Concerning experience and its alternatives

Some thoughts on learning from experience, and cheaper ways of getting to the same result.

A recent post tagged “aphorisms” led to a reader request for more like it. I’m a big fan of the form, and along with David Hsia I put together a small compendium called “Out of Context.”

Here’s a sample: a series of thoughts on learning from experience, and other, cheaper ways of achieving the same goal. These aren’t original (e.g., #4 is Poor Richard, and the last is a paraphrase of Popper) but we took the liberty of rewording to our own taste.

Good judgement comes from experience.
Experience comes from bad judgement.

Experience is the name
people give their mistakes.

Only slow learners get burned twice.

Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.

Experience keeps a hard school,
but some fools will learn at no other.

Anyone can learn from a mistake;
it takes a genius
to learn from success.

It’s much cheaper to learn
from someone else’s mistakes.
That’s called “history.”

Science is a way of getting experience
without paying the full price.
We make our theories die in our stead.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “Concerning experience and its alternatives”

  1. here’s my aphorism for the day–

    i’ve hurt myself more worrying too much
    than i have ever been hurt by not worrying enough.

  2. Over the weekend my wife and I were in the library and discovered that they had a set of DVDs of the original episodes of “Dark Shadows” from 1966. We’ve been having a lot of fun watching them. In the most recent batch of episodes we watched, Dr. Guthrie has discovered that Laura Collins is actually one of the undead, come back from the grave after hundreds of years seeking to reclaim the spirit of her son David. In an attempt to stop her, Dr. Guthrie confronted her with what he knew, but she practically dared him to try and stop her. Seeking help in their struggle, Dr. Guthrie decided to hold a séance to see if he could summon the spirit of Josette Collins, who has helped them before. But as Dr. Guthrie was on his way to the séance, Laura used her supernatural powers to cause his car to crash, killing him. At which point my wife turned to me and said, “Let that be a lesson to you. Next time, don’t tell the undead you’re on to them.”

    Truer words were never spoken.

  3. How about virtual experience as a preparation for the real thing? “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton.”

  4. This one is old, but as it happens I specifically remember the first time I heard it — from Herb Brooks, when he was coaching the legendary “Miracle on Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team in 1980: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

  5. If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton, was Gallipoli, or Yorktown, lost at Harrow?
    Aphorisms should be used in pairs: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained/if you don’t bet you can’t win/he who hesitates is lost” but “Look before you leap/slow and steady wins the race”. And maybe smiled at, and put aside in favor of real custom-made thinking.
    As the saying – which I have custom-made out of my own personal brain for this occasion – goes, “A fool and his aphorism are soon outsmarted”.

  6. Maybe a bit specialized, but something all of my students hear in one form or another:

    There is no such thing as a stupid question in the lab; stupid mistakes are quite common, however, among those who won’t ask questions.

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