In my subjective experience, my domain of expertise is concrete and gears-like, amenable to reductionism. I have a detailed mental model of how to go about solving a math problem or writing a blog post, step by atomic step. In my subjective experience, skills I don’t have are fuzzy, mysterious, and magical. Training them requires intuition, creativity, and spontaneity.
The way this used to feel to me is that I would think of my own skills as “basically just thinking really hard,” whereas when I saw other people with skills that involved interacting more directly with the world (say, starting companies, or building robots) I would accord them really high status, so they had this shiny “wow, I could never interact with the world like that” quality that made them seem extra ineffable. This actually tied back into an aspect of my Giant Bug around fear of being judged for interacting with the world poorly, or something like that.
Relevant SSC post:
The idea that intelligence wasn’t monolithic, that I could be much worse than them in proofs and theorems but still be their equal in other areas, was hugely liberating to me, but it took me a very long time to accept it, to believe that I really was as valuable a human being as they were.
And when I tried to analyzed my certainty that – even despite the whole multiple intelligences thing – I couldn’t possibly be as good as them, it boiled down to something like this: they were talented at hard things, but I was only talented at easy things.
It took me about ten years to figure out the flaw in this argument, by the way.
I was doing this constantly—when I read SPARC applications I would be really impressed (in retrospect, clearly overimpressed) by students who did things like start companies, in the total absence of any kind of gears model for how to start a company.
One of the things that started shifting my views around this was a conversation I had with a robotics startup that was trying to sound me out for recruitment. They saw a Facebook status I had written about RL that they liked, and I asked them why that was enough to get them interested in me considering my relative lack of actual experience in robotics, and they said (paraphrased) “we’re bottlenecked on people who can think well. It’s easy to find people who can build things well.” And I began to see the way in which I had been both undervaluing “basically just thinking really hard” and underestimating my own ability to pick up these other skills that seemed ineffable to me.