Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Things We're Poor at Imagining, Concerning Higher-Rung Skills

Another bit of sketching on laddered skills...

There are some things we are poor at imagining, concerning higher-rung skills.

Our ability to develop a higher-rung skill.

We often ask ourselves the question: could I develop my skills beyond their current level to a higher-rung? Our nature seems to be such that, by default, we feel that we can't.

I think this is a flaw in our nature. It's very difficult to really know that you can't develop the skill. All you can really do is work at it, and keep on working at it -- and invariably, if you do this, you will end up being able to do it.

The lesson is: expect to feel that it's not possible, and take no notice of it.

Why do we think we can't? I think a lot of the cause is that we can't see how we could develop them further. But the thing is, you can't see how it happens. It just does, given the appropriate practice.

I think it's also, in part, because we tend to think if something isn't possible at present then that's because it is not possible, full stop. It's clear, if you look at history, that people always tend to think this. Human flight? Ridiculous! Being able to instantaneously talk to someone on the otherside of the world. Impossible! etc etc.

Whether still-higher rungs exist.

Do any higher rungs exist, beyond the highest level of skills that people currently have? This is really just a variation on the previous item.

We like to think we can tell, and we tend to always think the answer is 'no', but it's very difficult to actually rule out the existence of higher-rungs.

Sure, we may not be able to see how there are any, and at present no one may be able to go futher, but these are poor indicators of the actual nature of the task and what is possible.

An example I like is the case of ollies in skateboarding. That's when the skater is skating along and jumps into the air with the board stuck to their feet - or at least, that's how it looks.

Before the ollie was invented, if you had asked people whether they thought such as thing was possible, I think they would have said: no, it's not possible, it can't be done; none of the experts can do it; I can't see any way that it could be possible.

But that's the thing: you can't imagine it. I doubt the invetor created it by thinking of the idea and then going out and praticing it. It probably evolved out of something they once did, perhaps by acident.

What a higher-rung skill enables

We seem to think that we imagine correctly about what a higher-rung skill, that we don't yet have, would enable us to do. We seem to think that what's required for imagining it is the appropriate amount of effort.

While it may be possible to do in some cases, the general case is simply not possible. The only way is to actually have the skill and see what you can do with it. You can't imagine what would happen if you had the skill.

Essentially, being able to do that would require that you could properly simulate having the skill - and that's more complicated than just having the skill, which you don't.

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