The (Mis)Alignment of Knowledge
When we know the opposite of what we do
A thought experiment:
You are riding motorcycle. You want to take a right turn, which way to you turn the handlebars and front wheel?
Of course I wouldn't ask you this question if the answer were the obvious one. Typically people imagine that the bike turns like a two-wheeler car: the bike turns right when the front wheel points towards the right. In other words, to turn right one should pull the right handlebar towards themselves and the left handlebar away.
It turns out (heh) that this is NOT how you turn a motorcycle. Instead, you turn the wheel in the opposite direction of the way you want to go to initiate the turn, something called countersteering.
Here is a video that demonstrates this:
The physics are interesting. By turning the bars, you are inducing the bike to lean in the direction you want to turn, which is what is directly causing the turn, not the angle between the wheels.
What I want to draw attention to here is the nature of the knowledge underlying the ability to ride a motorcycle.Surely, those who ride motorcycles must understand countersteering, otherwise they would always be turning in the wrong direction, no?
Yes and no. Clearly they have to execute the appropriate mechanics to turn the bike. But they don't need to be aware of what they do and, crucially, they can hold the false belief that they turn the front wheel to point into the direction of the turn, and yet ride reasonably well!
Let this fact sink in. It's not only that they have a skill that is unconscious that they don't understand consciously, their conscious beliefs are directly at odds with their effective execution.
But here is the kicker: highly skilled riders definitely do understand that they are countersteering. You won't find a racer who does not know they are doing this, for instance.
We can do what we don't understand. We can even do what we misunderstand. But we MUST understand what we do to achieve excellence. Head and gut must become aligned.
As we consider what it means for a person to learn something, we must be aware of the potential for misalignment, and create conditions to achieve the alignment of knowhow and conscious understanding. This is where excellence lies.
By the way, this is true on your pedal bike as well conditional on not riding too slow, albeit a bit more subtle because the bike is so much lighter)