On the surface, it seems that having knowledge is a good thing. I am a firm believer of acquiring knowledge, regardless of what field it may be. You never know when you might need a skill or understanding of a particular concept, and it is often that you can apply that knowledge in a drastically different context. An understanding of one subject will complement another to some degree, regardless of how related they are. For instance, Einstein loved the elegance and beauty that he found in music, where because of music he sought to achieve this same beauty in the formulation of his theories.

“Looking at the role of music in Einstein’s thinking sheds some light on how he shaped his most profound scientific ideas. His example suggests that in being intimately involved with the scientific complexity of music, he was able to bring a uniquely aesthetic quality to his theories. He wanted his science to be unified, harmonious, expressed simply, and to convey a sense of beauty of form. He confessed to thinking about science in terms of images and intuitions, often drawn directly from his experiences as a musician, only later converting these into logic, words and mathematics.”Good Vibrations, the role of music in Einstein’s Thinking, The Conversation

Because of how integrated knowledge is, a well-rounded education is invaluable. It is not up to school and university to spoon feed us to be well rounded, because the more we progress through the education system, the more specialised we become. We must strive to being well rounded by reading a plethora of books, learning a myriad of skills. In doing so, may we rekindle the polymath spirit of antiquity and be more discerning people.

“I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.”

Albert einstein

To think that there is a curse to knowledge, is absurd. Yet, this curse does exist. By gaining knowledge, we may gain expertise. But in the process of becoming an expert, we slowly forget what it is like to struggle and learn as a student. In the journey from student to expert, we assume that everyone else has the background knowledge to understand – and therein lies the curse.

Having spent about two years of university, I have found the curse of knowledge to be a rampant sickness among lecturers. As a lose rule of thumb, the higher the qualifications of the lecturer, or the longer the lecturer has been out of learning, the more niche the explanations that they provide. A common pitfall of the lecturer is that they assume that the students have the same level of knowledge or expertise as they do. As a result, they sometimes make logical jumps, or uses esoteric jargon in which few can understand.

On the other hand, the tutors that have most recently done the subject, being relatively young, have often able to better explain the content. A possible reason is that they remember how much they struggled as a student. They remember what the most difficult concepts were, and are able to explain their logical train of thought in how they understood that concept.

Once we know something, we have the curse in which we forget how we have learnt that information.

Austin Kleon puts it this way in “Show Your Work!” – discussing this dichotomy between experts and amateurs:

“Sometimes amateurs have more to teach than experts. “It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can,” wrote author C.S. Lewis. “The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is the one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten.” Watching amateurs at work can also inspire us to attempt the work ourselves.”

austin kleon, show your work!

To overcome this curse, it is vital to remember what it is like to be a student when we traverse towards expertise at a particular skill. To remember what it was like to be in their shoes, to be in their perspective. In this may we become better explainers, and thus communicators.