Tuesday, October 10, 2006

the blindness of expertise

I was surprised to discover that Paul Graham thinks that hacking is easier than writing and he seems to be putting this forward as some sort of general truth, not something that just applies to him:
With hacking, you never have to worry how something is going to come out. Software doesn't "come out." If there's something you don't like, you change it. So programming has the same relaxing quality as building stuff out of Lego. You know you're going to win in the end. Succeeding is simply a matter of defining what winning is, and possibly spending a lot of time getting there. Those can be hard, but not frightening.

Whereas writing is like painting. You don't have the same total control over the medium. In fact, you probably wouldn't want it. When it's going well, painting from life is something you do in hardware. There are stretches where perception flows in through your eye and out through your hand, with no conscious intervention. If you tried to think consciously about each motion your hand was making, you'd just produce something stilted.

The result is that writing and painting have an ingredient that's missing in hacking and Lego: suspense. An essay can come out badly. Or at least, you worry it can.
I guess he doesn't understand because he's such a great hacker, even though he's a very good writer too. I wondered how this fitted into the Laws of Ignorance. It could be an unknown unknown, error or taboo but I guess I'll never know. It's interesting how very smart people can have blind spots.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul Graham spoke at the xtech conference I attended earlier in the year. Much of what he said was very interesting, but I too felt hi didn't quite hit the mark in some aspects of his thinking.