Proper Knowledge

Table of Contents

We need to have goals, to try to succeed at them, and to judge success and failure at them. Judging lets us make changes when things aren’t working. But judging well can be hard.

Being able to objectively, confidently and reliably judge success and failure is a key to learning. If you can’t tell when you’re doing something right or wrong, then you can’t practice it since you wouldn’t know what actions to practice. You also won’t know when you’re done learning it and ready to move on. Learning involves pursuing goals about what kind of knowledge you want to get (if you don’t consciously define your goals, you still have implicit goals – there’s purpose to what you do). Making intellectual progress requires getting good at making judgments about success and failure for each new topic you learn about.

Measurable Goals

Measurable goals are the easiest kind to evaluate objectively. Measuring tends to be easier for us than other judging. A goal like “Do a good job at X” is hard to evaluate objectively. How do you judge whether you did a good job? Similarly, “Figure out the truth of Y controversy” is hard to evaluate conclusively. You can evaluate arguments and form an opinion, but how do you know if you got it right?

Measurable goals are not hard to come up with. Brainstorm 20 things per day. You can measure by counting them. Spend 15 minutes per day brainstorming. You can measure by timing it. The downside of measurable goals is that they’re limited. There are lots of things you’d like to know about that you can’t measure. Want an honest spouse? You can’t measure how honest someone is; you have to use judgment.

You can start with measurable goals so that you can clearly judge success and failure. Then you can build from there. You can find a succession of goals that you’re able to evaluate. At first it will be other measurable goals. You’ll expand the pool of measurements you use. Then, as you get used to evaluating goal success, you will reach a point where you’re comfortable evaluating something which isn’t 100% measurable. You’ll be able to confidently, objectively evaluate a success at a goal that’s harder to judge in some way.

For example, you may become comfortable evaluating whether a comma is used correctly. That doesn’t mean you know the answer in 100% of cases. It means you’re confident of your answer when you do answer. E.g. 90% of the time you can confidently say the comma is right or wrong, and the other 10% you can recognize that you don’t know. If you can’t recognize when you don’t know, then you shouldn’t be confident any of the time, since it might be one of the times you don’t know and don’t realize it.

What if you can’t recognize when you don’t know for hard cases, but you can be confident about easy cases? Then you do know when you don’t know: all of the cases you consider hard. The fact that you get them right sometimes doesn’t mean you should have been confident about any of them. You should be looking for whether there’s a meaningful chance that you get them wrong. If so, your judgment is unreliable, and you should consider yourself not to know the answer (you may have a low-confidence guess or suspicion, and that’s fine if presented as what it is, not as knowing the answer). You should stop being confident about any of the hard cases, where you sometimes give wrong answers without recognizing that you didn’t know, until you improve your knowledge. In general, if you can identify easy cases where you’re highly confident, then you can distinguish all the other cases as ones where you have more to learn.

Learning to judge “This is one of the comma uses I understand and can evaluate” or “This comma use involves an issue I haven’t practiced and can’t clearly explain” is crucial. You need some ability to know what you know and don’t know. And that’s genuinely achievable. Consider the sentence, “I bought milk, bread and carrots.” Some people reading this are capable of evaluating that comma as correct even though that isn’t a measurement. If you’re unsure, I assure you that it’s learnable today, with current educational resources, and that many people really do learn it. An easier example is the sentence “I, bought milk.” which many of you know is incorrect. Some people can read that and say it’s wrong without a bunch of uncertainty and hesitation. Not everyone would get stuck or unconfident wondering, “What if that’s an advanced use of commas that I don’t know about?”

Besides measuring number (e.g. number of items brainstormed), time spent doing something (more is better) or speed to do something (less time is better), one can measure answer key matching. Comparing your answers to an answer key is easy and objective. However, clear answer keys require specific answers like true or false, multiple choice, single word answers, or numeric answers. But an “answer key” for short answer questions or essays (for writing with one or more sentences) is not the same as an exact answer key; it’s just some inexact guidance about what kinds of writing makes a good answer. For example, grading guidelines might say that a good answer should say that the princess was motivated by greed and the wolf was motivated by revenge. Using that guideline to a paragraph someone wrote would require making judgment calls. It’s not like an answer key that says the answer is “false”, “B”, “cat” or “3”.

