Passing on Ideas

Whenever we find ourselves attempting to explain an idea that we do not quite understand we will be putting that idea into words that we understand and not into words that best describe that idea. If one person has a comprehensive understanding of an idea and explains it to another who does not, perhaps due to educational reasons, have the ability to fully understand that idea then when the second person is in a position to explain that idea to another, they will explain it in words that they can understand. This is not always a bad thing. It can be very helpful to be able to simplify complex ideas and explain them in everyday language. But more often the problem is that an idea is passed on like Chinese whispers. For example, person A, with full understanding, explains an idea to person B, and then person B, with limited understanding, explains a simplified (or even wrong) version to person C. Person B’s lack of full comprehension of the idea means that they will explain the idea in a way that cannot possibly do it justice. This is because whenever we are exposed to new information and we have existing or similar ideas to connect to it is more likely to be remembered. Think how easy it is for a spider to attach one string of web to an already well formed web. If you do not have any existing or similar knowledge then the idea will be harder to remember which would be like the spider hanging a single string of web in the air and hoping it will connect with something. This means when you pass on an idea you are limited to only the parts which are connected to your existing knowledge, and if that existing knowledge is little then what you are able repeat to another will be little also. One of the problems is that if we repeat things we do not understand we will often be replicating bad information without being consciously aware of it.

Does this mean we should not pass on ideas if we don’t have a comprehensive understanding of them? This question sheds light on another problem before it attempts to find a solution. The problem is that we are bad judges of our own knowledge; we don’t know what we don’t know. Most of the time when we are regurgitating information given by someone to another we do so thinking we know what we are talking about even if we have no idea. I have written a bit on this and will not tread the same path here. Aside from the aforementioned issue we obviously need to, and will always, pass on information regardless of our level of understanding of it. We should first start by doubting ourselves. This might sound banal but it is the easiest way to make sure we are not unintentionally obfuscating due to our lack of understanding. Knowing that there is a possibility that we are wrong, doubting ourselves, lowers the chance of replicating bad information. The good thing about this solution is that Google is usually always at our finger tips. We can, and do, access unlimited information at any moment of doubt or confusion.

It is not practical, or a good use of mental energy, to doubt everything anyone tells us due to the fact that their statements might not be true. Most of what people tell us we won’t repeat anyway. It is only the things we find ourselves repeating that we should make sure make sense and are based on truth. I could not tell you how many times I have heard something and thrown it out in another conversation as though I was throwing golden fact nuggets only to find out that I am completely wrong. Humbling to say the least. But we can realise that the ideas we personally will be the best at teaching or repeating to others are the ones most similar or related to something we already have a comprehensive knowledge of. A physicist should be much better at explaining math then a fiction writer despite neither of them being mathematicians. This is because a physicist uses, and is exposed to, significantly more mathematics than most, maybe all, fiction writers are. So if you are someone who has a wealth of knowledge of sports, yet very little of horticulture, we can conclude that if someone is explaining hydroponics to you then the amount of information you retain from this conversation cannot possibly be comprehensive due to the inability to connect new information to what you currently know. Although some people are able to find more connections than others and there are techniques for learning to create connections that you normally wouldn’t know exist. It’s easier to remember a name if you have something to associate it with. If you meet someone new and they say their name is Sam then you are more likely to remember it if you have something to connect it to. For example, one might think “Sam, like ‘I do not like them Sam I am, I do not like green eggs and ham’”. You have created a connection and next time you see that person you will be more likely to remember the green eggs and ham line and therefor their name.


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