‫‬‮‭The knowledge illusionwhy we never think alone

‫‬‮‭The knowledge illusionwhy we never think alone Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little Cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that we survive and thrive despite our mental shortcomings because we live in a rich community of knowledge The key to our intelligence lies in the people and things around us We're constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads in our bodies our environment our possessions and the community with which we interact and usually we don't even realize we're doing it The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic We have mastered fire created democratic institutions stood on the moon and seuenced our genome And yet each of us is error prone sometimes irrational and often ignorant The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know than we really do why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change and why individually oriented approaches to education and management freuently fail But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things This book contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the world around us

  • Hardcover
  • 304 pages
  • ‫‬‮‭The knowledge illusionwhy we never think alone
  • Steven Sloman
  • English
  • 26 December 2016
  • 9780399184352

10 thoughts on “‫‬‮‭The knowledge illusionwhy we never think alone

  1. says:

    Challenging PowerThe Knowledge Illusion is a demonstration of the thesis it articulates Our intelligence resides not in individual brains but in the collective mindthe hive mind Each of us as the 18th century philosopher Frederick Leibniz proposed contributes to what we perceive and conceive as reality In fact everyone who has ever existed contributes to that reality We each contribute but none of us can know all that is known Human knowledge floats in a world beyond human understanding Plato implies this same idea in the earliest Western philosophy His eternal Forms are one way to express the inscrutable reality that is shared but not controlled by conscious beings There is than a hint of divinity in the potentially infinite power of this shared knowledge We can only define it in the way that Anselm devised in the 12th Century as that of which nothing greater can be conceivedThis reality is not necessarily true In fact it cannot be true because it is continuously changing as new minds emerge and affect other minds through communication But the idea of an ultimate reality truth is essential in order for conscious beings to function in the world without going mad Truth is that reality which has been constructed or revealed if one happens to be religiously oriented by the collective mind at the end of time The American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce proposed just this definition of truth in the mid 19th CenturyIn the 20th Century Ludwig Wittgenstein recognised that language itself is the carrier of reality We are born into it and cannot escape its independent power Language manipulates us every time we use it Through language we progress or not but as Wittgenstein's contemporary Martin Heidegger uipped Language speaks man as much as man speaks language Sloman and Fernbach have given a modern sociological voice to this ancient philosophy In an age of increasingly ideological politics this voice is crucial It is a voice that reminds us that no one has the right to claim a privileged view of reality much less truth It undercuts both the individualists by insisting on the social foundation of our existence and the collectivists by pointing out the necessity of individual experience Taken seriously this is a voice that continuously exposes power of any sort for what it is coercion and calls it into uestion

  2. says:

    It all begins with toiletsEveryone throughout the developed world is familiar with toilets A typical flush toílet has a ceramic bowl filled with water When the handle is depressed or the button pushed the water—and everything that’s been deposited in it—gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system But how does this actually happen?In a study graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices including toilets zippers and cylinder locks They were then asked to write detailed step by step explanations of how the devices work and to rate their understanding again Apparently the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance because their self assessments droppedToilets it turns out are complicated than they appearSloman and Fernbach see this effect which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth” just about everywhere People believe that they know way than they actually doWhat allows us to persist in this belief is other people In the case of my toilet someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily This is something humans are very good at We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history So well do we collaborate Sloman and Fernbach argue that“We can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor is that there’s ‘no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge’ and ‘those of other members’ of the group”So not just rationality but the very idea of individual thinking is a myth Humans rarely think for themselves Rather we think in groups We think we know a lot even though individually we know very little because we treat knowledge in the minds of others as if it were our ownThis is not necessarily bad Our reliance on groupthink have us an edge over all other animals and turned us into the masters of this planet The knowledge illusion enables us to go through life without being caught in an impossible effort to understand everything ourselves From an evolutionary perspective trusting in the knowledge of others has worked extremely well for humansThis borderlessness or if you prefer confusion is also crucial to what we consider progress As people invented new tools for new ways of living they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on say mastering the principles of metal working before picking up a knife the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much When it comes to new technologies incomplete understanding is empoweringButthe knowledge illusion certainly has its downside The world is becoming ever complex and people fail to realize just how ignorant they are of what’s going on Conseuently some who know next to nothing about meteorology or biology nevertheless conduct fierce debates about climate change trumptrumpsters while others hold extremely strong views about what should be done in Ira or Ukraine without being able to locate them on a map Also It gets much complicated in the political domain How could we then vest authority in voters and customers who are so ignorant and susceptible to manipulation? If Sloman and Fernbach are correct providing future voters and customers with and better facts would hardly solve the problem Try using facts and proofs to convince half witted ignorant and imbecile Trump and Trumspters that climate change is actually a thing and many other similar things that are established facts and not a propaganda by ChinaEncouraging people to be realistic about their ignorance is as it sounds very hardPeople rarely appreciate their ignorance because they lock themselves inside an echo chamber of like minded friends and self confirming news feeds where their beliefs are constantly reinforced and seldom challenged“As a rule strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding”It’s not really hard then to understand what dafa is happening around especially in the current political scene in US and IndiaMass Psychology Cognitive Dissonance Confirmation Bias Rise of Nationalism Jingoism Xenophobia IsolationismSo what’s the alternative? Sloman and Fernbach don’t have a solution and they’re well aware of the limits of their own understanding and they know they don’t know the answer In all likelihood nobody knowsIf you like this book you should probably club this with ‘The Enigma of Reason' by Hugo Mercier Dan Sperber'

