Political question of the day: who is more experienced?

Questioning the efficacy of experience begs the questions: “what is meant by experience; what are the relations of experience to capability; what–for you–are the optimal benefits of experience?”

My informal surveys reveal that most people have never thought in any sophisticated way about the nature and benefits of experience. In fact, most people adhere to quaint (and false) hydraulic notions about experience. A hydraulic notion posits that experience literally inputs capability, thus more experience provides for more capability.

It is worth noting that the question, ‘what are the optimal benefits of experience’ will tend to evoke responses about performative quality. In other words, if experience is considered to be primary to development, then the goals of experience are performance, capability and future capable performance.

If you read this and sense that ‘optimal experience’ must play a part, rather than ‘any old experience,’ then you are on the way to putting experience in its proper relation to capability.

From the perspective of my own folk psychological prejudices, were someone to ask me what the nature of experience is with respect to anticipating the capability of a candidate, I would begin my answer with this:

A person’s robust, or not, navigation through life events will allow for the development of capabilities. Those capabilities will combine abilities of perception and construal, knowledge, rehearsed adaptive responses, affectual factors, features of cognitive complexity, heuristical routines, novel routines. Also impressed upon performative behavior will be tacit, subconcious, and implicit factors.

There is nothing about experience alone that provides for specific developmental impacts. If it’s not experience alone, how might we describe the certain kind of experiences which impact the development of capability and the performance effectiveness? I’m implying here that capabilities are developed by complex processes that are not generated by experience by itself.

I’ll mention two broad categories of experience. First is intentional pedagogic or andragogic learning. Their fruits would construct and support knowledge and other capable features. I’m deferring from a richer conception. I’ll set this aside but acknowledge that one point of experience is to learn by using experience to learn.

The second, among many forms of experience, is doing a task under a high cognitive load. Alternately, this is described as performing a task for which a requisite demand is a cognitively complex demand. The task is hard because its cognitive demands are challenging. Here’s a technical description: a cognitive system’s intention within a problem space must construct productive responses so as to obtain a solution and meet the implicit goal of the problem space. To understand how to generate a solution is, broadly speaking, the developmental goal of this type of experience.

Here’s a description from Raab and Gigerenzer, (2003: Intelligence As Smart Heuristics)

Intelligence is thought of as an assembly of “factors,” either one (g), a few, or many. This tool-driven metaphor (factor analysis) has its limits because it does not describe how cognition translates into behavior. We propose a new view of intelligence that provides the missing link in terms of heuristics. Human intelligence, in our view, is modeled by an adaptive toolbox that contains building blocks for heuristics to direct search for information, to stop search, and to make a decision. Smart search rules describe how people find the few relevant pieces of information, in memory or in the outside world. Stopping rules describe a primary function of cognition, to ignore or discard irrelevant information. Decision rules translate the information searched in memory or in the outside world into behavior, such as what profession to choose or what products to buy. The adaptive toolbox embodies an ecological, not logical, view of rational behavior. The building blocks can be recombined to form new heuristics, which are rational to the degree that they are adapted to the structure of environments in which they are employed.

Framed by social psychology and concerned with interpersonal knowledge, here’s Burleson and Caplan (1998: Cognitive Complexity)

Research comparing experts and novices on a variety of information processing tasks has found that experts are better able to: (a) develop detailed, discriminating representations of phenomena (e.g., Lurigio & Carroll, 1985), (b) recall information from memory quickly (e.g., Smith, Adams, & Schorr, 1978), (c) organize schema-consistent information quickly (e.g,. Pryor & Merluzzi, 1985), (d) notice, recall, and use schema-inconsistent information (e.g., Bargh & Thein, 1985; Borgida & DeBono, 1989), and (e) resolve apparent discrepancies between schema-consistent and schema-inconsistent information (e.g., Fiske, Kinder, & Larter, 1983). These expert-novice differences correspond closely to contrasts distinguishing those who are more and less cognitively complex. For example, compared to those having less complex systems, persons with complex systems of interpersonal constructs: (a) form more detailed and organized impressions of others (e.g., Delia et al., 1974), (b) are better able to remember impressions of others (e.g., B. O’Keefe, Delia, & O’Keefe, 1977), (c) are better able to resolve inconsistencies in information about others (e.g., Press, Crockett, & Delia, 1975), (d) learn complex social information quickly (e.g., Delia & Crockett, 1973), and (e) use multiple dimensions of judgment in making social evaluations (e.g., Shepherd & Trank, 1992). These results suggest that interpersonal cognitive complexity is properly viewed as indexing individual differences in social information processing capacity.

Finally, distinctions between second order ‘I shall do what I do’ and third order ‘how shall I determine what I shall do?’ speak to the increase in complexity between automatic or habitual performance-in-response-to-a-task, and, fitting a rehearsed range of responses drawn from a repertoire or a novel, (ie. experimental,) response to a task; this developed through active experimentation.

It’s this very last element that is unlikely to be revealed in an elicitation, (framed by folk psychology and evoked as phenomenological answer,) of what are crucial performative, solution-oriented capabilities.

Politics. Experimental capability may not be a component of policy given by ‘experience.’. For example, even though the results of the supply side experiment are in, and its distinctive risk management features are well known, we might then do well to discount a claim to economic experience based in the wish to do such an experiment once again. (After all, the overt hypotheses have been falsified.) So, it is perhaps time to do other kinds of cognitively complex (so-to-speak) economic experiments.

This points in the direction of capability, not mere experience; capable policy trumps ‘experienced’ policy. I don’t want to know who is superior in experience, I want to know who is superior in capability, and, who won’t do failed experiments again.

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