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I'd peg it at over 90%, depending on how your define terms.

One of the difficult parts of being a teenager and young adult is that you learn the rhythm and gist of how things operate without actually learning how they operate. This is one of the reasons "being cool" is such a big deal at that age -- the idea is to learn to mimic and fit in with the rest of how society works, not actually to be able to manipulate it. Faking it is much more important than actually doing it. That's what everybody else is doing anyway.

Somewhere in your 30s or 40s (perhaps sooner or later) you realize that much of life is like that: you don't really understand how a car works, only that most of the time you can get in it and go places. When it doesn't work, you take it to another person. She may also not understand what's wrong. But most all of the time she does. If she doesn't, she takes it to another person, and so on. You keep getting closer and closer to total understanding but you never reach 100%. That same pattern applies to medicine, advanced physics, and most everything else. When there's a billion areas of knowledge, even 99% knowledge leaves a helluva lot of holes. There's this surface layer of generalities and half-truths that work so often that it's just not worth diving down into the details on everything else.

On top of that, other people are very happy to share their own generalizations and heuristics, so we're kind of operating in a rumor-of-a-rumor mode. The vast majority of the time it doesn't matter, but sometimes, like when you ask questions about how startups work and most of your surrounding culture gives you bad answers, it does. Most of life isn't a geometric proof built on the linear progress of science; it's a bunch of heuristics strewn together to make something practical that you can use.

What we "know" is a product of generalizations and communications about half-truths from the environment we're in. This is one reason why it's so critical to spend a lot of time challenging the things you think you know, especially in areas that make a big difference to you personally. It also means that you must accept a deep and abiding peacefulness in not knowing very much at all about most of the stuff you actually work with in your day-to-day life.




> you must accept a deep and abiding peacefulness in not knowing very much at all about most of the stuff you actually work with in your day-to-day life

That's how 90% percent of the people think (the ones I only care about using and manipulating to achieve my purposes - not necessarily egotistical purposes, mind it, I might actually ask charity donation from them), but not how I and the 10% I care to hang around with do. For example, you don't kneed to know the details of how a car works, but knowing what an internal combustion engine is and that most breaks work by rubbing two things together and basic stuff like this is what everyone should know - my grandma knows this and she can reason heuristically about this even if she has never been to school and can't read or write. Same about computers - if you are an IT manager or even a sales or marketing guy in something computer related, if, for example, you don't know the difference between compiled and interpreted code and what this has to do with portability and, in consequence, cost of multi-platform development, then you're a mindless tool (probably a bad "tool") and I'll have no respect for you and your rights.

You can't separate how it works type of knowledge from how to use it one, no matter how good the abstractions and UIs are. If it's something you're working with, then you should know the principles of how it works!


A lot of people subconsciously define stupidity as "not knowing what I know" and I'm afraid you've succumbed to the same illness.

Why should you know how an internal combustion engine works in order to drive a car? What's the point in knowing the effects of compiled and interpreted code on portability when so many other factors could make that basic knowledge irrelevant?

You save your actual argument for your last paragraph (you can't use it if you don't know how it works) but you never give any examples or explain why that'd even be plausible.


It's not about what I know, it's just that I make a real effort to understand how the things that I do really work, at least at a basic concepts level. For example when I learned a bit about about how to cook I researched a bit about cooking chemistry, when I go to a foreign country I research a bit about the culture, religion and politics. And so on. And it's less effort than it seems. I think seeing knowledge in general as "fun" and just having fun knowing things for knowledge's sake makes your mind work in an entirely different way. Sure, you can google everything, half of what you know is very imprecise or false, and you forget half of the things you learn shortly after learning them. And having a mind rich in "trivia" may impair you in "think fast" situations and sometimes (though rarely) even make you seem "slow" because your mind is weighing extra facts and connections that may be irrelevant while others get faster to the solution because they don't even know these extra "paths" exist and don't waste time exploring them. But it simply makes you "richer" and in a weird way, happier, and not by inflated self-esteem that you know more than others. I know most people think along the lines of "just live life, use stuff that works and enjoy" but I just can't imagine living like this and I find it hard to have more than a superficial conversation with people that live and see the world this way. About the last paragraph, the answer is: there needn't be any answer. I just choose to think this way and I like people that think more like me and I will respect them more and favor them (even unjustly) in all situations. Maybe "my kind" (or at least the corresponding meme) will have higher chances of survival in the evolutionary game of life, maybe not, it's just the dice I "choose" to play :) (Disclaimer: yeah, "you should" should be "I respect/favor you more if you", and yes, I love good abstractions and UIs and I understand their value).


