Category Archives: expertise

Individualism, Freedom, and Food

A surprisingly superficial podcast episode on what could have been a very deep subject.

Open Source » Blog Archive » The End of Free Will?

start a conversation about manipulation, persuasion and freedom from choice

To summarize the main issue of that episode: is marketing and "upselling" by restaurant chains undermining the individual freedom to choose quality food? Apparently simple a question, but billed as much more than that.

Maybe they refrained from delving deeper into any of those issues because philosophical discussions, perhaps aesthetic ones especially, are off limits in "polite company" in U.S. media. Too bad.

Actually, I’m genuinely disappointed. Not necessarily because restaurant chains are very important an issue for me (in Montreal, they don’t seem to have the exact same type of impact and I love to cook). But because the show’s participants all came very close to saying very important things about individualism, food, and freedom. The first two are too rarely discussed, IMHO, and the third could have been the "hook" to discuss the other two.

Ah, well…

If you want to know more about my thoughts on this podcast episode, check out some of the tags below.

Beer Comments by a Wine Expert: Redux

CBC’s Home Run did the second part of their “crash course” on beer, with their “wine expert.” For some obscure reason, they used a wit and a lambic as the main examples for ales. Comments made during the show had more to do with personal experiences of enjoying non-wine alcohol and getting drunk than with actual qualities of fermented beverages made with grain. We have a long way to go.

See my previous blog post (on the first part of that show’s “crash course,” talking about lagers). Here are my comments about this weeks discussion of ales:

This installment of Bélanger’s beer “crash course” is somewhat more appropriate than the previous one (although, lambics are usually not considered ales as S. cerevisiae isn’t necessarily the main fermentation agent). You might still consider getting help from one of several beer writers in Montreal. Some of them write in the local beer publications mentioned in my previous message, which has been reproduced here.

Not to be flip but, in Quebec, asking a wine expert to talk about beers is like asking a rugby expert to explain hockey. In Quebec, beer is more than a simple summer beverage and the craft beer industry across the globe is taking an interest in beer people in Quebec. It would make sense to dedicate a short segment of your show to quality beers in Quebec, especially if you get one of the numerous beer writers in Montreal.

Effort vs. Talent

Fascinating overview by Philip Ross on the notion of expertise from a psychological perspective. An article has been published in Scientific American and the magazine’s podcast has a segment with Ross.

One interesting issue is the very emphasis on expertise. Experts, like race horses, are heavily specialized. Examples in the article are mostly from chess and musical composition in the classical style. The study refers to “effortful study” which sounds a lot like Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow. In both cases, performance and achievement are allegedly easy to assess. But, well, where’s the fun?

Ross talks about golfers who stopped improving because they always play with the same people. But what some people seem to forget is that playing golf without improving can in fact be quite fun, especially if golf is just a part of the complete activity.

In the interview, Ross does allude to the link, common in the U.S., between schooling and work training. Schools are there to prepare a workforce and improving society as a whole is less important.

An important claim in the article and in the interview is that talent, if it does exist, is less influential than some people seem to think. We see similar things in music, especially if we adopt a broader perspective than simply thinking about skills. “Talented” musicians, those who have a specific predisposition for some musical practise, can succeed in many ways but music doesn’t simply progress by accumulation of skills. This notion is quite important in Ross’s article. Today’s experts are now more numerous and more proficient than during previous generations. Part of this must have to do with today’s emphasis on expertise (people are becoming over-specialized just to fit in the workplace). There’s also the well-known “standing on the shoulders of giants” principle, which accounts for the rapidity in training (although today’s Ph.D. candidates are, on average, much older than previous generations of Ph.D. holders!).

A lot of other things to think about this. But, recently, my policy has been to blog in short bursts. Hey, it’s fun!