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First-hand observation 

Second-hand observation


Essay based on R. Hubbard's recorded lecture: "Study Lecture No 5, Study: Evaluation of Information", given to his advanced students at Saint Hill Manor in Sussex, England August 11 in 1964.

When we talk about study we are talking about two methods of obtaining knowledge. The principal two methods are first-hand observation and second-hand observation. Books and education are mainly the relay of second-hand observation. 

When you go out and observe things you are basically studying. You are trying to find out something or learn about something directly. This is what we call first-hand observation.

If you are looking at some simple machine or device and trying to figure out how it works you are studying to some extent because you are trying to obtain knowledge. Knowledge obtained by direct observation, you could say, is more valuable than second-hand information. You can achieve a higher level of certainty through touching it, handling it, and getting some experience with it. Other words for first-hand observation are: investigation, examination, inspection, experiment, and research. Experience is also a first-hand observation. These methods are all very valid and valuable ways of obtaining information. 


Experiment, investigation and experience are ways to  obtain first-hand knowledge. These are very valuable ways of gaining 
data but too slow to be the only methods used


It is however quite obvious that the culture and our standards of living and our very ability to deal with all of life's situations wouldn't have advanced very far if we had to depend entirely upon first-hand information. The learning of second-hand information is thus the dominant way when it comes to study. That is what formal education is all about. We get this information from books, from other types of media, from a teacher, or instructor. Using that we can expand our scope of knowledge hundreds of times.

When we read about an observation from the printed page it's a second-hand observation but that is the route almost all knowledge travels on. If we were trying to re-discover all the knowledge there was, from the beginning of time until now all by first-hand experience, we would end up stupid. If you were to personally evolve all knowledge there was about anything in one lifetime you would not succeed. If you had to evolve all the knowledge used without receiving any information from any other second-hand source you would practically get nowhere. In other words, if you wanted to learn about Borneo's headhunters you had to go to Borneo and find some headhunters. If you had to gain all information this way you would get so little done that you would die stupid. Or you could end up believing you knew everything there was to know because you never in your life had been outside one little community and anything outside that "didn't exist". 

So there is a value to second-hand knowledge. But even when you need direct observation and experience it is much better to have the fruits of other people's observations and experiences to build on; only in that way can we maintain and carry forward any research or a culture of any complexity.


Primitive hut-making. 
It is passed on from 
   generation to generation,   


Illiterate Cultures
Illiterate cultures do not survive and they do not go very far. Illiterate cultures depend entirely upon experience and direct observation. Their scope of interest and knowledge is very limited. They may know all there is to know about hunting antelopes with spears or bow-and-arrow; they may know all there is to know about finding edible berries and roots, about building primitive huts, or the use of tents. But when it comes to anything beyond their immediate and basic survival skills they are basically lost.

The history of colonization tells the story about these cultures' ability to survive. They got overwhelmed by the invading army in the first place as their weapons and methods of defense couldn't withstand modern riffles and guns. Being occupied by this force, such as the British army, they soon were awed by all the modern marvels this invader force brought along. Yet, they couldn't absorb this new culture easily as they couldn't read and couldn't really learn all this second-hand information they were confronted with.

They couldn't learn well due to their illiteracy. They were not up to absorbing this new culture rapidly. So, of course, they were victimized by this new population that flooded in. Once the line is open, once this new level of technology and civilization is around, if literacy doesn't follow and if second-hand observation is not available to a peoples, they loose the knowledge they already have; they degrade and go to pieces. They are struck by this tremendous volume of data and new things of this new culture. They've been happily hunting antelopes; to go out and hunt and bring home the prey was the highest level of skill and interest. They could tell you all about this and they could tell you all about what you mustn't do on a hunt and what you must do; this was all based upon their direct observation.

The moment they were hit by Western civilization their society started to fail. They were hit by all these unknown tools and inventions. They were hit by abstract ideas of engineering and technology; ideas closely related to the handling and building of things. They were hit by political and economic ideas, such as 'democracy', 'parliament' and 'market economy'. All these new ideas made them feel inferior and caused their culture to fail. They are not able to make rifles, toasters, or radios, build paved roads or bridges. They are not able to organize themselves into a proper democratic civilization, or a new economy, no matter how many councils are formed and no matter how many government buildings they are given. They can be victimized, they can be degraded, and turned into slaves.


In Western civilization 
we take literacy and 
   technology for granted.   


What's happened was, they were overwhelmed when presented with this tremendous cultural image. They were confronted with this new great and shiny civilization. It's full of fancy cars, computers, radios, TV's, air planes, and toasters, and all kinds of wild things. They look in awe at this material animated world; they see people who have conquered their environment to the point where they can live an easy life and where they can do completely new things and where some young man with a few push-buttons can control 100 horses as the most usual thing that he ever did in his life. In other words, he can turn the key and drive a car.

