Tag: Matthew Crawford

The Difference Between “Knowing That” and “Knowing How”

The focus right now in our education system is on a certain type of knowledge: “knowing that” as opposed to “knowing how.”

The difference is somewhat experiential.

Matthew Crawford explains in this excerpt from Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work:

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 throught 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.

If you think of the education system for a minute you understand that we’re trying to efficiently teach people to know things but not understand them. In this sense, we take a partial view of knowledge.

We take a very partial view of knowledge when we regard it as the sort of thing that can be gotten while suspended aloft in a basket. This is to separate knowing from doing, treating students like disembodied brains in jars, the better to become philosophers in baskets—these ridiculous images are merely exaggerations of the conception of knowledge that enjoys the greatest prestige.

To regard universal knowledge as the whole of knowledge is to take no account of embodiment and purposiveness, those features of thinkers who are always in particular situations.

Matthew Crawford: “We’re not as free and independent as we thought.”

“We have a generation of students that can answer
questions on standardized tests, know factoids,
but they can’t do anything.”

— Jim Aschwanden

***

Despite the metrification of the modern workplace, we still lack for objective standards that lack ambiguity in terms of credit and blame. The complexity of work generally means that one person doesn’t work alone anymore. They are part of a team. This rise of teamwork makes it difficult to trace individual responsibility.

This is not unique to employees. In Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, philosopher, and mechanic Matthew Crawford writes:

Managers themselves inhabit a bewildering psychic landscape, and are made anxious by the vague imperatives they must answer to. The college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker, and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in. He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, an affable complaisance. Is all his hard work in school somehow just for show—his ticket to a Potemkin meritocracy? There seems to be a mismatch between form and content, and a growing sense that the official story we’ve been telling ourselves about work is somehow false.

There is more:

A washing machine, for example, surely exists to serve our needs, but in contending with one that is broken, you have to ask what it needs. At such a moment, technology is no longer a means by which our mastery of the world is extended, but an affront to our usual self-absorption. Constantly seeking self-affirmation, the narcissist views everything as an extension of his will, and therefore has only a tenuous grasp on the world of objects as something independent. He is prone to magical thinking and delusions of omnipotence. A repairman, on the other hand, puts himself in the service of others, and fixes the things they depend on. His relationship to objects enacts a more solid sort of command, based on real understanding. For this very reason, his work also chastens the easy fantasy of mastery that permeates modern culture. The repairman has to begin each job by getting outside his own head and noticing things; he has to look carefully and listen to the ailing machine.

The repairman is called in when the smooth operation of our world has been disrupted, and at such moments our dependence on things normally taken for granted (for example, a toilet that flushes) is brought to vivid awareness. For this very reason, the repairman’s presence may make the narcissist uncomfortable. The problem isn’t so much that he is dirty, or uncouth. Rather, he seems to pose a challenge to our self-understanding that is somehow fundamental. We’re not as free and independent as we thought.

Betty Crocker: Why You Need to Add Ingredients to Your Cake Mix

Here’s a great example of how our minds are wired in a way that can have some interesting impacts.

In Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work Matthew Crawford writes:

Back in the 1950s, when the focal practice of baking was displaced by the advent of cake mix, Betty Crocker learned quickly that it was good business to make the mix not quite complete. The baker felt better about her cake if she was required to add an egg to the mix. So if the Warrior were to be christened with a street name, an apt one might be the Betty Crocker Cruiser, forged as it is in the Easy Bake Oven of consumerism.

This must be a derivative of The IKEA Effect, whereby we value things more if we have to work for them.

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.”