You can consider whether a simple computer program could grade an answer using a key. If so, then it’s a precise, objective answer key that makes it easy to check answers. But if it’d be hard to write software to score the questions, or there’d be any controversy over what answers are correct, then it’s not a matter of straightforward measurement.

You could have an answer key for comma usage. A question could ask where commas should go in a sentence and an answer key could specify the exact places they go. A correct answer should exactly match the key: every comma in the key should be present, and no others. You could also have a test with example sentences where someone just answers “correct” or “incorrect” for the comma usage in each sentence, and you’d be able to have an answer key for that test.

Answer keys can theoretically specify partial credit for specific wrong answers. However, in general, if you see partial credit then judgment is being used, not just checking an answer key. Answer keys are usually all-or-nothing.

A clear answer key means you could accurately check your own answers even if you’re bad at the subject material. If that’d be hard, then judgment is needed.

Answer keys enable judging some issues using measurement even though, without the key, you’d have no way to measure answer correctness and would have to use judgment. However, you have to rely on the expertise of the answer key author.

Example Goals

People need to learn to create their own criteria of success and failure at goals that they can evaluate themselves. Learning involves creating many of those. You need the tools to know what’s right and wrong on the topics you deal with. Everyone has to develop this skill themselves. It takes thought and practice over time, not just reading explanations about it. Examples can be helpful.

Here are some measurable goals: Negotiate a price under $500 for X. Find Y on sale for under $20. Buy a car for at least 10% less than the standard retail price. Prices in dollars are easy to measure and compare objectively.

Suppose your goal is to get a car with four wheel drive. Can you confidently evaluate whether you succeeded or failed at that goal? I bet you can.

Suppose your goal is to buy license plates online. Can you evaluate whether got them online or from a store in person? Can you evaluate whether you got plates or something else like towels? Yes. There may exist some physical object that you’d have a hard time saying is a plate or non-plate, but for most objects you can give a confident answer.

You can also combine goals. Suppose your goal is to get a red car and pay under $5000. It’s easy to evaluate whether or not you succeeded at all of the following:

  1. getting a car
  2. the car being red
  3. paying under $5000

Notice how “red car” is two goals even though it doesn’t use the word “and”.

Our goals often have lots of unstated extras. E.g. you also wanted to get the car soon. Soon is vague. Maybe it means within a month. Not being specific about when you want something is a common cause of delaying for too long. When setting goals, it’s important to use good judgment about what factors are important to state in your goal, and what factors can be left unstated but assumed (e.g. not being severely injured). You can’t state everything because it’d take too long and would distract from the few key issues that you should focus your attention on.

You can use “or” in goals too. “I want a dog, and it has to cost under $80 or be a puppy.” This is something that you can evaluate objectively. Basic logic and math work well for enabling objective judgment about goals. They are things some people in our society are reasonably comfortable reaching objective, confident conclusions about. You can tell that a $100 puppy passes the goal, a $20 puppy passes the goal, a $20 old dog passes the goal, and a $100 old dog is a failure.

Proper Knowledge

A newborn baby doesn’t know what a dog is, let alone the difference between a puppy and an older dog, so a baby can’t evaluate that dog goal correctly. This means that, at some point in your life, you could not objectively evaluate goal success for the cheap or young dog. But now you can. You learned how in the past. To make progress, it’s important to do similar feats of learning again.

When you learned what a dog is, you expanded the set of things you understood well enough to reach confident conclusions about. When you learned what a cow is, you also expanded your confident, high-quality, objective knowledge. You learned to recognize cows and non-cows. Many people succeed at this kind of thing a lot in childhood, but then at some point they get stuck and start accepting vague, hazy uncertainty instead of getting clear knowledge about new and more advanced things that they deal with.

