matter expert" vs. a "substance matters expert". The former just knows a bunch of facts (they've "memorized someone else's material"). The latter gets the substance underneath the facts. They can take that knowledge and apply it in other ways.

Maybe true expertise is in understanding how to think about the knowledge, and help others think about it? Although that puts all experts in the role of teachers. I don't know if that's right or not.

Maija said...

Well there's the thing, see ..... Does not 'expert' imply some kind of 'relational' element?
Should not the title be given to you by others, like traditionally 'Maestro' was in old school FMA?
There was an implication that people KNEW you were an expert ... because of what you had done, what you had contributed -'You got a question about horseshoes. A problem? Want to learn how to shoe horses?'
Go see 'John Smith', he's the best farrier in town' Kind of a thing.

So I think the idea that experts should be teachers is not far off the mark .... Even if they just write their ideas down in an academic paper, or a book, for others to read.

I don't think you can claim the title yourself, or be one in isolation.

And as to the subject matter vs substance matter experts. How would you know the difference unless you were interacting with them and their field of expertise? It has to pass to you for you to be able to tell .... And perhaps therein lies the issue. If there is no real life context to test it .... it's hard to differentiate.

My Bagua teacher said that this is why there are 'systems' .... If the system is good and the student is smart, the teacher does not really need to understand the substance behind the material ... it should be IN the system (if the system is well designed).
OTOH, if the teacher understands substance, and the student is smart, the system is not that important. And finally, a smart system and a talented teacher do not need a smart student.

His theory is that you need 2 out of the 3, and this is why systems were invented - to help preserve good ideas through the less than smart hands the information travels through.

Of course we know that this idea has failed too, but I can see the logic in it, at least it tries to mitigate misunderstandings ......

Jake said...

Hmm. Your teacher's idea is very interesting. I don't know that it always works, but the idea makes sense. Of course, humans screw up the systems, think they're smarter than they are, etc...

I agree that the title of "expert" should be given from the outside, though, again, we know that in our society, that doesn't always happen (how many self-promoted grandmasters are there out there?).

The issue with subject vs. substance is definitely one of testing, or at least context. But as you pointed out, some things don't lend themselves well to testing. Even in the martial arts, to some degree, this is true.

Maija said...

I think this is why I am quite obsessed with finding the 'edges' or the limits of things.
Perhaps on some level we can all claim knowledge ... if not expertise in certain subjects ... it's just we need others to point out to us where the edges of this knowledge are - Hence the need for some honorable enemies :-)

Jake said...

Honorable enemies are really handy :-)