On Becoming an Expert

Gradschool is providing me a great opportunity to become an expert in my chosen field: philosophy. But there is another field besides philosophy that I am also interested in reaching expert level  in: chess.  Before I die I would love to reach “Master” level in chess. However, this is no easy task. If I assume the 10,000 hour rule is roughly accurate, and I study an hour a day every day, it will about another 30 years before I reach Master level. Obviously, if I spend some days studying more than an hour a day, I can speed this up, but there are also going to be days when I don’t study at all, or don’t study that seriously. So it looks like it really is going to take a long time for me to become a true chess expert. What will probably be the biggest factor in reaching expertise in chess will be to maintain motivation for study over the decades. If in a few years I get burned out from chess and take a long break, then obviously my path to expertise will be slower and less effective. Continuous motivation for decades without burning out is necessary to achieve expertise in just about any field.

When I think about being an expert in philosophy though, it’s a little different. Chess expertise is easy to quantify because there is an objective ratings system. But how do you know when you have become an expert philosopher? Is it when you publish? Or when you’ve read enough literature? Or get a tenure-track job? Hard to say. There is only one way to be a good chess player (make better moves than your opponent) but there are probably thousands of different ways to be an expert in philosophy. So the question of expertise is a great deal more subjective than in chess. The objectivity of chess is in fact one of the reasons why I love it. When you play a game, there is only the board, with everything in plain sight. Philosophy expertise is more fluid and harder to pin down. It’s hard to “see” expertise in philosophy. Yet I strive for it everyday. At the moment this involves just surviving grad school, reading as much as I can, and writing my thoughts down as often as possible while trying to stay sane. Doing these things will hopefully translate into philosophical expertise some day. In the mean time, I will also be working on my chess. The struggle then is to find a balance between these two tracks towards expertise. Every time I am reading I could be studying chess, and vice versa. The ideal balance is also not going to be equal, since I should take philosophy much more seriously since it is my future career track. I never plan on making money through chess playing, but this philosophy thing is supposed to turn into a future job (although one could see grad school as a job too). But at the same time, I think it’s good to have an intellectual outlet that isn’t philosophy. When I get tired of reading and writing philosophy, chess is always there to keep my mind stimulated.


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