BOOK REVIEW: Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring Experience (Part 2)

Expertise


The main subject of the Lewicki, Czyzewska & Hill article (above) is expertise, and among their conclusions is that sometimes expertise requires "extended interaction (experience) with some specific areas of reality" including lengthy implicit learning involving acquisition of the "inferential encoding algorithms" ("non-conscious acquisition of complex encoding skills"). There is mention of a "ten-year rule" of thumb among researchers (a minimum of ten years of active experience to achieve true mastery in a particular area.

But they say, "this is not intended to imply that acquiring knowledge in a consciously controlled manner is unimportant in the development of expertise." (footnote, p. 162)

These authors seem ignore of one important way we acquire implicit learning and expertise--possibly because it would present hurdles to their empirical methods. Expertise can also be acquired through unconscious conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge.

One of the most interesting types of implicit learning is where explicit knowledge--or even specific memories--is allowed to be exposed to the "Shh" tract again and again and thus to build up the cognitive unconscious. One can "mindlessly" "run something around in his mind," many, many times, without trying to hold it in the form and meaning it had in its original acquisition. Over a prolonged period (perhaps even ten years!) one might acquire a new store of tacit knowledge side-by-side with the original explicit knowledge (just because the explicit knowledge has been converted to tacit knowledge, the original store of explicit knowledge is not destroyed).

Of course, the newly-acquired tacit knowledge would be in a new form which would require the person to try to figure out just what it is and what it means, and which might require different words to communicate it to others.

This is an important way of acquiring expertise. The expert's knowledge has become "real to him." It has become "a part of him". Rather than being mere "declarative knowledge" to be paraded out as a product of years of schooling, it is what he actually sees when he "looks out at the world."

The mind doesn't get "all the good" out of an experience the first time. It makes use of what it is ready for at the particular instant, and can learn a little more from the same memory each time it is "re-played." What it learns is unpredictable. But every time it gives one a little better grasp of the world.

Humor and Joy in Learning

Humor


One might surmise that the evolutionary function of humor was to make a person feel joy instead of fear when he experiences something that is totally foreign to his existing knowledge structure.

But I think this situation could only occur if the person had closed down his "implicit learning" system, because "implicit" (unconscious) learning automatically integrates new and different experiences, even if they're incongruous. That is its function.

Maybe Nature prepared us with a "sense of humor" to face this exact scenario where instead of keeping our mind open, we for whatever reason did keep our ideas fixed (like "encoding algorithms"!).

Is this system denied to lower forms of life? Why would it be? Of course, they don't have language and so "explicit learning" is denied them. But are they capable of shutting off their unconscious learning system, as humans are, and so hobbling themselves from seeing reality? Are they, like us, capable of keeping their knowledge structure from changing? If so, why wouldn't they too feel the sensation of "humor" (indistinguishable from other instances of joy) just as we do when having a totally incongruous experience? Just because they don't laugh, that isn't proof they don't feel joy!

Chinese sounds can be very amusing to the American ear, especially recordings that are made for children where the speaker is impersonating different literary characters. It is revealing that when listened to "unconsciously" these sounds are no longer amusing at all! They are merely more data to be integrated into the cognitive unconscious.

More About Learning Chinese

More About Learning Chinese


Probably the main stumbling block for Americans in learning spoken Chinese is the tone system. Most people probably find that, whereas the pin yin system is easy to learn, there is "no place" in our minds to put the tones.

What do they mean when they say that?

It is quite common for people to make such statements as "My mind just isn't cut out for math" (or physics, or languages, or etc.).

What that actually means is that they have not begun to grasp the particular subject implicitly. There is nothing like that in their "tacit knowledge" structure. It is "Greek" (or Chinese) to them.

In trying to learn the Chinese tones, they have used their tacit knowledge of English to help them remember the pin yin system. But there is nothing like the Chinese tones in the English language.

Thus the tones (not the handful of tones themselves, but which tone goes with which word) cannot be learned "explicitly". They MUST be learned "implicitly" (unconsciously).

In fact, an English speaker can easily do this, just as a small child in China learns the tones, by putting all his explicit knowledge out of his mind for the moment and listening with "new ears". Young children of either culture have an advantage because they have not yet either learned either the English or the pin yin writing system!

