Common Sense

Scott Adams recently had a post where he stated that common sense was a function of experience. While I agree that experience is a component of common sense (CS), I think that it is a lot more complicated. Anecdotally, there are plenty of people with lots of experience that seem to lack CS.

So what is CS? That is a pretty tough question. Google gives results that stress forms of judgement and practicality in common matters. That strikes me as covering a lot of ground. I’m thinking it is both a relative and malleable concept. One person’s CS might not be another’s.

There are a lot of pieces I’d throw on the table of which, experience is one. I did X and got Y result in the past. Now it is a question of pattern recognition -> is X occurring? To that, I’d add other people’s experience. I trust person Q, they did X and got Y result. That dramatically expands the number of CS scenarios to which you have access. Again, pattern recognition. But is it all backward looking? I’d argue no. There are additional pieces. Here are some, though this is by no means a complete list. Forward thinking or alternatives analysis, both of which I’d put under the heading of imagination, is a piece. I can do X. What possible outcomes of X are there and how likely are they to be the result? If none of the outcomes or none of the probable outcomes are results that I want, then don’t proceed. Forward planning. I’m going to do X, and the likely results are Y, but if not Y how will I respond to alternatives results? Skepticism. I have good reason to doubt X or little experience with X. I should proceed with a much higher level of caution in regards to X and taking more opportunities to consider how to proceed. Patience. Is there a compelling reason to proceed with X right now? If not, why not delay? More Information may change the result. Observation. I see these details about X which informs me about it. How does that new information play in to my consideration of X? Attention. Does this item have my attention or for some reason (tired, hungry, etc) am I not able to fully think about it?

This all sounds rather complicated what with using variables in the examples, but there are quick and quite simple example versions of all of these that I think sound like instances of practical judgement(CS). I think it is just a question of scale.

Which leads me to where I think I am headed with all this. Common sense is evidenced in the use of a broader set of thinking tools/skills, though perhaps only in their simplest incarnations.

This topic deserves a more extensive treatment but this is what I have for now. More someday.


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