How Evolved Knowledge Works

When we begin to know about some subject, maybe financial planning, or engineering, or even current events, we soon realize there are things we don’t know. Our first impressions of what is right tend not to survive.

As we learn the basics and begin to add details we start to see a deeper reality. Eventually we achieve our idea of what is right.

But then reality happens

Things change. The problem is we are not especially good at changing our approach when we already “know” the answer.

Knowing something that has changed is a serious problem. If the change is substantial, you would be better knowing nothing. At least then you could be right by accident.

You can get a lesson in how it works by watching politicians who get involved before the context is known. There are many examples where a decision appeared to solve a certain problem but it didn’t work. Did they change? Not much. They may have added resources, repeated the action,  and ignored secondary effects.

You cannot afford to do that.

Your defence

I doubt we will see politicians change because of hubris and the effect mistakes have on their careers.

You though, can adopt a better approach.

Be open to the idea of change. Everything changes over time. Even change changes. At one time you could estimate how change will happen. Not so easy now. Some changes in earlier decades would have been different given the internet and smartphones. The Tiananmen Square demonstration was  coordinated with fax machines. Today the news travels quickly and people change attitudes to problems just as fast.

Recognize old experience may be more harmful than helpful. A carpenter who has not been involved for the past 30 years would be surprised by modern technique. Not that they could not catch on, but it would not be intuitive for a while. If you hold too tight to obsolete experience , you miss things and can hardly expect sound answers.

Address better ways to keep track. Modern technology makes recording and analyzing information much easier. You should use it. You will find relationships with a spreadsheet you cannot see with a paper and pencil. Finding a way into the depth is what creativity is about.

Join people with similar interests. A book club is a model, and you could as easily have a current events group, or an investment group.

In summary, never stop learning. Look for mistakes. One criteria for ability is not that the person makes no mistakes, but that they discover them and repair them sooner. Daniel Kahneman spoke of the approach, “ I don’t like being wrong, but I like having been wrong.” You learn from mistakes. You learn little by being right. Being right sets you up for even bigger mistakes once things change and you don’t adjust.

When things change and you don’t, you’ll have some explaining to do.

The takeaway. 

If you know everything today, and learn nothing else, you will be be near useless in just a few years.

Keeping up is the important part of knowing.


I help people have more retirement income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call in Canada 705-927-4770, or email don@moneyfyi.com

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