One Apple A Day #537 – it starts from not knowing

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” —Josh Billings

Yes, it happened to me many times. It still happens.
Let’s be honest, when reality doesn’t fit with what we know for sure, it’s more comfortable to lie to ourselves than challenge our truth.

The world is full of opportunities to learn and grow. But you’ll never begin a learning process unless you become aware and accept what you don’t know.

On the 20th February 1969, Martin M. Broadwell published on “The Gospel Guardian” the 17th and last part of a series titled “Teaching For Learning”. In his article, Broadwell introduced a new learning model that he labelled “the four levels of teaching“. Or, how it is often called “the four stages of competence“.
The founding idea of the model is that we ‘can’t being a learning journey if we are unaware of what or how much we know. He calls this first state of being unaware of not knowing the “unconscious incompetence” state. As we progress with our learning, we go through four psychological states until we reach the last one; the “unconscious competence” stage.

Let’s take a look at the four stages.

  1. Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we become aware and accept our incompetence, we can move forward and start a learning process.
  2. Conscious incompetence: at this stage, we recognise our deficit, and we start the learning process to address that gap. Rules, forms and imitation are essential to building the competence we need.
  3. Conscious competence: we have finally acquired the skills we wanted, but to use them, we must be deliberate in our actions. The newly acquired skills may be now easy to use, but they require attention and for us to be conscious. Being conscious of how we use our capabilities allow us to go deeper and integrate the new behaviours in our identity. We are shifting from Doing to Being.
  4. Unconscious competence: finally, what we have learned become “second nature“. The new skills become part of our identity. We don’t do them anymore, they are integral to who we are.

One Apple A Day #516 – you can be a hero

Abraham Wald was a Hungarian mathematician who lived in the first half of the last century. His main field was statistical analysis but, being a Jew, he never really had the chance to fully apply his skills in Austria, where he graduated, due to Nazis invasion. In 1938 Wald escaped to the states where he was invited to work at the Columbia University. Thanks to his skills he became a member of the Statistical Research Group (SRG). The SRG was a group of scientists and mathematicians dedicated to solving various wartime problems.

Wald was involved in a famous story that is widely used to explain the Survivor Bias. I read this story many times, but only yesterday I learned his name.

These are the words of W. Allen Wallis, another member of the SRG; “The military was inclined to provide protection for those parts that on returning planes showed the most hits. Wald assumed, on good evidence, that hits in combat were uniformly distributed over the planes. It follows that hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to be found on returning planes than hits on the less vulnerable parts, since planes receiving hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to return to provide data. From these premises, he devised methods for estimating vulnerability of various parts.

This story explains perfectly the Survivor Bias. Because we have plenty of information on the survivors from a challenge while we have no info about all the others that didn’t survive (the planes that didn’t come back), we tend to model our behaviours only on the winner (survivors) missing valuable information.

I wrote about Wald this morning because, in the period where superheroes bring billions of people to the cinema, I love the story of a hero whose superpowers are very human: numbers, logic and intuition.

The second reason is that the tale as it is usually told doesn’t give full justice to the scientific work behind it.

You can find more at this link.