  3. says:

    The Knowledge Illusion has a reasonably simple idea to start with The authors repeat that numerous times They meander in multiple directions but almost always come back with nothing but vague directives or known generalities Despite the authors' own admission towards the end about the topics and discussions sounding commonplace and trying to make a virtue out of the ordinary a lack of anything substantially new leaves one highly disappointedAn individual knows precious little on her own She can achieve precious little on her own as well An individual is always mightily mistaken in the estimation of own knowledge or capacity to do anything by ownself Nearly a half the book is consumed in providing support to these seemingly obvious conclusions and the proofs are sprinkled all through Surrounding them the authors try to weigh in on topics like Only teams or a collection of individuals have achieved almost everything worthwhile throughout the history of mankind Almost all achievements that are ascribed to lone individuals like Martin Luther King or Einstein were largely because of the teams and circumstances surrounding them and would have been achieved even without those precise figures A highly dubious claim which in the least reuired much justification than simply an assertion Separately the authors go on to warn that teams or a collection of individuals are prone to group thinking which is dangerous and should be avoided An aside such suggestions and directives on what all individuals should be following spring up without any preludes or forewarnings throughout Best individuals do not make the best teams Like in other cases only generalities are provided if you want advises on what would result in a good team Our dependence on technology is rising and dangerous We must prepare for a life where technology may malfunction Don't ask how the book finds ways to topics like these Machines cannot have or share the intentionality that humans have An extremely naive view that goes something like this only a human can have an intentionality or a desire like going from place A to place B via a sunset route According to the book machines are mere tools that would efficiently facilitate our intentionalities and can never replace humans because of the lack of intentionality The book in a span of a page or two seems to cast aside the concepts like Singularity without ever recognising the simplest of possible objections like machines' AI etc's ability to unearth desires that we could be unaware of or create things that lead to completely new desires social networking for instance or even separate intentionality from objectives that machines can easily have without any interventions in the world we are headed to A good section on how we become aware of our lack of knowledge once primed through a series of uestions that make us deliberate about the boundaries of our knowledge The book also feels that we are likely to accept what we don't know when it comes to opinions when we are provided with causal or conseuential reasonings only in a sufficient and not excessive uantity and not explanatory rationales We should rely on experts while keeping in mind that they too have their own biases Still many decisions cannot be left to crowds and should primarily rely on experts' opinions To a degree this is against the grain of the book's theme but the contradiction is never felt by the authors to provide any explanations Even a small saving every month could add up to a huge amount in a few decades' timeThe book is likely to have appeal for those starting their reading journey in the fields of social sciences through pop culture books

  4. says:

    While I enjoy Sloman and Fernbach's very engaging writing style and their deft use of helpful analogies to illustrate certain concepts I really don't see much here that is original or genuinely thought provoking Maybe it's just me but unless you've never considered the fact that the things you use on a day to day basis are things you don't fully comprehend have ever thought that your knowledge even within your specific field is not entirely housed within you but within a larger community nor ever admitted to yourself how much ignorance of certain areas of life you genuinely operate under then I don't think you're going to find this book particularly compelling As I said they are fine writers there just doesn't seem to be much uniue material here

  5. says:

