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The Curse of Knowledge by Neil Cole

Did you ever have a silly song in your head that you wished you could get rid of? It happens to us all. Some songs are so contagious that if one person hums the tune for two minutes, soon everyone in the room will be humming or thinking about the same song.

Chip and Dan Heath tell of an interesting Ph.D. study conducted at Stanford in 1990 based on a simple game of tapping songs. There were two roles for people to play in this experiment:  “tappers” and “listeners.” The tappers were each given twenty-five well - known songs such as “Happy Birthday to You” and told to tap the melody on a table. Listeners were to guess the name of the song. It sounds simple enough.

In the experiment, a total of 120 songs were tapped out. The listeners guessed right on only 2.5 percent of the songs. The listeners succeeded in guessing the right song 3 tries out of 120. What was remarkable about the study, and what merits repeating the story here, is that the tappers were asked to predict their success prior to tapping. They estimated that the listeners would figure it out 50 percent of the time. How could they be so far off? That is what is so interesting in the study.

The problem is that when the tapper taps, she is hearing the song played in her head. You can’t do the exercise without hearing the song; try it. The listeners, however, do not hear the song in their head; all they hear is a collection of random taps as if someone is trying to tell them some encrypted message with Morse Code.

Star Spangled Banner

Tappers were amazed how hard it seemed for the listeners to figure out the tune. When they guessed wrong on a well - known song such as “The Star Spangled Banner,” they would just look at the listener in a flabbergasted way, as if the listener were stupid.

The Heath brothers concluded: “The problem is that the tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they’re tapping, they can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it is like to not know it.”

In many ways, I believe we evangelical Christians suffer from the curse of knowledge. Not that knowledge is evil or a bad thing to have, but it can prevent us from learning something new. How many times have you tried to explain something new to someone, only to watch his eyes glaze over with inattentiveness and then hear him say repeatedly, “Yeah, I know. I know.”  You know the person doesn’t really know, but try convincing the person of it. This is the curse of knowledge preventing someone from hearing something new. It happens all the time.

When it comes to explaining some of the remarkable changes that are coming with Church 3.0, we simply must address the curse of knowledge before we can go much further. For hundreds of years now, we have all been operating under the knowledge of an old system, and it is all we have known. We have had the same song in our head for centuries. For you to even be somewhat open to the new ideas I am suggesting in this book, we need to address the fact that what you have known is not necessarily the only way to understand things in the Bible or the church.

Church 3.0

I am not proposing that we dump the Bible and instead learn from sociologists and trendy pop thinkers. In fact, quite the opposite: I want us to seriously ask ourselves if what we have always assumed to be in the Bible is indeed there. You see, I think we have a song in our head when we read the Scriptures, and the result is that we hear what is playing in our head more than what is written on the page. We are thumping out the tune on our Bibles instead of letting the Scripture teach us a new song. We must set our minds free from the ancient songs that are rattling in our heads and read the New Testament as if for the very first time. Is it really possible? If we are bold enough to try, we can discover some interesting things. I want to challenge you to take that adventure.

The truth is, it will serve you well throughout this book to try to mute the songs in your head, the ones written by our church fathers, and look at the Scriptures with fresh eyes. For far too long, Christian leaders have claimed that an idea is  “biblical” because they want it to be. In reality, all they did was simply tag on a few verses, often taken out of context, and put parentheses at the end of their idea. Doing this claims unfounded authority for ideas, but it also teaches a song. All of us have done this. We need to stop, so I am asking you for a little grace to listen to what I am saying in this book [Church 3.0].

Be noble - minded, like the Berean people in Acts 17:10 – 15...

(Read the rest of the introduction here)


[This is from the introduction to Church 3.0: Upgrades for the Future of the Church, which is a treatise on viral church multiplication movements.]

©2009 Neil Cole


Related Articles:

Upgrades for the Future of the Church | Video by Neil Cole
A Dangerous Question and the Organic Church
The Secret Source of Unlimited Leaders

A Simple Process for Evangelism & Starting Churches
Church 3.0 by Neil Cole with Portugues Subtitles | Video

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