The illiterate people of the world are being overwhelmed. It has always been that way. It's those who don't know, it's those who do not understand, it's those who haven't figured things out who get knocked over. The death of a civilization is based upon its accumulated non-understandings, not-knowings, its ignorance, its failure to grasp the situation.

No Need to Know
A literate person or civilization can also grow old and loose the ability to stay alert and keep up with things. This can be deadly as well and is related to study.


A person can become 
   too 'superior' or arrogant   
to keep up with things.


You see companies and organizations that have had great success but now have decided they know it all and dominate their field so there is no reason for development, research, or new products; just to discover, after it is too late, that some up-and-coming technology and competitor are pulling the rug under them.


  General Motors used Henry Ford's unwillingness to modernize   
his Ford-T to their advantage and became the industry leader. 


Henry Ford, the great automaker, was so sure his Ford Model T of the first part of the 1900s was the ultimate answer. For years he refused to change anything or build other models. That gave rise to competitors who kept up with new technology and better understood the changing taste of the public. Out of this came General Motors; they soon rose to become much bigger than Ford. GM's strategy was to give the public many brands and models to choose from. The story almost repeated itself after the energy-crisis of the 1970s, where the American automakers found, that their models lost out in competition with especially Japanese cars. The Japanese built smaller and very fuel efficient cars of high quality at low prices. They took the American auto industry by surprise. The US automakers had simply told themselves repeatedly that nobody could compete with American cars so why bother with the competition.


The Roman Empire got too 
occupied with a pleasant 
   lifestyle and was eventually   
overrun by barbarians.

An example of a whole civilization would be the Roman Empire. It grew old and forgot what was important and what wasn't. The Romans knew all about good wine and other pleasures of life. But they had lost their vitality and efficiency when it came to defending the empire and eventually they were overrun by barbarians.

Part of their information was missing: that a peoples who want to remain free must not only know about the latest wine. They've got to know a lot of things across the boards. They've got to stay alert, they have to be up and running and defend their way of life.

The day that marks your death is the day that you sit back and decide you know everything there is to know; now there is no reason for you to observe anything.

On the one side, then, you have the attitude:  "I don't need to really experience, do, or look at anything because I know all there is to know." That would be the attitude of a dying civilization, a dying company or a dying individual. The other extreme would be: "I Don't know any of the words; I don't understand anything that's happening around me", and that's a very fast route to decay and eventually death. Between the two extremes there is a mean that makes life livable. 

So the thing to do is to know the words and to stay alert. That's the motto one reads out of this. You'll always find there's some new technology being invented somewhere. It is important to be curious enough to find out about it; to stay alert. Never become complacent about what you know and you'll go right on surviving.

Understanding and Survival
The difference between the successful individual and the unsuccessful one could be expressed this way: The successful individual can understand and makes an effort to understand. The unsuccessful individual doesn't understand or doesn't care to understand. There are these two ways of not understanding, as explained above. The one is to suppose you know all about it so you don't have to observe. The other is just not knowing the words.

The individual who is going to succeed and survive is somebody who can observe and understand and makes an effort to do so.


In second-hand 
Understanding is a 
   substitute for Mass.   


Study and Understanding
Second-hand observation is a perfectly valid way of observation when combined with understanding. But second-hand observation has this liability: it has to be understood. The less direct the observation is, the greater the understanding has to be. In other words, your understanding has to increase to the degree that you're not directly observing. If your observation of building a barn is indirect you better listen up and understand all there is to be understood about it. You have to understand it much better, oddly enough, than if you were standing there looking at it being built. Understanding, in that respect, is a substitute for the mass. In study understanding is a substitute for mass.


  If you are only reading about how to build barns you   
  have to pay close attention and  understand it much better.  


In other words, if you haven't got a barn to observe and you are being told about building barns, you better make absolutely sure you understand what you're being told. If you don't understand what you are being told about the barn, or you don't understand the words and symbols used, you will end up not understanding barns as you don't have the mass to look at. The information is relayed only by words and symbols.

First-hand observation can also be a type of indirect observation. Typically a criminal investigation is all about finding small clues and conclude what really took place. Here are some blood and a dead body. There are some foot prints and a knife with fingerprints. Let's see if we can find whose fingerprints it is and chances are we have our killer. This kind of information is of course on the borderline of second-hand information but criminal science is all about how to deal with that. Also, in scientific research we run into these kinds of situations where logic deduction, theories, and hypotheses play in so heavily so it is well removed from what we normally call first-hand observations. In a criminal investigation an eyewitness would be what was needed to call it first-hand. In science it something physical that can be measured; best of all, the experiment that can be repeated and duplicated. Such observations make it an undeniable fact.