> But it simply makes you "richer" and in a weird way, happier, and not by inflated self-esteem that you know more than others.

That's how I believe you should frame it. "Explore a little bit more of our world, it's awesome" and not "you're an idiot".

And think about the fact that people that don't know something you do, might also know all sorts of things that you don't.


Why is not knowing things so fashionable these days? Especially in a community of people I'd think would be taking things apart just to learn how they work.

> Why should you know how an internal combustion engine works in order to drive a car?

Easy—so when you go to a mechanic with an exhaust blockage and he tries to sell you a new transmission, you know enough to tell him where to stick his transmission.

Yes, this actually happened to me. Thankfully, I knew enough about cars to know I needed another mechanic.

Obviously not every driver needs to be an automotive engineer or even a technician, but it's a little silly to throw up your hands and give up on knowing anything when the basics aren't that hard to understand.

> What's the point in knowing the effects of compiled and interpreted code on portability when so many other factors could make that basic knowledge irrelevant?

At first, I thought "the effects of compiled and interpreted code on portability" was an absurd thing to talk about. Compiled vs. interpreted is a pretty fuzzy distinction (Java is compiled, but only to bytecode that's then interpreted, but that interpreter just just-in-time compiles to native code anyway), and a compiled language doesn't inherently mean you're stuck on one CPU or OS until you rewrite your whole application—sometimes you just need to recompile it. But then I have the basic knowledge that "compiled" often means "compiled to and shipped as native binaries," which matters a lot if I'm trying to run Jim Bob's Digital Accountant on my SPARC workstation running LunarOS 2.7. If that software's only distributed as a Windows binary, I'm pretty much out of luck (unless I happen to have an emulator handy that interprets Windows binaries, but there's that fuzzy distinction again), but if it's a Java application there's a chance it'll just work, as long as Java's been ported to LunarOS on SPARC.

The moral of this story: you should know this stuff so when people talk about it it's not all nonsensical babbling and you don't have to just smile and nod. And, so you can reason about things and know when someone's feeding you a load of BS.

Or, so you don't go off and, say, write an article on how Apple is going to switch to ARM so they don't have to maintain two separate versions of their applications for phones and tablets vs. laptops because you don't know code doesn't have to be rewritten from scratch for each, but that you do need a different UI on a phone than you do on a laptop.

In general, know more things so the world makes more sense, and so you make more sense interacting with the world.


> In general, know more things so the world makes more sense, and so you make more sense interacting with the world.

No disagreement there. It's good to know things. But it's petty to label people as stupid because they don't know <random fact, skill or theory that you happen to know about> and that's what I was railing against.


most breaks work by rubbing...

At this point, forget, how the pads operate, I'd be happy if people just knew how to spell "brakes"...

I'm not picking on you in particular- I swear it is one of the most frequently misspelled words I read online.


I'd hire anytime a guy who knows how something works over someone who knows how to correctly spell the name of that thing, or even knows how the damned things is called. I've known people way smarter than I am that have way worse spelling, grammar and even basic communication skills than I have. We seriously overvalue communication related skills just because they form one's ..."gift wrapping" (plus the thing with most programmers being pathologically sensitive to grammar and spelling mistakes, but this is somewhat understandable :) ).


I'd hire anytime a guy who knows how something works over someone who knows how to correctly spell the name of that thing, or even knows how the damned things is called.

These things are very frequently closely related in at least one direction. Useful as a filter.

I've known people way smarter than I am that have way worse spelling, grammar and even basic communication skills than I have.

It isn't really the rule, though, is it?


Oh, give them a brake.


