Practice is the prerequisite to excelling at a skill. But what’s happening as one deepens their knowledge through practice? What are the differences we notice in experiencing someone who is an expert in their art? Well, what we are experiencing is the difference in dimensional depth. An expert has greater dimensional depth to their skills relative to a novice. To understand why this is, let’s think about the differences between a novice and an experts knowledge.
Someone first learning a skill has almost no knowledge. Their dimensional depth is low. Going from a novice to a professional follows a process of increasing dimensional depth. For example, in cooking an important skill is cutting. A novice can’t distinguish between different knife skills. They just chop shit up. Whereas a pro has more dimensions to their cutting skill. At the center is cutting, which branches off into many different styles. Brunoise, julienne, cube, mince, etc., then those branch off further into whatever purpose those cuts serve. Thus, there are more dimensions to the cutting skill. Which an expert has internalized. This is true for any skill. A novice understands the core, but is unaware of the many other branches. While an expert has absorbed the branches deep into his mind. They’re all interconnected, like the trunk of the tree and its composite branches that extend upwards. Branching off with seemingly infinite depth.
Now let’s compare a dish made by a novice versus an expert. A beginner cook will make meals out of a few simple ingredients and seasonings. Potentially no seasoning at all. Imagine now that they’re making a burger. Since we’ve all have had a burger before, I hope. They’d most likely purchase premade burgers, but for the sake of this example let’s assume they’re making it from scratch. A novice would just get some ground beef and mold it into a patty, fry it in vegetable oil, and likely slightly overcook it. Then they’d top it with store-bought seedless buns, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayo. A simple burger made by a novice.
A chef’s burger would look very different. A lot more steps would be involved. A potential patty made by a professional chef could be ground beef, which they make themselves. By combining much higher quality meat and choosing the appropriate fat content. For the patty imagine a beef short rib, simply seasoned with salt and pepper. It’d be fried in fat for more flavor and basted with butter, then topped with muenster cheese. The toppings could be a bun like a kaiser roll or potato roll, with homemade pickles, and a truffle mayo sauce. The pickles are made from thyme, dill, garlic, coriander, black peppercorns, mustard seeds, thai bird chillis, and topped with a brine to pickle the cucumbers. The truffle mayo consisting of egg yolks, dijon mustard, truffle oil, lemon juice, and warm water.
In each step, you see there are very few dimensions of depth in the novice’s creating process. In total the burger is 7 dimensional. The dimensions being ground beef, vegetable oil, bun, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and mayo. As you can see the combination of ingredients is mainly one dimensional. Whereas, the chef’s burger has vastly more dimensional depth. Even the ingredients are multidimensional. In total, the chef’s burger has 21 dimensions of depth. In addition, the years of experience with cooking add to the richness of depth found in a chef’s food. Masterful temperature control allows the burger to be cooked perfectly so it’s not raw nor burned. It’s perfectly juicy. The deep understanding of flavor combinations allows the expert to combine ingredients in a way where they enhance each other to produce a great burger.
If we were to try each burger. The chef’s burger per bite would be a richer experience. When we eat we swallow some bits of food before others. This idea would be illustrated better with another example since burgers are pretty uniform per bite. Anyway, first the bun hits your tongue, then as you continue to chew you taste the other ingredients. Now when you swallow the parts of the bun and meat you are left with some of the other ingredients. Imagine in the chef’s burger, the last piece you swallow is a piece of the pickle. This would still be a rich experience on its own minus the other ingredients since the pickle has 9 dimensions of depth. In contrast to the novice’s burger towards the end of your bite assume all you have left is a piece of tomato left in your mouth, a one-dimensional ingredient. Which is an impoverished experience when compared to the pickle.
Dimensional depth is why we deeply enjoy the work of experts. From books, sports, food, art, science, etc. the experts have incomparable dimensional depth. It allows them to deal with levels of complexity that would overwhelm a beginner. It also helps them to see more. Their internalized knowledge works through them. Helping them to react without needing to think heavily. Lebron James doesn’t have to think about how he’s going to react to a defender. He understands the subtle patterns in their movement which allow him to react instantly. Having years of experience observing people play. He understands the subtlest signs. A little give in the defender’s knee can signal opportunities for him to drive to the basket.
Thus, the distinguishing feature of a person who has mastered an art is dimensional depth. Whatever the craft/art might be, one who has spent years studying it develops an abyss of knowledge. As they develop and hone their skills in their craft. Their dimensional depth grows. The skills they practiced repeatedly become deeply ingrained in their subconscious. Through years of absorbing the knowledge of their craft, it becomes them.