Reliability of Information
The difficulties with second-hand information are many. If we have four blindfolded men trying to examine and describe an elephant we would get all kinds of odd descriptions. Let's say they are allowed any way of inspection except direct observation. If they didn't observe the elephant because they were blindfolded they would each give their wild version of what this elephant looked like. 

 Part of our understanding when we are engaged in second-hand observation must therefore include an evaluation of the reliability of the information. This is important. Our understanding must include the understanding of whether this is good information or bad information, whether this is the straight data or tainted or irrelevant data. We have to be able to evaluate the truth and reliability of the relayed observation. 

It is not difficult to find examples where the relay of information breaks down. You have textbook writers who have misunderstood their role and think their job is to show off and impress the students, as if they had to pass an exam themselves. In an odd way they have the cause and effect of study mixed up. When they were students they were subject to so much scrutiny and second-guessing so they finally adopted a style with so many incomprehensible words so any critic went blank in non-comprehension. They were now left alone. 

A good textbook is written at cause and pays little attention to anybody but the intended reader. Some of the best textbooks are written for young readers. The textbook writers are here really trying to explain the subject without all these defensive mechanisms at work.


  'Sciences' in the Middle   
Ages were full of false 
data and fixed ideas.


Some subjects were full of falsities, such as 'sciences' in the middle ages. This was true for medicine, chemistry, astronomy, etc. Yet, at the time you had to know them verbatim or be flunked.

Unfortunately this phenomenon still exists. If you inspect psychology and psychiatry you will find numerous such data that don't check out. False data may exist in dozens of other sciences but we just can't see it as we have been so indoctrinated into their way of thinking.

Sources of Information
Part of understanding and study is thus to determine the falsity or correctness of the data and the sources of data. This is actually an important subject all by itself and we are just touching upon it here (the next chapter, "Evaluation of Data", is discussing this at greater length). The student, in many situations, may not be in the position where he can reject a source of data or type of data. This is one major difference between what we here call schooling and education. A student trying to pass a grade or examination better get it exactly as stated in the textbook - or else... He really doesn't have much of a choice. Yet, the data explained here are useful to him as well as he at least knows what he is up against. He can seek alternative sources in order to get the full picture.


Aristotle, 384-322 B.C.,
Alexander the Great's tutor,
was the trusted Authority 
  in science and philosophy   
from ancient times and
 into the Middle Ages.


You will actually see the whole culture and civilization blindly trust some sources and discard all others. Aristotle, the brilliant Greek philosopher, became such a source and authority on dozens of sciences. He held that position of authority for centuries. He was the only non-Christian thinker Rome would trust.  Most of his writings on science was based on speculation, not experiment or direct observation. It didn't hold up to experimental proof. But since experiment and other scientific methods were not part of 'science' and knowledge for centuries you simply had to take his word for it.

You have to choose the right kind of materials to study. If you are looking for a textbook on a subject, you have to find a text written by somebody who knows the subject in depth and preferably somebody who has practiced in the subject.  Practical application and experience is the best school an advanced student can go to. A teacher or textbook writer who has practical experience under his belt is thus superior.

The textbook has to have an end goal in mind and stay on the path that leads to that goal. All too often textbook writers want to show off and bring incomprehensible and too technical dissertations in order to prove to the reader that they know the subject in depth. Their purpose in doing this really isn't communication. They are just trying to show off. They are trying to close the door on any possible criticism from learned colleagues. You will see learned professors go overboard in some part of the subject and leave other important parts out. You will see relative simple facts stated in a super-technical way. The textbook writer does not really have his audience in mind while writing. He is seems to write for somebody else. Since he is not addressing the students, the communication goes out the window. The communication factor is completely corrupted. He is not, when teaching a class himself, addressing the students present but some imaginary critics, including his own teachers of yesteryear, his learned colleagues of other universities and possibly publishers of scientific publications. That accounts for the non-communication the students in his class experience. 

So there are good sources of information in the form of books, articles, teachers, practitioners, and critics; and there are bad sources. In any situation where you have a choice you will of course pick the good sources. Even in situations where you have much less of a choice, such as in a formal school or university, this is important to know as you can supplement your studies with good sources. 

Even within one textbook will you find sections that are well written and to the point and other sections that are of little or no interest. A good student will thus continuously evaluate what he reads on the basis of a few key questions, like: What's the relative importance of these data? Is the textbook trying to communicate something to me or just showing off in a defensive way? How does this align with other data of the subject? 

Grades of Application
Part of understanding a textbook for professional purposes is to understand the nomenclature, the specialized words. There really isn't any substitute for that. In subjects where extensive nomenclature exist this has to be sweated out. The rewards for doing this is to get an intimate knowledge of the special phenomena described in the subject.

