Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jonah Lehrer's "The Cognitive Cost of Expertise"

Jonah Lehrer has written a fascinating post on "The Cognitive Cost of Expertise" (The Frontal Cortex, in Wired's Science Blogs, November 19, 2010) that uses Adrian de Groot's famous work with chess masters as a jumping off point to talk about the cognitive trade-offs of expert knowledge.  Lehrer seems to be making his career by writing about the science of choice and decision making, and I very much enjoyed his book How We Decide .  I have pointed readers previously to his essay "Don't: The Secret of Self-Control" and commented on a piece he wrote on Carlsen's "Chess Intuition."

1 comment:

katar said...

Seems awfully pessimistic to say that inability to adapt to items at odds with known patterns is a "cognitive cost" of expertise. By that logic, learning a first language (one's mother tongue) carries a "cognitive cost" in that it will be more difficult to learn a second language. The second language is not learned in a "pure" form (i.e., from scratch) but must be awkwardly translated back and forth to/from one's first language. Just like how chessmasters relate new positions to familiar patterns, a 2nd-language learner converts new words/grammar to his first language. Surely it is more charitable to view this "cognitive cost" as a simple tautology, or the other side of the same coin. That is, familiarity with certain patterns necessarily comes with difficulty regarding deviations from known patterns. Isn't that just inherent in the nature of familiarity, or indeed in any sort of knowledge? Is the glass half full or half empty? A tabula rasa perception is pure, but completely impractical. My take on the article is that it takes a simple tautology and dresses it up in semantics (eg, "cognitive cost") in order to make it complicated enough to merit a full-length article, however interesting or well-written. Sounds cynical of me, yes, but maybe my own glass is half-empty today.