Expertise

A common theme in community work is questioning what it means to be an expert. 

Given the complex and technical issues our communities face, it seems reasonable, perhaps, to rely on the knowledge of experts. After all, there’s a reason why people undertake years of schooling to become urban planners, architects, or other types of experts.

A prevalent challenge to this model is that it over looks the knowledge which “average” community members have. An architect may know how to design a building that won’t fall down, but the ‘community’, broadly speaking, knows what aesthetics and functionality are most important and needed. They are experts in their own right.

I was reminded of this debate earlier this week though, surprisingly, an article in Nature about quantum physics work by J. J. W. H. Sørensen et al.:

With particles that can exist in two places at once, the quantum world is often considered to be inherently counterintuitive. Now, a group of scientists has created a video game that follows the laws of quantum mechanics, but at which non-physicist human players excel.

There are few interesting points here. First, the work is advancing human understanding of quantum physics. Second, the human brain seems to be more capable of understanding quantum physics than we previously thought.

Finally – and germane to the point above – the physicists on the team who designed the game…found it extremely challenging. Being a physicist, or having expertise in physics, didn’t determine someone’s ability to succeed at this quantum game. Gamers, on the other hand, when their own type of expertise, did better than the physicists and the computer models combined.

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