Part 2: Why Amateurs Are Sometimes Better than Experts at Conveying Information


Most of the people I have met are dynamic individuals who adhere to complex philosophies and value systems.  Further, they are not static beings; rather, they change and grow with the seasons (or sometimes over a period of days or weeks).  These men and women also sometimes posit questions which have no easy answers--perhaps no final answer at all.  They may ask, "What is the meaning of life?"; "Is my view of morality correct or are their deficiencies to it?"; "Does God exist?"; etc.  People often need (and utilize) information and guidance from external sources in order to help them answer these very personal, yet nuanced and byzantine questions.

At the same time, most human beings live in a complex world.  In order to thrive personally, spiritually, financially, they have to engage in a wide variety of tasks that require knowledge of economics, philosophy, ethics, sociology, math, and history to name only a few disciplines.  Even if they do not have to directly rely on information from these fields, they will have to use skills that derive from these areas of study.  For instance, if I will use logic, statistics, or a similar technique to help me assay differences in insurance policies or home loans, or to decide whether to fold or raise in a poker game.  I might rely on local history to help me craft a solution to a long-standing, land dispute issue or to renovate a Victorian era house.  I will certainly need to draw on some skills to help me navigate customer disputes or employee problems, etc.  In these and in other ways all of us (or at least most of us), utilize information or methods from academic fields of study to help us successfully navigate around or through the events, problems, and conundrums which comprise our daily lives.

Even if we could somehow get through our daily lives without having to face any complex tasks or problems, most of us (at least those living in democratic nations) would still need to draw upon a diverse, nuanced set of skills and knowledge areas when we take on the role of voter.  In our current age, a person who vets candidates using reason and care, as opposed to, for instance, choosing a favorite based on his/her hairstyle or height), needs to have at least a modicum of understanding of economics, history, philosophy, and a hundred other fields.  In fact, they might sometimes have to possess a solid understanding of a field in order to assess a candidate's positions in relation to those posited by his/her opponents.

Added to these issues, the world seems to be changing faster than ever.  I don't just mean in terms of population or demographics.  In modern societies at least, our political, cultural, economic, and philosophical/ethical norms change at a speed that would be utterly amazing to someone living just a century or two ago (perhaps to individuals living just a few decades ago).  It seems that new ideas today become cliched tomorrow.  The same rapid change also impacts our material lives--everything from the foods we eat to the cars we drive, to the phones we use, change rapidly.  How long have smartphones been the "in thing?"

In short, most people, including myself, ask difficult questions which do not have any easy answers.  They live in complex worlds where they have to interact with people from a variety of different cultures.  They have to confront and solve complex problems on a daily basis.  They are also tasked with choosing the best leaders for their respective countries--a difficult thing to do.  Finally, they have to accomplish all of these things in a world that is constantly on the move.  In order to succeed in this environment, they need to draw upon a wide range of skills--sometimes on short notice.  The notion that experts can satisfy the needs of this population is antiquated.  Sometimes they can; however, more often than not, amateurs--people like you and me--are best able to help their fellow men and women to access the skills and information necessary to thrive in today's world.  There are several reasons why amateurs excel at this task.

Conclusion coming soon....


  1. My position on this is that experts, in being highly trained, are certainly able to tease away the more complex nuances of a question -- however, these same complications that they factor into their answer gives them another avenue by which they may overlook or make an inaccurate judgment, compared to the rather straightforward perceptions of an amateur.

    For example, a distantly related way to look at it would be to ask a child what they wanted to be when they grow up; assuming they say a scientist or engineer, you could ask them how they would accomplish this. I'd guess they'd have a general answer, such as "study hard in school." Of course realistically, it can be broken down on an infinitely more precise way than that, e.g., get accepted into a program, focus on your interests and find a faculty member who shares your interests, take prelims and quals, publish, finish your dissertation -- all while hoping your project goes as planned (which it most certainly doesn't), and at every step of the way something can happen that derails every subsequent step.

    Ah, the innocence of youth!

  2. I sometimes wish I could go back to approaching problems with a "youthful/amateurish" outlook. It would make life simpler for a bit--until I actually had to deal with all of the issues that came about due to poor planning.

    Nonetheless, I think I've given up something--perhaps some of my zeal for life, youthful energy, etc.--in exchange for a greater awareness of the complexity of issues, life, etc.

  3. When you put it this way, your point is impossible to fault. Great post.