    Our point is not that people are ignorant It's that people are ignorant than they think they are We all suffer to a greater or lesser extent from an illusion of understanding an illusion that we understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meager 8It's remarkable how easy it is to disabuse people of their illusion; you merely have to ask them for an explanationWe have also found that people experience the illusion not only with everyday objects but with just about everything People overestimate their understanding of political issues like tax policy and foreign relations of hot button scientific topics like GMOs and climate change and even of their own finances We have been studying psychological phenomena for a long time and it is rare to come across one as robust as the illusion of understanding 22Storytelling is our natural way of making causal sense of seuences of events That's why we find stories everywherePeople see stories everywhere 64Why do we so naturally tell stories that reuire reasoning about counterfactual worlds? Perhaps the main motivation is that it allows us to consider alternative courses of actionThe ability to think counterfactually makes it possible to take both extraordinary and ordinary action Some of humankind's greatest discoveries are due to counterfactual thought experiments 65In a community of knowledge what matters than having knowledge is having access to knowledge 124Public opinion is extreme than people's understanding justifies Americans who most strongly supported military intervention in the Ukraine in 2014 were the ones least able to identify the Ukraine's location on a mapApparently the fact that a strong majority of people has some preference does not mean that their opinion is informed As a rule strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding They often emerge in the absence of understanding 172This discussion yields a variety of lessons about our political culture One is simply a confirmation of an obvious fact about our political discourse It's remarkably shallow Citizens commentators and politicians freuently take a stand before engaging in a serious analysis of the pros and the cons of proposed legislation TV shows often masuerade as news but in fact consist of participants screaming at one another It doesn't have to be this way As individuals we tend to be ignorant But our airwaves are an important medium to provide correctives and give thoughtful experts a voice We don't expect shows not to be biased; all reporting has some bias but the public does deserve an analysis; public voices should consider the actual conseuences of proposed policy and not just overwhelm us with slogans and spin If we encountered detailed analysis it might influence our decision making 188Deciding on who has expertise and whether that expertise is biased is a difficult problem But it's not insoluble Indeed society has many institutions in place to help Experts come with recommendations that speak to their knowledge and credibility They have histories that can be checked and reputations that can be assessed Although information from the Internet does not come with a guarantee of accuracy there is a fairly effective web industry that has developed to report clients' ratings of experts As long as there are enough clients and the websites responsible for collecting and reporting the ratings are themselves credible this can work well Discovering the credibility of an expert is certainly a manageable problem than asking everyone to become an expert and is in fact the only way to solve social problems 189direct democracy is vulnerable to manipulation just like other forms of governanceThere are a lot of reasons to be critical of ballot measures voted on directly by citizenry Our main concern is that such measures neglect the knowledge illusion Individual citizens rarely know enough to make an informed decision about complex social policy even if they think they do Giving a vote to every citizen can swamp the contribution of expertise to good judgment that the wisdom of crowds relies on 190We have seen that a good way to reduce people's extremism and increase their intellectual humility is to ask them for an explanation of how a policy works Unfortunately the procedure does have a cost Exposing people's illusions can upset them We have found that asking someone to explain a policy that the person doesn't really understand does not improve our relationship with that person Freuently they no longer want to discuss the issue and indeed often they no longer want to talk to usWe had hoped that shattering the illusion of understanding would make people curious and open to new information about the topic at hand This is not what we have found If anything people are less inclined to seek new information after finding out that they were wrong Causal explanation is an effective way to shatter the illusion but people don't like having their illusion shattered In the words of Voltaire 'Illusion is the first of all pleasures' Shattering an illusion can cause people to disengage People like to feel successful not incompetentA good leader must be able to help people realize their ignorance without making them feel stupid This is not easy One way is to demonstrate that everybody is ignorant not just the person you're talking to Ignorance has to do with how much you know whereas being dumb is relative to other people If everybody is ignorant then no one is dumbLeaders also have the responsibility to learn about their own ignorance and effectively take advantage of others' knowledge and skills Strong leaders make use of the community of knowledge by surrounding themselves with people who have deep understanding of specific issues More important strong leaders listen to those experts A leader who spends significant time collecting information and talking to others before making a decision can be seen as indecisive weak and lacking vision A mature electorate is one that makes the effort to appreciate a leader who recognizes that the world is complex and hard to understand 192 193A real education includes learning that you don't know certain things a lot of things Instead of looking in at the knowledge you do have you learn to look out at the knowledge you don't have To do this you have to let go of some hubris; you have to accept that you don't know what you don't know Learning what you don't know is just a matter of looking at the frontiers of your knowledge and wondering what is out there beyond the border It's about asking whyAs individuals we know little There's not too much we can do about that' there's too much to know Obviously we can learn some facts and theories and we can develop skills But we also have to learn how to make use of others' knowledge and skills In fact that's the key to success because the vast majority of knowledge and skills that we have access to reside in other people 220 221Individuals don't make decisions by themselves Other people formulate options for them other people present those options and other people give them advice Moreover people sometimes copy decisions that are made by others for example when stock market guru Warren Buffett makes a decision to buy a stock many people copy him We should be thinking about decision making from a communal perspective The knowledge reuired for decision making is not merely in individuals' heads but depends heavily on the community of knowledge 241The University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and the Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein have developed a philosophy that they call libertarian paternalism Although the name is a mouthful the idea is simply and compelling The main observation is that people don't always make the best possible decisions' they don't always choose the option that makes it most likely that they will achieve their own goalsThe libertarian paternalist believes that behavioral science can be made a force for good that it can be used to improve our decision making Behavioral science can be used to identify the reasons we make decisions that we regreat and change the process of decision making so that better decisions are made in the future Such changes are referred to as nudges The idea is that behavioral science can be used to nudge decisions to make them better in the sense that they are aligned with what decision makers actually wantA nudge for organ donation is to change the law so that everyone is an organ donor by default You can choose not to be but that reuires a little actionMaking people opt out rather than opt in increases enrollment in a variety of plansNudges are libertarian in the sense that they don't reduce people's ability to choose Nobody is preventing you from eating a large pizza or from being an organ donor or not But they are paternalistic in the sense that somebody else decides which options are going to be encouraged Somebody else has put the pizza later in the cafeteria line so that you're likely to choose the salad The main argument for this kind of paternalism is that the choice has to be made one way or another Something has to be earlier in the cafeteria line so why not make it the item that people feel most attracted to when they are not in the heart of the moment when they can think dispassionately about what the best food options are?The big lesson of the nudge approach is that it is easier and effective to change the environment than it is to change the person And once we understand what uirks of cognition drive behavior we can design the environment so that those uirks help us instead of hurt us 248 249

