Tool Skills and Persona Skills

All human achievement can be summarized as a series of actions. However, normally we find long descriptions of atomic actions alienating. We intuitively recognize that small actions come from larger narratives and models of the world, which 1098 hand movements would completely miss. These narratives and models can themselves be the products of narratives and models, in this way there is a ladder of abstraction between mental constructs that generate many possible sub-constructs and those that result mostly in actions.

Observing people who seem to employ skills very high on the ladder of abstraction, I notice they would have a hard time transferring them to others. I think that the usual assumption here is that these skills are intrinsic, someone gets them as a result of who they are. However for many of them I think the causation is actually backwards. You start with the skill, and getting better at it changes who you are. One axis of variance for skills is how much using them changes the user. All skills provide at least a little change, if nothing else you can now accomplish a task you couldn't before. However some mental constructs weave their way into everything once they sink their roots. I refer to skills that are cause-neutral and usable by anybody as tool skills, they change the user only in slight ways. By contrast, skills that cause great change in the user I refer to as persona skills. Someone who gets great at conversation, to the point where they can have a conversation go well consistently will change their entire social outlook. Mastering the art of hurting people psychologically, will influence every coping mechanism and conflict resolution strategy you develop afterwards in negative ways. One woman I know claims to have trained herself so she can forget things at will, which almost certainly impacts how you look at the entire human experience.

So perhaps for things like this, it goes in reverse. Before learning the skill you were different, you thought about things a certain way. After learning the skill, it started to creep more and more into how you thought about things, slowly changing you until you rely on the skill for large parts of your 'skill tree'. As a consequence, when people look at you and ask how you how to do things that rely on great conversations or hurting others with words or making yourself forget, you shrug. The truth is that you can't explain it to them, not easily anyway. In all likelihood you've forgotten how you learned the skill. It seems like they'd have to be an entirely different person first.

Compatibility Of Patches On The Soul

If you'll permit me a bit of speculation, I think another thing that might distinguish persona skills is that you can only have so many at once. Because of their nature as essentially patches on the soul to achieve excellence, it's quite possible that there are harmful interactions which can occur from incompatible or conflicting changes. Two persona skills that work great individually, might be at odds when they occur together in the same person. Certainly many fields of endeavor find 'training issues' with people that have already learned a different mindset. Lawyers are famously cranky about the way programmers interpret law, 'humanities people' and 'STEM people' love to rant about how the other group just doesn't get it. I would not be surprised if underlying a lot of these conflicts are deep persona skills whose learnability is partially path dependent on which you do first. 1

1 In the 'humanities versus STEM' case I think the historical example of polymaths like Leonardo Da Vinci might be misleading, as art used to be a common way for naturalists to express their observations about the world. With the invention of photography this skill of illustration is less critically important than it once was.