The Professional Necessity of Others

From Matthew B. Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head:

For experiences to become part of the secure, sedimented foundation of a skill, they must be criticized.  Otherwise people (and the resources of language) are indispensable.  Without them, your experiences are partial, and may sediment as idiosyncratic bad habits.

The power of these conversations to clarify your experience, rather than introduce fresh confusion, depends in part of the dialectical abilities of your colleagues.  They have to be able to interrogate their own experience into the conversation in such a way that their initial interpretation of it is put at risk.  They have to be capable of offering it up, without undue attachment, to the shared enterprise of trying to understand  structure fires.  In other words, they must have the art of philosophical conversation (which is a kind of moral accomplishment).  I believe the most competent people in any field do have this art to some degree, though they probably wouldn’t name it as such.

Getting things right requires triangulation with other people . . . It typically happens in conversation– not idle chitchat, but the kind that aims to get to the bottom of things.  I call this an “art” because it requires both tact and doggedness.  And I call it a moral accomplishment because to be good at this kind of conversation you have to love the truth more than you love your own current state of understanding.  This is, of course, an unusual priority to have, which may help to account for the rarity of real mastery in any pursuit.

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