In order to have goals where you can objectively evaluate goal success, you need clear goals that stick to stuff you actually understand. Proper knowledge is stuff like your judgment of whether an object is a dog or not. Proper knowledge lets you confidently evaluate something and reach a conclusion (including occasionally, but not too often, concluding that you don’t know). If you can’t do that, you lack proper knowledge – you haven’t properly learned it yet.

The reason people are so confused in so much of life is that they are dealing with stuff that they don’t have proper knowledge about. They’re in over their heads. They didn’t learn enough to be doing what they’re doing. They didn’t study and practice the prerequisites until they mastered them. So they’re unable to judge the issues they’re dealing with.

Proper knowledge can also be called conclusive, confident or decisive knowledge, or just plain “knowledge”. It’s also called “certain knowledge” or “certainty” by Objectivism, but I don’t like that term because it sounds infallibilist. Objectivism also calls it “contextual knowledge” which is fine since knowledge always exists in a context. Critical Rationalism sometimes calls it “conjectural knowledge”, which is fine but doesn’t convey having a high standard for quality, reaching a clear conclusion or becoming confident. Another term for proper knowledge is “mastery”.

You can also have partial knowledge (which is often called “knowledge”, and could also be called incomplete or unfinished knowledge) when you’ve started learning something, and know some things about it, but you haven’t finished yet. Partial knowledge can be examine in greater detail, in which case you’ll find it involves proper knowledge of some sub-parts of the thing you’re learning.

It may be that partial knowledge actually consists of nothing but some smaller pieces of proper knowledge, but I don’t know.


Measurement is an area where lots of people have proper, real, genuine, non-fake knowledge. They can measure inches, pounds, miles per hour, Fahrenheit, cups and minutes. They understand length, weight, speed, temperature, volume and time. They can also measure revolutions per minute. Revolutions are the number of times something goes in a circle or loop. You just count them while running a timer.

We often use tools to measure. Our car has a gauge to tell us revolutions per minute (rpm) for the engine. People are rightly confident in tools like speedometers and rulers, so they’re also confident in their conclusion (which requires both the tool working and them using the tool correctly). People know that a tool can malfunction in a hard-to-notice way, but we build a lot of reliable tools that rarely malfunction. And malfunctions are often obvious (meaning something people with typical knowledge can confidently and correctly judge), e.g. a speedometer might be stuck at zero or some other number and never change, or it might fluctuate wildly while you drive at a steady speed. In those cases, you’d recognize that your tool is malfunctioning.

You can measure without a tool, too. You can count off seconds. You can determine length just by looking at something. You can pick something up and say how heavy it is by feeling its weight. Just because this isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it’s not measurement. Imprecise measurements are still measurements. Tools are a big help, though. They’re more consistent and reliable. But you could get way better at measuring without tools if you practiced. With some effort, you could get to the point where you could confidently tell the difference between 2 and 3 inches just by looking at a length. You can probably already confidently tell the difference between 2 and 6 inches with no ruler.

Some judgments are sort of similar to measurement but less exact. Observe a bird. Take out a bird book. Try to figure out which species of bird it is by comparing it to pictures in the book. That’s harder than weighing a sedated bird on a scale, but you can do it. And you could potentially turn it into math performed by a computer. Take a photo of the bird from the same angle as the picture in the book then compare the pixels. Software engineers today know how to write fuzzy (inexact) matching algorithms which can do that kind of thing, though the software may not work well without having many pictures of each bird species in its database to compare with. It’s hard to get software to do this better than an expert, and non-experts will sometimes do better than software too. People’s judgment is often better than a mathematical algorithm. The fact that present-day software can do it at all indicates that treating it as just measurement and math is somewhat effective.

Progress and Childhood

To make progress in your learning, you have to begin with the stuff you know and understand – the stuff where you can make confident judgments and reach conclusions. Then find the borders or limits of it. Then find ways to expand it beyond its current borders so you can be confident and have proper, high-quality knowledge about new stuff.

