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The Transitive Tendency of Knowledge

There’s a chance that you already know what I mean when I refer to the ‘transitive tendency of knowledge.’

You might be able to make an educated guess, informed by your knowledge of the transitive property of mathematics, which says that if A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C.

You may also have encountered other words with the prefix ‘trans,’ such as ‘transverse,’ which means ‘to extend across something,’ or ‘translate’ which means ‘to move from one place or condition to another.’

These guesses come to mind because you’re capable of using one body of knowledge as a lever when attempting to learn or understand another — perhaps related, perhaps not — collection of facts, ideas, and concepts.

The result is that the more you know about something, the more likely it is some crumb of what you know will be convertible over to another pursuit or exploration.

Knowing something about math or grammar allowed you to innately understand something about the premise of this blog post.

Knowing something about sociology grants you latent insight into aspects of event coordination.

Having worked as a restaurant server conveys prerequisite skills and knowledge you might be able to apply when working as a salesperson on a car lot.

This likelihood of fortunate crossover is amplified as you increase your depth and diversity of experience, and as you expand your range and rate of inquiry. Having more bits of information available means a greater chance that you’ll have a crossover-bit at some point.

In other words: the more you learn about more things, the greater the chance you’ll have an advantage in your future educational and career experiences.

Consistently cast a wide net and you’ll find that when you pursue new knowledge, change careers, or experiment with new hobbies, you’ll be less likely to start from scratch. You may even start from relatively high up the ladder, depending on how much of your past experiences and knowledge have crossed over with you.

This absolutely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also try to cast your existing net deeper — aiming for a greater density of profound knowledge in a field you’re already investigating — but it does mean that even one’s efforts toward mastery can be augmented by intentional, consistent dabbling in other fields and pastimes. Focus is good, focus to the exclusion of all else is limiting.

Knowledge is transitive in that it comes with you wherever you go and whatever you do. It’s not just a one-time payoff: it’s an investment that can potentially return dividends for the rest of your life.

And like any kind of investment which yields interest, the benefits to a wider breadth of understanding will be greater and more prevalent the sooner you start building your nest egg.