Saturday, August 22, 2020

Knowing Things Is Not the Same Thing as Understanding Them

 


                                                  (One of Linda's plants, in our front yard.)

Is the internet making people experts? Even geniuses?

No. To understand why, read Tom Nichols' The Death of Expertise. It's both brilliant and troubling, hilarious and scary. I'm re-reading it, so as to better understand it.

Nichols writes:

"Knowing things is not the same as understanding them. Comprehension is not the same thing as analysis. Expertise is not a parlor game played with factoids."

You might be able to find a few factoids on my wife Linda. But this doesn't mean you understand her. We've been married for 47 years, and have spent much of that time growing in our understanding of one another. To understand someone takes time. And, that time must be spent in a certain way. Deep understanding of almost anything is a slow cooker.

My personal physician tells me to resist diagnosing myself on the internet. Yes, I can cite a few factoids with maybe a little understanding here and there. But he has treated actual patients for decades. I have not. Therefore, he understands much that I never will.

Merely citing facts does not equal understanding.

I taught critical thinking (logic) for 18 years at our county community college. Probably, you haven't. So maybe, just maybe, I comprehend things in this area that you do not.

And, of course, you comprehend things in areas I am unfamiliar with. I have friends who have been in the homebuilding profession for years. I have not. Therefore, they have wisdom that I could not acquire by internet self-education.

Nichols's dangerous idea is that people see themselves as knowledgeable as experts. Often, this has horrific outcomes. He writes:

"While there are self-trained experts, they are rare exceptions. More common are the people seeking quick entry into complicated fields but who have no idea how poor their efforts are. They are like the moderately entertaining karaoke singers who think they have a chance to become the next winner of American Idol, or the scratch golfers who think they might take a shot at going pro. Doing something well is not the same thing as becoming a trusted source of advice or learning about a subject." (P. 37)