That’s what people do throughout childhood. They learn to recognize e.g. new animals and foods. They learn to recognize categories like land animals vs. fish. They learn some arithmetic and some logic (like the difference between “and” and “or”). They learn about none, all, any, one, some, almost all, all but three, and so on. Those are concepts that you can now use with rational confidence. You have functional knowledge about those things and consider them basic.

People are often sloppy with those concepts. E.g. many people would say something like “all politicians are corrupt” despite the existence of some non-corrupt politicians. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand what “all” means. They aren’t like a three year old who hasn’t grasped the concept “all” yet. They’re exaggerating or being biased. There is something else going on. If you got them to stop and consider whether their use of “all” is technically true, and they were calm and cooperative, then they could understand that “all” is incorrect and a different wording like “many”, “some” or “too many” would be better. People actually do know that if at least one politician is not corrupt, then, as a matter of logic, it’s false that “all” politicians are corrupt. People just aren’t always trying to use words logically, plus many people have bad habits for how they speak. They may consciously understand a concept like “all” but they haven’t practiced using it correctly enough to form good habits about how to use it (they didn’t automatize and master their knowledge, which means they aren’t ready to build to more advanced stuff).

During childhood, people do learn some basics well. But at some point, they start dealing with approximate, vague, confused ideas where they couldn’t confidently and rationally reach a clear conclusion. Children usually try to fix this and try to understand things clearly for at least a few years. But they often find adults and other educational resources unhelpful, so they eventually give up and start lowering their standards for what they will accept as understanding something and being done learning it. And then their school keeps pushing people onward to the next grade whether they understand much or not. Many parents and teachers get fed up with being asked too many questions by curious children who want to understand things more clearly and who are asking questions because they still have more to learn. One reason parents and teachers don’t want to answer too many questions is that they don’t actually have good answers and don’t want to admit that. (When or where would they have learned good answers? They went through the same problems with childhood learning themselves, too. And it’s not like many people wait until they are adults and then start actually learning things well. Most people don’t learn very much after they finish school.)

So, instead of learning things better, children at some point accept their confusions as adequate knowledge and try to move on and use those confusions as foundations for learning more advanced topics. This starts young and is one of the really fundamental things that goes wrong in people’s lives.

Parental Rules

For example, at age two, you may get orders/rules from your parent that you don’t understand but are expected to act on. I’ll go into more detail on this example soon, but first I’ll comment on why I’m using it. It’s not the simplest way to illustrate issues like overreach or building on unfinished knowledge foundations. However, I think it’s a widespread experience which is one of the first things that pushes kids to adopt the wrong attitudes to learning. And it isn’t primarily about parental punishments – you can’t fix this problem by never punishing your kid. Some people view (intentionally) punishing kids as really bad (punishment is not educational; people don’t learn by being hurt) but don’t understand much about how other parental actions can also be bad. I think it’s interesting and important that merely expecting a two year old to understand a parent’s rules, orders, requests or ideas could be more irrational and damaging than what is done to the child if he disobeys.

Parents have all sorts of rules (or other ideas) that they don’t explain very much. They think their rules are pretty simple and clear because they’re looking from the perspective of an adult in our society who is already familiar with those sorts of rules. (Though parental rules are often idiosyncratic, inconsistent or unpredictable to other adults. Those are common problems but they aren’t my current focus.) But adults often don’t realize how ignorant two year olds are and how much “obvious” stuff they don’t know. The perspective of a two year old is very different than an adult’s perspective, and unfortunately people (of all ages) are generally pretty bad at thinking about other people’s perspectives. It’s hard to see the world through someone else’s eyes or take into account a context other than your own. And despite all the talk of “empathy”, people generally don’t do organized practice of the skill of analyzing using a different context and are bad at it.

So it’s common that a two year old is confused by some rule, order or request, and doesn’t actually understand what an adult wants. So the child does it wrong, or doesn’t do it at all, which the adult commonly interprets as (intentional) disobedience or misbehavior. This pressures children to pretend to understand and do their best to follow rules now, rather than taking their time learning. It pressures the child to be done learning about the rule now, or as fast as possible, instead of to learn things properly at his own pace.

