David K recently commented about tasks that are “known by hand” – things you understand so well and so intuitively that you don’t have to think about them. You simply do them. For him, as a former stock broker and longtime investor, the stock market is “known by hand”. Given a certain set of market indicators, he invests in a certain way. It doesn’t take him weeks to puzzle over the clues and read the tea leaves and make a decision.
Similarly: There’s a loose affiliation of chess player/bloggers called the Knights Errant (long story) who seek improvement based on what you might call pattern inculcation. By studying a set of tactical patterns with great depth and frequency, these folks hope to learn chess “by hand”, such that when tactics arise in their own games, the patterns are instantly clear. Here’s a very simple illustration of what I’m talking about: A chessplayer marking off the potential moves of a knight in order to better inculcate its movement pattern into his brain.
Ferdinand de Saussure might have usefully described these phenomena in terms of Langue and Parole.
Saussure is widely considered to be the father of modern linguistics; his work in structuralism influenced both Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss in adjacent fields such as sociology. Langue was Saussure’s word for universal knowledge or truth. Parole was his word for individual performance or expression of those universals. You might know very well how the knight moves or how the stock market works (this is Langue), but occasionally make “errors of performance” when it comes to acting on your knowledge (errors of Parole).
This is a very interesting way to explore the concept of improvement in any competitive field. The efforts of the errant Knights – particularly at the beginning when the patterns are very simple – look like attempts to improve performance rather than knowledge. They know a how the knight moves, but in the heat of competition they overlook its possibilities. By repetition they hope to stamp out that kind of oversight.
Langue and Parole are also a nice paradigm for understanding the process of aging. In nearly every discipline, kids are all Parole (tactics) and no Langue (strategy). As you get older your understanding of the game improves, but you begin to make more and more silly errors in implementing your ideas.
This is why old people give up competition and become critics.