João Freitas

The following is a view on theory (science) and practice (art).

When I hear something referred to as “more art than science,” I get excited.

That means one of two things to me:

  1. There’s alpha in mastering it, or
  2. There’s even more alpha in formalizing it.

First, there’s alpha in mastering it. Mastery of a “more art than science” skill is tough to emulate – you can’t follow a playbook. You need both grit and self-direction. Maybe the space is new (e.g., “prompt engineering”) or constantly changing (e.g., any media). Self-study to become a great mathematician is hard, but the path is well-known (what to study, in what order). Self-study to become a great filmmaker is a much more unknown path (long feedback loops, changing dynamics, etc.).

Second, there might be even more alpha in formalizing it. The underlying events might be random or hard to grok. Stock trading for the average retail investor is gambling. There is little analysis and rarely any information that others haven’t incorporated. But there are hedge funds that have continuously outperformed the market for decades. Not all tasks can be formalized, but some can be distilled into repeatable strategies or principles over time. There’s immense value in taming the most stochastic processes.

Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic. Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others. Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject can plainly be handled systematically, for it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously; and every one will at once agree that such an inquiry is the function of an art.

– Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book I, Part I

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