The Knowledge: London cabbies' multi-year, grueling training



The Knowledge is interesting on a lot of levels, but one thing that’s always been of particular interest is the brain changes that they mention in the article. Since it’s an obvious change that’s demonstrably a result of the studies (rather than being an inherent difference that makes it more likely to learn The Knowledge), it shows that anyone claiming more subtle brain differences (between men and women, say) “must be” the result of biology rather than socialization doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Because this is proof that some pretty big brain differences can be due entirely to activity rather than biology.


I haven’t taken many London cabs but one night I took one home when I was living in London and I got talking to the cabbie about the knowledge. In those days I think it was still ‘only’ 4 years. He volunteered at one point to tell me where we had just driven and listed, going backwards every street that we had driven down from where he picked me up. Amazing.

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Perhaps they could abandon the knowledge now we have sat navs and instead dedicate four years of their lives to driving training and anger management.


All that work, study and personal sacrifice to be bested by a fuckwit with a smartphone…


“The Knowledge” - tv comedy drama from 1979 based around trainee cabbies. Lots of late '70s London street scenes. Good fun.

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Complete tangent, but it’s odd seeing the road you live on described like it’s some kind of Mad Max desolate wasteland that only someone with the knowledge could find. It’s got two fancy cafes, a nice restaurant and a well known art gallery as well as the warehouses, if anyone fancies visiting Stour Road.

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Driving a black cab has historically been a path to upward mobility for working class migrants,

I’m not sure of the truth of this. Cabbies certainly are working class, and in other cities many of them are migrants (as are London’s minicab drivers). But London taxi drivers tend to be native Londoners, even if as the article says many of them are children of migrants. I think the Knowledge is a major part of this.

There’s a reason why the stereotypical London black-cab driver holds very right-wing political views which he (told you it was a stereotype) will expound at his passenger, in between “you’ll never guess who I had in the back of my cab the other day”.

Lucky me. I somehow got the only cab driver in London who couldn’t find my hotel. And who couldn’t figure out how to get to it once we were near it. We pulled up to another hotel on the opposite side of the street and he tried to convince me “they changed the name”. I had to explain to him that I’d already checked in and was returning after an evening out.

I think he was extremely new. He had trouble figuring out how to work the meter too.

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I thought it was interesting that the article describes cabbies as having a “telegraphic memory” – is that phrase common? At least in the US the phrase is “photographic memory”. I’m trying to picture telegraphic memory – does it involve having everything relayed to you internally in Morse code?

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The black cabs know their way around much, much better than any other sat-nav driven driver.

The literally KNOW the roads, they don’t just follow directions.

Hence, more often than not, they’re quicker.

I use Ube / black cabs about 50/50. Ube is a lovely ride, black cabs get you there fast.

Yeah, I still can’t figure out how a job that requires you to study full-time without compensation for three or four years is supposed to be a way out of poverty. The guy in the article says he started pursuing it because he wasn’t happy making only (the equivalent of) ~80 grand a year, and it’s cost him well over a quarter-mil in opportunity costs during his years of study. That’s not “working class upward mobility.” At best it’s “upper middle class upward mobility.”

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