Implicit Expertise

Holland’s favorite example of implicit expertise is the skill of the medieval architects who created the great Gothic cathedrals. They had no way to calculate forces or load tolerances, or anything else that a modern architect might do. Modern physics and structural analysis didn’t exist in the twelfth century. Instead, they built those high, vaulted ceilings and massive flying buttresses using standard operating procedures passed down from master to apprentice—rules of thumb that gave them a sense of which structures would stand up and which would collapse. Their model of physics was completely implicit and intuitive. And yet, these medieval craftsmen were able to create structures that are still standing nearly a thousand years later.

Complexity, by M. Mitchell Waldrop