Donald Norman on the Two Types of Knowledge

An interesting excerpt from Donald Norman’s book The Design of Everyday Things on two types of knowledge.

People function through their use of two kinds of knowledge: knowledge of and knowledge how.

…Knowledge how [is] what psychologists call procedural knowledge.

…Procedural knowledge is difficult or impossible to write down and difficult to teach. It is best taught by demonstration and best learned through practice. Even the best teachers cannot usually describe what they are doing. Procedural knowledge is largely subconscious.

In a way, Norman’s quote reminds me of this excerpt from Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work on thinking by doing.

The current educational regime is based on a certain view about what kind of knowledge is important: “knowing that,” as opposed to “knowing how.” This corresponds roughly to universal knowledge versus the kind that comes from individual experience. If you know that something is the case, then this proposition can be stated from anywhere. In fact such knowledge aspires to a view from nowhere. That is, it aspires to a view that gets at the true nature of things because it isn’t conditioned by the circumstances of the viewer. It can be transmitted through speech or writing without loss of meaning, and expounded by a generic self that need not have any prerequisite experiences. Occupations based on universal, propositional knowledge are more prestigious, but they are also the kind that face competition from the whole world as book learning becomes more widely disseminated in the global economy. Practical know-how, on the other hand, is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived.

Some incomplete thoughts:

Knowledge of is knowing some fact. The world is full of people who ‘know’ stuff. These are the people that can recite facts. They know what something is called. They know the ten ways to write. They know calculus. But they often have difficulty understanding these things at a deeper level. Often, they are domain dependent. That is, they know something only in the context in which they learned it and experience difficulty applying it outside of that context.

We often end up knowing what something is called without really understanding. This is the illusion of knowledge.

The famous physicist Richard Feynman expands on the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

As Charlie Munger says “You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”