And asking questions about a rule is often seen as an adversarial attempt to find loopholes (for the purpose of not doing what the parent wants) rather than an attempt to understand it (for the purpose of following the rule).

Imagine you’re trying to accomplish a goal, which is in your parent’s head, but you don’t have knowledge in your head allowing you to confidently judge goal success. You can’t actually reliably tell what will satisfy your parent. The words your parent said about it – possibly only a few sentences – weren’t adequate for you to learn how the rule works, especially given that you’re two years old and don’t understand much. But out of fear of punishment you try to follow the rule anyway. You’ll be punished extra for refusing to even try. If you guess what to do, you might do something your parent finds acceptable or at least might look like you’re trying. What you’re learning to do is to pretend to understand things better than you do. You’re learning to act on confused, inadequate, unfinished vague knowledge, and to hide the problem (complaining that the rule is unclear to you will get a negative reaction from your parent or teacher – what the parent wants to hear is that you understand the rule and will follow it).

What the parent said out loud was probably inaccurate and confusing. They want you to do what they meant, not what they said. That makes it even harder to learn what the rule is and follow it. People generally don’t use speech in exact ways. Understanding English well enough to understand the parent’s sentences wouldn’t be enough to actually learn the rule. You need to understand a lot of cultural context in order to correctly interpret various ambiguities and to guess some things that the parent takes for granted and didn’t mention.

So it’s confusing to try to learn how rules work. If you follow exactly what the parent literally said, you might be punished. If you do something which doesn’t literally follow what the parent said, that might be seen as good enough and you might be rewarded. These factors, in addition to the time pressure, make it harder to get clear, confident, rational, proper knowledge.

Often, the rule/goal/order in the parent’s head is not proper knowledge for them. The parent is a fuzzy, muddy, vague, half-confused thinker themselves, and they’re doing that type of thinking about the rule. So no amount of clarifying questions or understanding the parent’s perspective could get you proper knowledge of what the rule is. The rule simply isn’t proper knowledge. The parent doesn’t actually have clear, unambiguous criteria for what is success or failure at this rule. The parent thinks it’s good enough anyway. The parent’s rule sets an example of how clear knowledge should be before you accept it, think you’re done learning about it, and try to use it in your life. This sets a terrible example and teaches the kid low standards for learning and for understanding things.

Trying to act on someone else’s goal which they communicate too little about is bad. If they couldn’t evaluate success themselves, it’s even worse. (And if they would pretend to evaluate success or failure, based on their feelings about whether they like or dislike an outcome, that’s even worse. In that case, the rule is really “Do something that I’ll feel good about.” but they claim the rule is something else.) If they couldn’t evaluate what succeeds according to the rule, then what are you supposed to do to follow it? Also, parents often change their mind about their rules or preferences, so even if the rules are clear now they can be a moving target.

Understanding what your parent wants from you is one of the first things that children try to do under pressure. It could be the first time your natural, intuitive learning process is disrupted and you start trying to act despite confusion rather than learning something until you aren’t confused before proceeding. (Note: If your goal is to try things out and see what goes wrong, as part of your learning process, you can do that successfully while confused. That’s different than the goal of taking action and doing things right, which comes after learning.)

By the way, another thing that could pressure a young child to rush his learning is an inadequately helpful parent. If a parent doesn’t help enough with bringing you objects, then you’ll be in more of a rush to be able to crawl around to get objects yourself. If a parent doesn’t help enough with feeding you, you’ll be in more of a rush to learn non-verbal or verbal communication in order to ask for food. The more a parent can guess your preferences, the more you can go through life at your own pace and wait until you understand something before doing it. But if things are going wrong, that pressures you to act or communicate sooner in order to try to address the problems.

Despite all the trouble parents cause with under-explained rules that their children are confused by – but have to try to pretend to understand anyway – young children generally keep learning some stuff (in the sense of creating proper knowledge where they can actually reach confident judgments). But effective learning often mostly stops by age 10 or 15, with perhaps an exception for one’s career (most people actually learn their jobs pretty poorly and have low standards, but some people do understand what they’re doing).


