Hardwired to ignore wisdom. Aren't we?



In the last few days I stumbled upon 2 different mediums where I encountered the topic of knowledge transfer from a generation to another, but also valid for same age transfers. The first is "Fooled by Randomness" book (I wrote a review here) and my "Future of Education" Master research that involves watching and mapping all the interesting facts in 160+ TED talks on Education. 

There is good news and bad news.

The good one is a massive push (from civil society, researchers and private sector) towards project-based learning in classes and extra-curricular activities, which promotes the idea of experiential learning. This concept suggests that we learn best when we engage all of our senses (or as many as possible) in learning a new / unknown domain. For example, to best learn about inertia we might build or bring a small trailer into our class and take kids for a ride, continuously changing the speed and trajectory of the "vehicle", then ask kids how did their body react to these changes. 

For the record, here is the definition of inertia from Wikipedia: The resistance of any physical object to any changes in its state of motion (this includes changes to its speed, direction or state of rest). It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity.

    The bad news is, we have the same need for experiential learning even when we grow up and end up running companies or countries. Some might think that the foundation of our progress as a species is built on the knowledge and lessons of previous generations, yet we f**k-up again and again. With all the world's knowledge at our fingertips, somehow we need to make our own mistakes to really learn if something is working on not. Nassim Taleb describes it as "The Hot Stove" problem.

    Quotes from Nassim's book: "[...] it is not natural for us to learn from history. We have enough clues to believe that our human endowment does not favor transfers of experience in a cultural way but through selection of those who bear some favorable traits. It is a platitude that children learn only from their own mistakes; they will cease to touch a burning stove only when they are themselves burned; no possible warning by others can lead to developing the smallest form of cautiousness. Adults, too, suffer from such a condition. [...] This congenital denigration of the experience of others is not limited to children or to people like myself; it affects business decision makers and investors on a grand scale. If you think that merely reading history books would help you learn “from other’s mistakes,” consider the following nineteenth-century experiment. In a well-known psychology case the Swiss doctor Claparède had an amnesic patient completely crippled with her ailment. Her condition was so bad that he would have to reintroduce himself to her at a frequency of once per fifteen minutes for her to remember who he was. One day he secreted a pin in his hand before shaking hers. The next day she quickly withdrew her hand as he tried to greet her, but still did not recognize him. Since then plenty of discussions of amnesic patients show some form of learning on the part of people without them being aware of it and without it being stored in conscious memory. The scientific name of the distinction between the two memories, the conscious and the nonconscious, is declarative and nondeclarative."

    While writing this piece, I asked myself: Is there an age when we need to switch from touching the stove to learning more from existing wisdom... or we are hardwired to have our own experiences, thus mistakes, for a lifetime?

    Please let me know what you think.

    P.S. Enjoy the related video below and #GOexperiment.