I think for me habituation brings up questions of agency that worry me a little as a model for learning. I don’t know enough about the field it comes from, except that it’s commonly illustrated with startling animal science experiments involving the way the brain adapts to external stimuli. OK, so I get that this is a kind of learning, but it feels so … helpless.

The point of habituation is that it seems to end the capacity for reflexivity. Once you’re no longer startled by the sound of the shrill whistle, you no longer think about either the whistle or about the process that enabled you to get used to it. So I think you’re right that this is a problematic—but really interesting—metaphor for having learned something to the point that you can practice it unselfconsciously.

I can’t make furniture, but I can relate to this as I’m notoriously slow to learn to use new things. Spreadsheets. I never fail to feel the shock of the plunge into icy water when I open one, and it’s because somehow I can’t develop an instinctual sense of their architecture, their rules, the ideas that bind them together. I guess this means my brain just isn’t adapting.

What I’m wondering is if that’s actually quite a good thing. In a spreadsheet, I never forget how tiny I am, I never mistake myself for expert at anything at all. (In fact, the eruption of self-doubt is pretty impressive, and reaches boiling point after about five minutes.) So I really have to think carefully, every time, about what I’m doing. My sense is that this process makes possible something important and purposeful about learning that goes well with your opening point about the value of uncertainty.

Sorry this is long.