Want to learn effectively again? Want to get past these problems that began in childhood? Raise your standards for what counts as clear understanding, review your knowledge, and fix problematic, unclear, improper knowledge underlying knowledge that is important to you. Figure out what you already know with confidence. Survey and document your proper knowledge. Write down what stuff you have knowledge of. Come up with hundreds of examples. Look for patterns. Try to get an outline or summary figured out. Be cautious about accepting knowledge. If in doubt, find ways to do a test. You need to find the areas where you think you have knowledge but don’t. Your knowledge should be similar to your ability to say “That’s a cat.” and be right. What knowledge do you have that’s like that? You can read. You can identify letters and words. You know how to type in a word and how to check it for typos. You know the name of the country you live in. But you have a lot of knowledge which you developed to lower standards which you need to go back and improve.

Lots of your proper knowledge is factual. My neighbor is named Joe. Joe lives alone. I live in New York. I’m 99 years old. My cat’s name is Waffles. My cat is alive. My cat can’t have babies. There were three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I can look up the price of an iPhone on Apple’s website. The current version of the Safari browser can’t run the uBlock Origin adblocker.

Lots of your knowledge is being able to identify things. That is a strawberry. That is a door. That is a shirt. That is a keyboard. You know more advanced stuff too, but I’m mostly trying to give examples that would make sense to most readers. Lowest common denominator examples tend to be pretty basic. There are some things you have proper knowledge about which lots of other people don’t. That’s great and useful, but you’ll have to figure out which things those are for yourself.

You have many skills. You can probably screw in a screw or hammer in a nail. Maybe you can shoot a gun, drive a car, or even operate a forklift. You can yell, jump, run, walk, stand, sit, eat, drink, pour milk into a cup, etc. These are things where you’re confident of your knowledge. You can reliably, objectively, confidently judge success or failure at these tasks (even if you can’t operate a forklift, you could probably do a good job of judging success or failure for forklift usage since you understand that the purpose of the forklift is to move objects around to specific places). If you pour milk onto the floor instead of into a cup, you’ll recognize failure. If someone tried to argue with you that your cup of milk is a cup of water, you’d be able to win that argument – not necessarily convince the other guy (who seems potentially very unreasonable), but at least give reasonable reasoning that convinces yourself and which you reasonably believe that other reasonable people would agree with.

But then you try to do philosophy (and various other things, like having a good marriage, doing well at a job interview, or managing your money) and you’re lost and confused compared to your knowledge of how to run your microwave for 30 seconds. There’s a huge gap from what you know well to philosophy or to other advanced stuff. You can make guesses and muddle through some advanced stuff but you’re not really sure when you’re doing it right or not. It’s hard to practice because you don’t know what to change. To practice, you need to be able to tell what’s right and wrong so you can change the wrong parts. When practicing, you keep evaluating whether you’re getting it right yet (the whole thing and also specific parts), and making changes until it’s right. If you don’t know what’s right or wrong, that doesn’t work.

This is such a big problem that most people actually think it’s impossible to have philosophical knowledge of the same quality as simple examples I’ve given like using your microwave or identifying a dog. They think that’s fundamentally, inherently not how philosophy (and many other advanced or hard topics) works. They think having much lower standards for philosophical knowledge is actually correct. They might believe that certain fields, like math, can have really exact, clear knowledge, but they see that as a special exception. They think that e.g. math is one of the most objective fields, while psychology knowledge should have totally different expectations.

Proper knowledge is possible, including about philosophy. If it seems out of reach, or overwhelmingly difficult, then you need to find improper knowledge in between the basics that you are done learning and e.g. philosophy. You need to find some problems (some improper knowledge) somewhere in the middle and fix them. There may be a lot of problems and this process may take a long time, but it’s worthwhile. It’s better to fix your errors and improve your knowledge, rather than try to ignore the errors and never deal with them. If you fix some of them, you’re improving. If you don’t, you’re not making progress.


