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Expert Tease

Pity the expert. He seems able to already know how the play will turn out, to have out-run his own past, and to confidently hold his presence. Novices crowd around after his keynote, hoping, I suppose, that some of that goody might slough off on ‘em.

Expertise seems to come in at least two flavors: information and definition, savory and sweet, but these apparent flavors might not qualify as flavors at all. Perhaps they arise from completely different classes of experience; one sensual, the other notional; imagined.

None of this perspective rises to even the lowliest threat level unless the novice or the expert mistakes the one for the other: information for definition or definition for information. Each seems easily misplaced.

Take your typical writer, for instance, who more through quite natural inclination than by strategic intent, publishes a book that gains great popularity. First, there’s the normal cachet accompanying publishing; the writer’s a ‘published author.’ Next, the popularity seems to transform what started as information—if that, more likely speculation—into definition. From ‘how it might be’ into ‘how it inexorably is.’

Then, imagine yourself in the role of instant celebrity, elevated from your former role as aspiring author to sit on one fairly cushy throne. How would you handle the adoring crowd?

We seem surrounded by experts now. One confided to me that he’d learned to anticipate those adoring him eventually figuring out that his feet, too, were mere clay like theirs, and that some would blame him for the deception. Not all experts try to deceive, but expert tease requires only one player. Sit with any expert and you might notice how little their physical presence matches the genius you anticipated. Mere mortal. They might well have known, or have been proven later to have known, but expertise spoils quickly, transports poorly, and reliably works about once. Explaining won’t ever accomplish a transplant. Your mileage will most definitely vary.

If I could only catch myself in the thrall of adoration and remember that I’m intaking information, not definition, I might stay safe from the Expert Tease infection. It’s me teasing myself, though, so it’s harder to intervene. If only I could remember that science relies upon skepticism, I might more easily question the teases that so enthrall me.

I’m learning to deflect confident certainty, not because it tastes bitter but because it tastes impossibly sweet. When I hear some so-called expert proclaiming how it is, I (on my better days) remember to append a “to me” on the tail end of that confident proclamation. We might well agree how it seems to be, but we’re both better off, it seems, when we retain possession of our perspective rather than sweetly ceding it to some Expert Tease.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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