There are however a number of ways a subject can be approached. You can get into a subject without having the intention to become an expert or practitioner in it. The student should make it clear to himself beforehand what his purpose with learning the subject is. Having done that he can choose the books, classes, and methods that best serve this purposes. Let's look at some common degrees of engagement:

Knowing a few scraps: You may just want to know a few scraps so when it is mentioned in the news or in casual conversation you at least know what it is all about. This level of knowledge can be obtained from an encyclopedia and sometimes even from a good dictionary. You may go to the library and study several encyclopedias or look in the section for young readers for popular books on the subject.


If you just need to 
   know a little about   
a subject the 
encyclopedia is an 
excellent source.


Be able to talk about it socially: This would build on the above. You may want to read popular magazine articles about it and learn the newest and latest in the field. You may want to learn a few big words used in the subject so you can demonstrate you are "in the know". This is of course very superficial and dilettantish, but perfectly legitimate. 


 To be a dilettante is fine 
   as a hobby but don't rely 
   on it: false understandings and   
pretence remain undetected.


Dilettante: A dilettante is a person who is dabbling in a subject. He may dabble in the arts, in house repairs, in investing, counseling, politics, and so on. This is can be an unfortunate state of affairs. There usually is an element of pretended knowledge and skill involved. The person may try to fool others or fool himself. The person knows too little to be able to do anything of value in the subject. But we are definitely just getting inside doingness when we talk about dilettantism.

False understanding: There is such a thing as false understanding. This is a dangerous thing. You think you are competent enough to understand something or perform a skill, but as a matter of fact you are not. You get yourself in a lot of trouble or get the activity you are trying to help into trouble. It is some kind of camouflaged hole. The best cure is finding the misunderstoods or false data followed by more study and practical.


A practical worker can 
   make good products but   
in a very limited field.


Practical worker: One can be all into the practical aspects of a limited field. You have learned some practical skills, usually by somebody showing you how to do it. This does not involve any deep understanding of the subject but the person can actually be of great use and produce good products in his little area of competence.


You need to be an 
   informed customer before   
   making many important  
decisions in life. 


Informed customer: This is an important level of knowledge. You want to know enough about a field to be able to talk to professionals about it and especially do dealings with professionals. Any field will have bordering fields a professional should know something about. A sailor would want to know meteorology to have some idea of how to predict the weather. Also map making would have interest. He is basically a customer in these fields but needs an extra edge. Car owners are better off if they know about motor repairs; this simply so they won't get taken advantage of by repair men. Investors need to know all kinds of things about a field or company they want to invest in. They are not expected to run that company or be able to work professionally for it; but they need enough specialized information or they can loose their money. A shopper, whether a professional purchaser or a housewife shopping in a supermarket, needs this level of information in all kinds of fields. Price, quality, use, durability, advantages, disadvantages, and alternatives are some of the things a professional shopper wants to know. 


Experts know "that piece   
   of forgotten information" that   
can help the practitioner out.


Theoretical knowledge: One can have extensive theoretical knowledge of a subject. This would include the full nomenclature of the field. This type of knowledge is especially required by so-called experts, professors, and teachers of a field. They may not be able to practice in the field itself as they don't have the practical skills needed. Yet, this is a valid level of knowledge; but it has its shortcomings. Experts, professors, and teachers are called upon by professional buyers and practitioners in order to give them that little piece of information they need. Theoretical knowledge would be heavy with significance and light on doingness and application; but it does have an important purpose of its own as it preserves knowledge that otherwise may get lost as it does not seem to have any immediate practical use. 


A practitioner has the right 
   balance of significance and   
mass  to stay 
productive and flexible.


Practitioner: This study manual is aiming at making you able to become a practitioner in a field. As you have seen we stress a balance between significance, doingness and mass. Between theory and practical. This is the way to follow if you want to become fully familiar with a subject. You study a level of skill; you practice that level for a while; you study the next level of skill and practice that; and so on. Theory and practical are about equally important in study. But the end product is clearly practical application. By going back and forth, and look back earlier when the student didn't master part of the subject, the ARC, the practical understanding, is continuously increased. 


   The true professional can do   
it all in a textbook manner. 
But he can add that little 
extra touch it takes a true 
professional to do.


True professional: A practitioner who keeps studying and keeps applying what he learns will eventually become a true professional. He will know all there is to know about a field and be able to perform all the skills described in the theory in a competent manner. He will be able to do it all in a textbook manner and yet stellar way. He can add that little extra touch it takes a true professional to do.

The Study Technology is useful to all these different levels of competence but sees it as its ultimate purpose to be able to bring about true professionalism. True professionals are needed in any field of any lasting value. This is the level of competence that keeps people alive in dangerous fields. Ships without true professionals on the bridge will run aground or get wrecked. Hospitals without true professionals in the operating room will loose patients. Builders without true professionals throughout their organization will build houses and bridges that will collapse. So true professionals are needed in any field that want to succeed. The society at large and the civilization itself need them in order to survive.



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