I work with the English language every day, and so I have no respect for the rights of people who can't even spell the word "need" correctly. Is that what you're saying? :-)


Instead of comments attacking a geek elitist worldview, I get folks pissed off 'cause I mistyped "breaks" and "kneed" :) ...and I actually find it amusing after almost a dozen whiskey eggnogs ...funny times the holidays :)


This is a great point. Another good example is the "linguistic division of labor", put forth by Putnam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilary_Putnam) wherein it is proposed that language can function (i.e. words have meaning) because people assume there's a person (or people) that can fix the meaning of a certain term. An example: When it was announced in 2011 that researchers have found that the electron was (nearly) a perfect sphere, I had no idea what "perfect sphere" meant in this context, so I appealed to the experts on on PE (http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/10433/what-does-i...).


yeah, rumors, urban legends, folklore, oversimplifications, generalizations, even memes, instead of understanding or even knowing.

This is due to cheap, low quality media, which broadcast and publish any crap imaginable. Pseudo-psychology, pseudo-medicine, pseudo-economics, pseudo-sociology, pseudo-everything.

Just memes made out of other memes. "Sugar is bad, eat fiber". "Paper money is bad, buy gold". "Apple will expand infinitely, buy stocks". "Java is the platform of choice", you name it. And everyone is ready to approve or argue, to express an opinion, based on his own internalized memes.

Uncontrolled consumption of lowest quality media leads to losing ability to see the world as it is, not as some talking heads around describe it.

And all those few standard responses, ready to be displayed whether appropriate or not - not this, then it must be that. lol wut?


This is a remarkable comment, but within it lurks a subtle assertion that deserves to be explicit: 'knowing' is itself somehow important in and of itself.

I'm growing increasingly convinced that this is wrong. Knowledge has value, but it is a strictly secondary value. It's value comes from the things that depend on it. For example, if you're an artisan and/or business person, then your primary driving force is "make stuff people want to buy". In that case, knowledge is indeed very useful for improving your outcomes (from how to build things to what people want to how to how to reach people, etc). If you are a scientist then knowledge is a critical component to building new knowledge--and subsequently defending it. Even that most basic satisfaction, the satisfaction of curiosity, is only a pleasant, transient jolt. (And that pleasure is, alas, so disconnected from the real world that even false knowledge is sufficient to trigger it, much to the chagrin of the habitually skeptical.)

So yes, I think your model is fundamentally correct, that knowledge is an extraordinarily practical thing, designed primarily to know it's limits and find a specialist when that limit is reached. But you missed the outer context that gives meaning to this conversation - the fact that knowledge is merely the handmaiden to another driving force, and a handmaiden only need be "good enough" to reach a minimum acceptable thresh-hold.


> This is one reason why it's so critical to spend a lot of time challenging the things you think you know...

Especially the stuff you really think you know. And the ease of doing so is inversely correlated with the amount of stuff you think you know about topic X.


There's this surface layer of generalities and half-truths that work so often that it's just not worth diving down into the details on everything else [...] This is one reason why it's so critical to spend a lot of time challenging the things you think you know

I don't understand how you got from point A to point B. Where did you actually show that it's critical to be unsatisfied with the system that is worth 99% of the time?


This was a fantastic insight. Thanks for writing.


I love how this spawned a tree with someone demonstrating your point.


>You don't really understand how a car works, only that most of the time you can get in it and go places. When it doesn't work, you take it to another person. She may also not understand what's wrong.

Oh, please! "She"? Let's all ruin the flow of our prose in an attempt at social engineering that probably isn't even worthwhile, shall we? I suppose you didn't bat an eyelash at Denzel Washington as savant pilot Whip Whitaker either.


I don't even understand the purpose of it. What percentage of car mechanics is female? Less than 5%? Now I'm thinking about whether any given car mechanic is most likely to be male or female and am completely distracted from the point she is trying to make.


Sounds like a personal problem. I didn't even notice.


Yes. It's a personal problem. I made that evident by writing from the 1st person as evidenced by the usage of the word "I". And it clearly didn't affect only me as evidenced by the upvotes on my comment as well as the one one level above mine.


I didn't even notice this, perhaps that says something.


It jarred me... and not because the concept of female mechanics is strange to me (it is not any more strange to me than the concept of female programmers or female gamers) but because it really felt forced and I looked and the commenter had a male-sounding name making me feel like it was forced.


If the parent had used "he", would you be complaining?


No, because like it or not, "he" is the de facto pronoun for a person of irrelevant gender.


No, "he" is the default generic.


In addition to the point made by the other two users who responded to you, the overwhelming majority of car mechanics are men.


Social Engineering?




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