Thursday, March 12, 2009

Can Knowledge be a Disadvantage?

Consider these scrambled thoughts:

A contestant in a musical show sings a song with a lot of passion in front of two experts who are listening to him with the intention of judging him. One of the judges is aware that the singer is not formally trained in the genre that forms the theme for that particular round but is also familiar with the overall strengths and the general potential of the singer. The second judge, meanwhile, knows absolutely nothing about the singer except what the latter exhibits in the performance under question.

The passion with which the singer performs is something that the average listener is able to relate to and appreciate. But how do you think the judges will respond? Would the judge who has knowledge of the singer's background be subconsciously biased against his performance? Would this judge subconsciously focus on the technical drawbacks of the performance rather than its 'total soul'? Subsequently, would focusing on the technical gaps alone result in the judge calling it just a 'good' performance while the other judge is likely to label it as an 'awesome' performance? What impact does such knowledge have on decision making? Is it good or bad?

Is this another variant of the 'curse of knowledge' popularized by Chip and Dan Heath?' Taking a tangential leap from this one of the reasons why spiritual leaders advice us to 'just be' rather than think, analyze or dissect what we observe? Does worldly knowledge prevent us from just being? Would a person with a good balance of worldly and spiritual knowledge know both - to just be and to become?


Murali said...

strange coincidence, had the exact feeling seeing Prasanna perform yesterday in AirTel super singer in the carnatic round in front of Sudha Raghunathan.

I don't know if we need to get judgemental about knowledge and its levels at all.

Nimmy said...

God! I don't believe is most certainly a strange coincidence. Because what triggered off this thought process in me was indeed Prasanna's performance! Ah, the mysteries and puzzles of life...!

It is such an amusing thing that you discovered my post after having thought the same things that I did...despite the fact that I have made no mention of the context or the people involved.

R.K. said...

Hello Nimmy !!

Knowledge is dangerous when it is little or incomplete; i would prefer to call that just information.

The information , that the judge has is about the background of singer. The knowledge would be analysis of not his present stature, but his growth: what he achieved, from which level he rose, what he was and what he is?.

To summarize all, knowledge is a process. The judge needs to understand whether its static or dynamic, and dynamic at what pace !!

As far as pre-conceptions are concerned, they are harmful. Agood scoring student would be awarded good marks even he's has committed a mistake, coz that would be simply ignored in light of his past performances. The performance of a however low scoring student would be critically checked, and most probably criticized !!

You really Twist things Nimmy !! Keep Experimenting ?? :) :)

Nimmy said...

Hello R.K:

Thanks for the thoughtful response! Well, to my mind, the fact that the judge has processed the information about the singer's background and *formed an opinion* based on it, now makes it 'knowledge'. It ceases to be just information the minute it is processed (as you rightly point out) and used to take a decision! :-)

I like your example of how students are rated. I find that to be very true...'good' students are often given more marks because of the prejudice and bias that teachers have towards them while a 'poor' student who has struggled hard to do well in a specific exam may be criticized despite that...!

'Twist' things? :-) Not sure I understand what you're saying...but I guess you must be referring to the fact that I looked beneath the obvious? Yeah...sometimes it is fun to analyze what not to analyze! LoL ;-)

Prashant Sree said...

After giving some thought on it,i feel that as an artist, his talents will be tested by how he mesmerizes the audience and not based on how much he know the technicalities.

Recalling from Mahabharatha, Eklavya though was not a trained archer, in skill he was equivalent to Arjun. But as far as the question of factors deciding the judges decision comes, it will depend on how much indeed the judge really understands the art. The stuff matters not the layers ;)

Nice thoughtful post !

Nimmy said...

Very true, Prashant. The ultimate 'test' is not in the judge's technical analysis but in the way the whole mass of listeners respond! :-) (Though some people may not agree). The question here, though, is about bias and prejudice that 'knowledge' introduces into one's decision-making! Will someone with a lot of knowledge be able to set aside the technicalities and just experience something?

Brilliant example of Ekalavya and Arjun!! Very brilliant. Coincides with my own musings of passion and 'natural talent' vs passion and training....! Need to think some more on this...! :-)

Mark said...

Drifting here a bit from the knowledge prejudice part and focusing on the last part of your post (spiritual part) about how lots of knowledge can bias / influence a way a decision is made and how spiritual leaders tell advice us to just be. A renowed scholar who had knowledge on almost all topics of life still wanted further meaning and wisdom in his daily life. He had heard about a certain Zen Buddhist Monk who was wise in these matters and decided to touch base with him. During his meeting with Zen Buddhist Monk, he rattled on and off on everything he knew. The Monk just started pouring tea in a tea cup and continued pouring tea even after the cup had been filled, thus resulting in spilling the tea on the table. Curious the Scholar asked the Monk why he had done so. The Monk replied that the scholars mind is like this over flowing tea cup and it cannot make sense / gain insight of the things in the world. The Monk further replied that true insight / wisdom comes from a mind that is empty of past data / past knowledge and is able to see things from a new / fresh perspective. Thus possessing a lot of knowledge on a subject may make one fall to the cognitive bias problem and may hinder / bias / prejudice ones mind when making a decision.

- Mark

Nimmy said...

Hey Mark..! :-) Good to see you here again! And what a pertinent comment! Thanks a lot for reminding me about this story - have heard it many a time but did not recall it while writing the post! Now that you bring it up, I must say it sounds so very important in the context of our discussion. Absolutely significant! I'd sometimes choose the 'emptiness' that the monk advocates rather than past knowledge. A bitter topic for conventional KMers...but an unavoidable one! :-) Thanks so much for the comment!