Subject: Re: explanation
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 29 Sep 2002 05:31:31 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Jacek Podkanski
| Perhaps you are an expert with years of experience, but I am not. I realise
| I ask daft questions and this one probably isn't last. You might feel upset
| that someone asked such obvious question.

  It is not your "daft" questions that bother me, it is that you put people who
  answer you in an impossible situation.  You ask people to confirm that you
  are right or correct you if you are wrong.  This is actually unworkable.  It
  may work for trivial questions of fact, but philosophical-like questions
  cannot be dealt with that way.  And programming languages carry philosophies
  that you need to grasp before you grasp the programming language.

| Tell me haw many years ago last time you asked a question which could be
| daft to an expert.  Even if it was ages ago you had to start somewhere.

  Here you assume that everybody else is just like you.  This is just not the
  case.  Until you realize that you have a counter-producitve approch to the
  whole knowledge-acquisition process, you will not really figure anything out,
  but you will /think/ you do.  The desire you exhibit to be /correct/ is the
  only thing that is really "daft" here.  Things are not "correct".  When you
  are in the learning phase, things have a different meaning than when you are
  more experienced.  Concepts are usually disconnected when you new to a field
  and sentences change meaning as you connect the underlying concepts.

  I have always been humble towards knowledge I do not have, of systems I do
  not know, of philosophies that I do not know.  What makes it able to learn
  very quickly is that I listen to what experienced people say and ask them the
  questions that will help me connect things.  My goal is understand as deeply
  as possible what is going on around me.  I have no use for sentences whose
  meaning I do not know, but which other people say is "correct".  If I base my
  reasoning on a misunderstanding of a "correct" statement, I shall have very
  significant problem clearing this up.  When asked, the likelihood that I will
  repeat a "correct" statement, but meaning something other than other people
  interpret it to mean, is very significant.  Many people have found themselves
  flunked after believing misunderstandings of "correct" statements.  Back when
  I helped fellow students, this was in fact /the/ most significant cause of
  their problems.  More often than not, they could repeat textbook statements
  flawlessly, but made the oddest reasoning from them.  I discovered that in
  the teaching position, the largest problem is to discover the last point at
  which the student had actually understood things, such you coul revert to
  that position and fix the first mistake out of that state.  Many students are
  unable to think clearly and therefore muddle through a mess of guesswork and
  random connections, where they are unprepared for the scrutiy of their
  thinking that debugging it necessarily entails.  The largest problem I have
  seen in my own and fellow students was been a lack of thinking skills.  Most
  people are simply unskilled at thinking and have "succeeded" with fairly
  idiotic ersatz devices until they really have to grapple with abstract ideas
  and then feel stupid even though they are quite intelligent by nature (so
  they have managed to keep their lack of thinking skills a secret from both
  themselves and others).  Now, depending on whether their self-esteem is based
  in the belief that their intelligence is under attack if they make stupid
  mistakes or whether it is based in the certainty that they are intelligent
  enough to get out of any situation they might wittingly or unwittingly get
  themselves into.  Those who believe their intelligence cannot be as high as
  they had hoped if they make stupid mistakes generally tend to have brittle
  egoes and therefore incorrigible and just continue on their erroneous path
  and eventually arrive someplace useful, from where they will announce loudly
  that they were never wrong to begin with.  This personality trait tends to
  waste enormous amounts of effort in protecting their brittle self-esteem.
  The other kind, who trust their intelligence to get them through anything,
  will react to a realization that they made a stupid mistake with an apology,
  almost, and then work hard to correct it.  All their energy goes into making
  sure they get things as right as possible, but no obsessive compulsions about
  being correct at any time. More than anything else, methological differences
  like this predict future ability to deal with the unexpected and unknown.  If
  you believe you have to /be/ correct, you will make many mistakes.  If you
  believe you can always /become/ correct, you will be correct most of the time.

  Just because you are a novice does not mean that you ask "daft" questions.
  You do not have to be an expert to realize that "correct me if I'm wrong" is
  a recipe for grave mistakes and serious confusion down the line.

  Just over three weeks ago, I wrote a scathing review of a manuscript on the
  Semantic Web, after having spent another three weeks with that manuscript.
  Then I visited my local library and talked with their staff and learned that
  the 5th edition of the Norwegian adaption of the Dewey Decimal Classification
  was just around the corner.  I acquired the books and got all excited about
  the ability to use this enormous and ongoing work for managing the "ontology"
  of the Semantic Web.  I have since then been communicating with almost 50
  people in national libraries in Norway, England, Germany, and the U.S., and
  several large public libraries in Norway.  According to some, I have come up
  to speed in two weeks compared with the two years fresh college students in
  information and library science require to understand the same isuses.  This
  is not because I am old and very experienced and have always learned quickly,
  but because I /listen/ to people who more than I do and because I am willing
  to put in 16 hours a day to learn something from the best available sources.
  Keep learning new things by spending two hours studying something you have no
  immediate use for as a daily routine for three decades, and you just know a
  lot and can connect a lot more dots than if you only learn while "forced" to
  by teachers and exams and the like.  Add good methodology and things come
  real easy after a while.  With no "daft" questions in sight.  Avoiding stupid
  questions is /not/ intractable, just ask intelligent questions, meaning those
  whose answers actually mean something to you personally and actually help you
  understand something at your current level of expertise.

  Some say there are no stupid questions, but this is a lie.  A stupid question
  is a question to which the answer would not benefit the questioner.

| It's just easier sometimes to get an answer from a human than looking
| for it through the books.

  Books give you the clear advantage that you learn at your own pace.  The
  books were written by people who were trained in presenting the material in a
  pedagogical manner, their manuscripts went through several drafts, and the
  people who reviewed it have slaughtered parts of it and encouraged other
  parts.  A book is an immense cooperative project.  Any given individual you
  ask will require a personal rapport with your prior understanding before he
  can provide you with useful and contextually relevant and correct answers.
  You need to be aware of this process when you ask questions and receive
  answers to them.

Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway                 Today, the sum total of the money I
                                          would retain from the offers in the
more than 7500 Nigerian 419 scam letters received in the past 33 months would
have exceeded USD 100,000,000,000.  You can stop sending me more offers, now.