Assuming Nothing: Auditing Your Understanding

It is really difficult to try and create an assessment of what areas and levels of knowledge in different subjects are needed, in order to understand economic blog posts, ideas, books etc or what do I know, what do I think I know, what have I studied but forgotten, which topics do I seem to understand more quickly or relate to more easily. I studied economics at UK A-Level for example, at that time, it wasn’t a formal requirement but was expected that you passed GCSE Maths – I can’t say with any certainty that anyone who didn’t have that could not have got permission to study economics, but it was unlikely.

However what does that actually mean? For example when you studied maths – during a lesson – a topic might be introduced, you might do some practical activities and discuss with others – in order to understand better, you might go on an external visit somewhere and so on. I realise I might be stating the obvious, but I think that there were all kinds of informal ways of applying your understanding that you are unaware of doing – outside of studying it formally too.

using sweets to create a model Related to the field I currently work in George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Snowden have been exploring knowledge, relationships with technologies and relationships with networks, for a number of years. Don’t wish to talk about this just yet, only that it has implications of how we learn, how we understand, how we make decisions either rationally or irrationally. Then going further back, the people’s work that they mention who have informed their understanding – and further back – with thoughts being discussed in ancient Greece etc

When I lived in Turkey, I used to spend a lot of time chatting on the street. Some people had small street businesses – based on conversations we had, a number of them had left formal education at around 13 years old or earlier. This will sound familiar – there have been many studies done looking at street businesses in different countries and how children have been able to run these businesses with limited formal education. Also in Turkey they were able to perform currency exchange calculations by thinking – in seconds, navigating krona, shekel, euros, dollars etc with ease, sometimes the Turkish lira was all over the place which meant that dollars, euros and pounds rates were changing every 10 minutes, sometimes quite big jumps up or down.

They would get hold of these rates and bargain with the customers – this is particularly interesting to anyone who wants to learn about economics – the idea of haggling – for someone who has limited formal education is able to hold complex discussions about what a price should be, what value should be attached, what a customer will feel comfortable paying for their purchase and negotiating continuously changing exchange rates, sometimes throughout the discussion, especially if you’re buying a carpet – that could be a 2 day discussion and multiple cups of tea.

Continuing with ‘assuming nothing’, economic post / essay / book authors and commenters who also write about these areas (some of them have won Nobel prizes based on models created with economic assumptions about knowledge and/or managed to accumulate a significant amount of personal wealth compared to the rest of the world) need to be examined and challenged, which I will attempt to explain in more detail in future posts too. We are still in serious economic crisis, so we cannot assume that anyone has any of the right answers.

So to the assessment, I would welcome any feedback on this. I would like to create a table of terms and concepts which I can then cross reference back to when talking about economic ideas. A bit like restaurant menus which have little pictures of chilli peppers to indicate how hot a dish is – intend to indicate a term and possible level of understanding required. The economic content covered on this blog will be based on the following, trying to keep this as open as possible :


  • Can recognise and perform calculations by thinking, writing down or using a calculator (but not necessarily all three) addition, subtraction, multiplication, division
  • Is familiar with % symbol and that it indicates a value out of  the total – 100 (may not have had experience of calculating a specific percentage)
  • Recognise a decimal point and to two places (ie. two places for showing a price of something)
  • Has used fractions  in everyday language and activities such as one half, one quarter, and familiar with their representation as 0.5, 0.25, has used one third and aware of the approximate representation of 0.3
  • Can identify some shapes, is aware of the terms symmetric / asymmetric and has played with an example of a shape to make it reflect (not necessarily other forms of symmetry)
  • Has heard of or seen the symbols of currencies such as dollar, pound / sterling, yen, euro
  • Has calculated the mean average (but possibly might not have heard of the term ‘mean’ and possibly unfamiliar with median and mode ) of a number of items or a set of numbers.
  • Is aware of different outcomes if you do a coin toss (but not necessarily identify patterns in multiple tries etc)
  • Can read a line, bar, pie chart which have labels of words (but not necessarily any associated symbols)

Some people have never studied any science of any kind so keeping these very open too:


  • Has heard of gravity and seen different things falling in different environments
  • Has pulled or pushed something, has seen different objects move in different ways
  • Has used electricity and/or gas to power something
  • Has seen things in different colours, shades of light and darkness

Other Sciences 

  • May or may not have heard of any term ending in ‘ism’, ‘ology’ , ‘phy’.

Is that totally outrageous?

There are many other areas which also are referred to in economic thought, but these are the ones that I think appear more regularly and have possibly been studied less in formal education, than other subjects

It will take some time to create the table – need to go back through all the posts and books, but includes some of these:

Maths Physics Other Sciences
Probability Quantum Physics Anthropology
Ratio Relativity Sociology
Power of Momentum Psychology
Square root State Philosophy

Any thoughts?