This provides a perspective on what overreach is. What causes high, overwhelming error rates? What causes error rates above error correction capacity? Being unable to tell what’s an error. Not knowing what you’re doing. Building on ideas that you never finished learning to the point of proper knowledge.

Too Much Precision?

People object to hair splitting and pedantry. When they hear to have higher standards, they might think I’m saying to be ultra precise about everything and act like those pedantic people that they find annoying. I am not advocating being like that stereotype.

Karl Popper said we must use precision appropriate to the problem we’re trying to solve, not extra precision (nor too little). I agree.

Eli Goldratt said we must focus our improvements on constraints, not on optimizing unimportant details like local optima. I agree.

Understanding something clearly is not a matter of being ultra precise. It’s just a matter of actually knowing what you’re talking about, being able to get it right, and having rational confidence (rather than arrogance or overconfidence).

Think about a competent expert who can do some tasks well and can explain what he’s doing. Perhaps they are a plumber or electrician. Some experts (particularly in more abstract fields) are actually pretty confused, but some do know what they’re talking about. And when you imagine a hypothetical expert, I think you’ll probably imagine someone who is actually competent instead of faking it. That is what you should aim for. And to achieve that, you need that sort of knowledge not just for your area of expertise but also for any earlier knowledge that your expertise builds on. You need proper knowledge for your expertise and its prerequisites. For example, many fields use reading, writing and arithmetic as prerequisites that they build on. Logical and rational thinking is pretty universally useful, too. So is walking or grasping objects.

You can also figure out stuff that’s specific to your field, e.g. if you make live-action videos then you should probably understand a lot of things about how to take photos (but not everything – there are some things an expert photographer might know that you don’t need to understand). A photo is like a single frame of a video and is kind of like an extra simple, short video. Although there are many differences, practicing photography would be a way to split up video making into smaller parts (sub-skills) and practice some of them without dealing with everything at once. It’s generally best (faster and more effective) to focus on learning one main thing at a time, in isolation, instead of learning multiple things at once.

In general, working on basics and prerequisites is the same thing as taking an advanced thing, figuring out what parts it consists of, and trying to learn those parts individually or in small groups. Trying to learn or do an advanced thing when you don’t have a good grasp of the parts that go into it means facing too much stuff at once, which is overwhelming and leads to lowering standards. Whereas if you can practice one thing in isolation, you can learn it to a high standard. So take the advanced stuff you care about and break it down into components to practice separately, and if that isn’t working well then break the components down into components. Keep breaking it down into smaller parts until you get to stuff where you can do a genuinely good job. Using tree diagrams can help with this.

Concluding Thoughts

Making progress requires expanding your knowledge without skipping steps. That requires dealing with stuff where you have (proper, actual) knowledge – the sort that allows confidence, reliability, accuracy, etc. And you can work right at the edges of that knowledge, or a little past it, but if you jump into the wild unknown, working on stuff without a bunch of direct connections to your proper knowledge, then, in short, you will fail. And e.g. philosophy is the wild unknown for you. So is a lot of more mundane stuff. Often you can tell, if you think about it honestly, that you don’t really understand stuff clearly. You need better, higher standards for judging knowledge. Is it like your knowledge of which animals are cats and which are fish? That’s what proper knowledge is. That is a good example, not an unreasonable one as most adults intuitively believe (and then they mistreat curious children who keep asking questions to try to understand things better, until the children give up and accept confusion as adequate, finished understanding that’s the best one can do). If your knowledge isn’t like that, you aren’t done learning it.

People find this idea overwhelming because it means they don’t know as many things as they thought they did. So now they have tons of ideas to fix, areas to relearn, etc. But actually that’s good: it means your chronic confusion can come to an end and you can be a much more effective person. You could get a hundred times better at stuff by creating proper knowledge. Problems like improper knowledge are why you aren’t a genius, a top philosopher, a great thinker, or an innovator in your field. Raise your standards for knowledge quality, fix these issues, and you can do better. This is a solvable problem that you can work on. Knowing what you can do to make progress is a good thing which means you have a huge opportunity.