Digital Garden of Paul

Real Knowledge & Chauffeur Knowledge

According to Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffet, two types of knowledge exists. He distinguishes real knowledge and pretend knowledge. The story Munger tells is the following:

I frequently tell the apocryphal story about how Max Planck, after he won the Nobel Prize, went around Germany giving the same standard lecture on the new quantum mechanics.

Over time, his chauffeur memorised the lecture and said, “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine. [What if] I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?” Planck said, “Why not?” And the chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics. After which a physics professor stood up and asked a perfectly ghastly question. The speaker said, “Well I’m surprised that in an advanced city like Munich I get such an elementary question. I’m going to ask my chauffeur to reply.”

Munger describes these two types of knowledges as:

  • Planck knowledge
    • These people know their stuff. They have the aptitude that belongs to it. They do their work.
    • In this area one does not only memorised the knowledge, but also understands why this form is chosen
  • Chauffeur knowledge
    • It is all about copying information
    • The surface of the information is known, but it lacks understanding
    • People here pretend, they don't do the work

The problem is that it’s difficult to separate the two. This is the Batesian Mimicry problem. One way to tease out the difference between Planck and chauffeur knowledge is to ask them why.

[farnam2015knowledge] Street, F. (2021, 1 februari). The Two Types of Knowledge: The Max Planck/Chauffeur Test. Farnam Street.

Real Knowledge & Chauffeur Knowledge