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Thread: Experience & Knowledge

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    Experience & Knowledge

    Largely, throughout the course of my life I have held what may be a strong misconception---that, all else being equal, it is wiser to rely on the advice of older people who have accumulated more experience than it is relying on the advice of younger people who have not. That comes into play when I go to a doctor, for instance. If there were 5 to choose from, and there was no other known basis to favor one or the other, I would rank my preferences with the oldest doctor being the highest (though if they were old enough, a case could be made that their cognitive functions have degraded). The same instinct runs when choosing a lawyer, a financial adviser, and many other fields. Even in our own work, when we start a new job or new position there is a learning curve. As you get more comfortable and practiced and you collect more knowledge, then you can make wiser choices and do your job more efficiently.

    At other times though, it seems that being older would be more of a liability than an asset. Yes, you would have more experience under your belt still. However, it can also mean that you are entrenched in a certain (flawed) mindset and are not as open to innovative ideas (which are more justified). It hinders you from obtaining new knowledge. When going into a computer store, I would favor a (relatively) younger salesperson in their 20s or 30s over someone in their 50s or 60s, when it comes to helping me select the newest and most useful computer hardware for my needs. Probably the same when going to a car mechanic to help fix the engine.

    A couple months ago the first-ever images of a black hole were produced by a team of scientists, and one striking feature is that those scientists, engineers, astronomers, etc. were largely not a group of middle-aged or elderly people, but rather they looked like a bunch of kids in their 20’s and 30’s. Why would it be that a group of relatively young people made this significant discovery, rather than a group of older and more experienced people?

    So I am trying to reinterpret what the relationship is between experience and knowledge. It seems having knowledge would be the end goal, while having a long history and experience in a field can sometimes be an asset towards achieving that goal, but at other times can be a liability. Do you agree or disagree? How should we determine which is which?

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    Years doing something and years of learning from experience aren't the same thing.

    Gaining knowledge looks like this:

    Code:
    Knowledge = Propensity to learn * Experience * Relevance of Experience
    And not:

    Code:
    Knowledge = Experience

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    That formula looks right. Those qualities just cannot realistically be quantified though. It seems we have to rely more on intuition to give a ballpark estimate than an exact number.

    Also, "propensity to learn" can decrease as we get older and more entrenched in our old mindsets, which is sometimes why those in younger generations and with newer ideas can advance knowledge.

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    Overwhelming when you actually have to make a decision, isn't it.

    It all depends. In engineering at least from my experience all experience and little thery and knowledge, and all thery and knowledge and little experience are equally bad.

    The image of a PHD who can't apply simple theory but can recite endless theory from memory. I have certainly known people like that.

    To me knowledge grows from waking on hard problems. Knowledge meaning developing the ability to apply what has been learned.

    Look at Trump. A lot of experience in con artistry and financial success, but in the real world inept at organization and lacks knowledge.

    From to own experience I knew Trump would never be able to assemble a functional Whitehouse from his campaign and bios.

    The word to describe knowledge and experience to me is competence. How good you are at what you do. When you make a choice of a doctor or lawyer or plumber for that matter all you can go by is reputation, references, and experience.

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    I would refrain from making general rules here. People certainly have a trajectory and therefore behave in a way which is somewhat predictable. Yet, they live in a dynamic environment and are affected by countless events which make them particles subject to a mostly Brownian movement, i.e. unpredictable. Most people also are not what they seem to be. Taking the picture of a Black Hole is old news and mostly irrelevant to the problems of the world. The main difference between the older person and the younger one it that older people know stuff but don't want to share while younger people are eager to exchange with other people but mostly have little to say of interest. Stuff happens because we're an organised community. There are literally tens if not hundreds of millions of intellectual workers today throughout the world. Communication and organisation are key. You can't tell in advance who is going to help and who will turn out to be a waste of time. So, at a personal level, luck is paramount. Brownian movement luck. Still, you could start by helping yourself. Your brain is a super-computer and it's available to you and only to you. Use it.
    EB

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian63 View Post
    That formula looks right. Those qualities just cannot realistically be quantified though. It seems we have to rely more on intuition to give a ballpark estimate than an exact number.

    Also, "propensity to learn" can decrease as we get older and more entrenched in our old mindsets, which is sometimes why those in younger generations and with newer ideas can advance knowledge.
    Agreed, and that's what people usually do until they have more information. If you're the right age, gender, colour etc for whatever you're doing, you get automatic benefit of the doubt.

    What's even more interesting is that when you get high enough up the ladder to positions like CEO, we usually elevate people who look the role exclusively, rather than those who are actually good at it.

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    Veteran Member Brian63's Avatar
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    In the OP I listed some examples, but one I omitted was a recent instance where I was debating an older conservative Christian family member about religion. I was making arguments for my worldview, and in the ~70 years that she has been living on this Earth she had never given any thought to the points I was thinking about when I was ~10 years old (or wherever I was starting to suspect that Santa was not real). Still, she responded back, not with specific counter-arguments to my points, but rather very vague and fuzzy general truisms about life and how not everything is easy. Sparing you the details of her responses, I will just say that she was not supporting her actual case in the slightest. I suspect she thought that simply being older than me gave her a default advantage in acquired wisdom. Really it just means she has spent so many decades of her life not challenging her flawed beliefs, and holding them as dogmatically true instead. It was a sad sight to see.

    This phenomenon comes into play not just when we are trying to decide which other experts or specialists to hire for some project or treatment, but also how we ourselves maintain our own views. Generally, the older we get the more we (mistakenly) think that makes us more an expert than we really are. Maybe a parallel to Dunning-Kruger.

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    Fair dinkum thinkum bilby's Avatar
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    People in general mostly don't like to learn new things, particularly when they can rely on the old things that they already put in the effort to learn.

    An older person in a fairly static field is likely to have learned the same things as his younger colleagues, plus some stuff he picked up as experience that wasn't taught in his original training. So in that case, the older guy is the better choice, all else being equal.

    In a highly dynamic, rapidly developing field, the basic training today is likely to include stuff that an older practitioner would not have encountered in his training decades earlier; And it's a crapshoot whether he has encountered and been forced to learn that stuff as part of his experience. In that case, the younger guy is your better choice.

    If you are picking an orthopaedic surgeon, the older doctor may be the better choice. If you are looking for an oncologist, I would recommend picking a younger one.

    But more important than age is interest. An expert of any age who is really keen to learn the latest way of working, is far better than someone who is doing it for the paycheck. That's true whether it's a plumber or an oncologist.

    A time-server who knew enough to get by in the exams when he first qualified, and has learned nothing since, is a poor choice whether he qualified last year, or four decades ago.

    There's a VAST difference between someone with forty years of experience, and someone with a year of experience, that is thirty nine years out of date.

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