Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Momentary Lapses

"What does a patent count have to do with intelligence?", I interrupted. "I've known lots of guys with lots of patents who were completely incapable of thought."

At first Sasha seemed ready to plow forward undeterred. Suddenly, like someone who glancing up at his rearview mirror catches a glimpse of a long-lost friend walking along the road, hits the brakes and turns to verify, he stopped talking and turned to look at me. Was I serious? Did I really mean what I'd just said?

Jonathan added, "Yeah, we've known Nobel Laureates who weren't really great at thinking."

Sasha, who has a habit of confusing decoration with substance, looked back and forth at Jonathan and me. It was like the quieting of a tea kettle just before it rolls into full boil. We were, for the lack of a better word, serious, and perhaps not crazy. He hesitated wondering whether or not he there was any merit in what we were saying.

"But, then, how can you tell when people know what they're talking about? I mean, I've got a lot more experience than either of you guys with..."

Noticing our heads moving slowly left and right, he stopped.

"Sasha, I don't care how many degrees or patents or awards you have if what you're saying makes no sense, isn't well reasoned or involves unfounded assumptions", I said, trying to close the gap between his world and ours. "I simply take it all at face value and evaluate it regardless of who you are."

"But, what about expertise and experience?", Sasha pleaded. "You have to take that into consideration."

"I try not to", I replied, "but I must admit a bias against so-called experts. The label tends to be acquired at the onset of non-thought. Expert is often a designation applied to someone with domain-specific knowledge, independent of skill. In the case of skilled expertise, no label is required, the skill speaks for itself. However, in the case of knowledge-oriented expertise, the label tends to get dropped more often than prominent names at a Hollywood party. The more it's invoked, the less I trust what is being said."

Sasha's lips agitated of their own accord trying to form words, but without direction from the command center, nothing intelligible emerged. His entire being seemed consumed in making sense of all the gibberish I'd spouted. Looking into his eyes I could see a thought forming like the first hint of dawn after a cold, dark night. Was the sun really just over the horizon or was it wishful thinking on my part?

In a momentary lapse of Sashaness, he said, "So you really don't care who says something, you just listen to what he says? It doesn't matter if he's a complete novice or an experienced expert?"

"Yes, and no", I responded. "Yes, I simply listen to what is being said, regardless of who says it. No, it does in fact matter whether the speaker is a novice or an expert, but not in the way you think it does."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean this: if someone is an expert, then the likelihood of her simply repeating something she's heard or said before increases significantly. Experts tend towards schtick. However, novices can only spout insights that they've drawn in the moment. You're more likely to get meaningful insight from a novice than an expert unless the expert is disciplined and present."

Jonathan chuckled, "You're living up to your title tonight."

"What, you mean Patron Saint of Lost Causes?"

He chuckled again as Sasha stared across the Dockside lost in thought.

Happy Tuesday,

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