The pin yin system is not an aid to learning spoken Chinese. It is a hindrance. The problem is that when one listens to spoken Chinese, he sees the written (pin yin) word in his mind.

The trick to learning spoken Chinese is to stop oneself from recognizing anything about the spoken word. This includes the written word. The spoken word is not the written word. It is itself, and it includes its tone. Just say "Shh!" to keep the conscious mind from recognizing the individual word in any way.

(It is interesting that when one blocks his conscious mind from recognizing the spoken word, he also blocks it from "seeing" the written word in his mind. This is just more evidence that the "Shh Tract" is an all-encompassing learning tract).

In this manner of listening to the spoken word, one is always (falsely) quite certain that he is not going to remember anything! The cognitive unconscious learns from its own angles and at its own speed. It is mysterious and uncontrollable. It builds itself up, more or less gradually. But it can learn anything.

So the way people usually try to learn the tones is backwards. If one will first listen and learn the words, together with their tones, "implicitly" (unconsciously), the tones will become part of the "tacit knowledge" stored in the cognitive unconscious, and the conscious mind can then look and observe "at a glance" how the tone is made and the rules or patterns under which the tones are used in different circumstances. The trick is in (unconsciously) acquiring the tacit knowledge. That is the whole battle.

BOOK REVIEW: Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring Experience

"Algorthms"


Some scientists claim that all implicit learning does is provide "algorithms" by means of which the conscious mind can "implicitly" acquire new learning. (See: Pavel Lewicki, Maria Czyzewska, and Thomas Hill; "Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring 'Experience': The Dissociation Between Conscious and Nonconscious Cognition," in Scientific Approaches to Consciousness (above), p. 164.

These scientists refer to the existing state of our tacit knowledge, whatever it may be, as constituting our "inferential encoding algorithms."

This is not right. Everything we know we learn via implicit learning. The idea of explicit cognition is just a misapprehension.

"Explicit learning" is a way of understanding supposed "knowledge' which another person claims to have. If "cognition" is one's personal knowledge of reality, "explicit learning" is not cognition. It is not a way to increase one's personal store of "tacit knowledge." Anyone who carefully watches his structure of "tacit knowledge" when "learning from someone else will clearly see that this is true.

Try to define a familiar word without reference to a dictionary. Where do you look? At your tacit knowledge of some aspect of the "outside world." This knowledge is contained in some kind of wordless structure (the so-called "cognitive unconscious," which in fact is available for conscious inspection at any time!).

Now go to the dictionary and look up the same word. Has the act of looking at this definition changed anything about the understanding of the world which is contained in your tacit knowledge structure? After grasping the "official" definition, you may decide to adjust how you use that particular word in trying to describe your tacit knowledge to someone else. But the tacit knowledge structure itself will not have changed in the slightest degree.

The "cognitive unconscious" is not unconscious. It is merely wordless ("tacit") and it is always subject to change, and must be reviewed constantly. It is due to this structure that we see a tree or a leaf instead of a green blotch. But we can also look inward and perceive exactly the same thing, not as a particular manifestation of a tree or a leaf, but as some kind of abstraction, a "conceptual structure" which holds everything we have ever learned about the "outside world." We can observe this structure inside our mind, and we can also observe the structure in the "outside" world which we perceive through the same structure. it is the same knowledge in both places.

This structure is not "learned encoding algorithms that impose preexisting categories or prototypes on encountered stimuli" (Lewicki, Czyzewska & Hill, above, p. 163). It is just knowledge. Tacit knowledge does not impose itself on the "outside world." It is always subject to unpredictable change by any given experience, contingent on the person keeping his mind open to "implicit learning." Of course, he doesn't have to do this, and if he doesn't, his mind will see things in the outside world in terms of his existing tacit knowledge structure, which will remain the same and not change. But if he keeps his mind "open," his tacit knowledge structure will actually change to accommodate the new experience.

If one closes his mind and thus makes his tacit knowledge structure impervious to change, he will always have to consciously fit any new experiences into his fixed "categories and prototypes." "Encoding algorithms" are the defining characteristic of a closed mind.