Experience is Sedimentary, Wisdom is Lamellar

Experience is Sedimentary, Wisdom is Lamellar

Concerning the metaphors for learning we use:

For a long time I understood learning as  sedimentary. We learn by the slow, steady accretion of experiences, based on our choices and the nature of the world. As we subject what we’ve learned to the “pressure” of testing, it hardens into sandstone (knowledge) and—given enough time and pressure—granite (wisdom). 

But there’s a problem with this analogy: passivity. The accumulation of sediment isn’t selective; sediment is whatever lands in that spot. There’s no place in this analogy for the conscientious, deliberate quest to gain specific experiences that will contribute to your knowledge in a desired field.

The part of the sedimentary analogy that resonates with me is the slow, steady growth. We don’t become experts without effort. If you want to achieve mastery, no shortcuts exist; we must stack those ten thousand hours up, at a rate of one hour per hour, during our steady, purposeful practice of the craft. 

So I’ve been searching for a better analogy. This isn’t a red-yarn-on-corkboard search. Just a question mark, sitting quietly in the back of my mind, looking for something better. 

And as I’ve been reading and thinking (and thinking about reading and its effect on thinking) one word has quietly brought itself into my mind, subtly asking for my attention:


Admittedly, not a word most people use. Just looking at it, you sense that it’s related to “laminate” which as a verb usually means “put between two sheets of plastic and seal it there” and as a noun refers to a flooring made of fine sheets of wood grain, stacked and pressed. A feeling of “layers coming together” emerges.  And that‘s what it means. A lamella is a small, thin plate-like structure. Something is lamellar when composed of many lamellae coming together. 

So how is this a more accurate model of accumulating wisdom? 

When making lamellar armor, the armorer cuts each lamella, shapes it, hardens it, aligns it with the existing armor and adds to the overall structure. Their work isn’t random, isn’t passive. 

And this process more accurately depicts my understanding of the act of gaining wisdom. We aren‘t content to let knowledge build up haphazardly. Instead we select information, investigate it, refine it, and add it to our existing knowledge, strengthening the whole and protecting us more completely from errant information.

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