  6. says:

    I consider this a 'must read' for anyone wanting to understand the polarization of today's society inflamed by social media My reason for reading this is to gain insight for work strategies since the modern approach is to deny what those truly trained in an area have to say What I learned is that none of us know as much as we think we do the knowledge illusion That's not necessarily a bad thing except when we don't realize it The other thing is and really this is true look at your own interactions people really don't want to be inundated with facts The challenge is making information that is complex understandable in very basic bits Obviously there are no easy answers but understanding the problem and being offered some approaches is very helpful Also this book addresses recognizing the knowledge we rely on which is outside of own heads this is the why we never think alone part These are important topics The authors have done a great job organizing and presenting the material

  7. says:

    I loved it While still about general cognitive biases and illusions it goes well beyond many of the typical books about it Its main premise is that knowledge at least the vast majority of it isn't in our heads per se but rather our intelligence lies in the people and things around us Despite this though we feel that it's part of our own knowledge Sloman and Fernbach see this effect which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth” People believe that they know way than they actually do Best exemplified by how little we understand everyday devices like toilets zippers and cylinder locks The typical narrative of human bias is put at the individual but Sloman and Fernbach rightful put it in the social context as well much forgotten yet very needed Very well written with helpful analogies and always supported by scientific evidence

  8. says:

    We have biases and shortcomings in our cognition Our brains were designed by nature for social calculation and some causal prediction not all the things we need to use them for these days like calculating probabilities remembering vast amounts of data or doing science However our individual limitations are made up for by collective knowledge We are like honeybees in some way I have heard it uipped that we are 90% primate and 10% social insect We use collective knowledge and technology to run our societies which no individual has complete mastery We depend on others knowledge for almost everything we do In the world of information and knowledge there are no islands no hermits and no rugged individuals

  9. says:

    25 starsThere were some very interesting ideas that were explored in this It gives you a greater appreciation for what you don't know The book definitely got me to assess my own knowledge differently Here are some pretty cool uotes from the book that really stood out to meOur point is not that people are ignorant It’s that people are ignorant than they think they are We all suffer to a greater or lesser extent from an illusion of understanding an illusion that we understand how things work when in fact our understanding is meagerMembers of the community are critically dependent on each other No one is an island; no one knows it all; collaborative learning is necessary for survival This interdependence promotes an atmosphere of joint responsibility mutual respect and a sense of personal and group identity However this was a reuired reading for my class so that kind of took the fun out of reading it I also felt that there were parts in this that were overly emphasized or that seemed to drag on and weren't that interesting Which is pretty ironic considering that the book talks about how we pick and choose what we find to be useful information and tend to skim other things

  10. says:

    First let’s start off with the positives What I thought was engaging was the chapter about forward processes and backward processes A forward process is when you go from cause to effect and a backward process is when you go from an effect to a cause This is self explanatory but we often fall into the trap of making inferences based off of backward processes with little information confusing causality which can lead to disastrous decision making Forward thinking processes are easier to decipher and see what causes what when compared to backward processes this should help critical thinkers as a guideline as when to avoid speculations to understand you’re operating out of your depth The second tidbit I thought was interesting was the sections on how we think we understand how certain processes work or how physical objects work in general like for instance drawing a bicycle from memory with all the correct parts or explaining how a toilet works Sometimes we confuse knowledge in ourselves for our own ability and not knowledge that comes from the community Researchers found that students who had access to a search engine were likely to confuse the search engines knowledge as apart of their own instead of the communities This is an important distinction one that should be made clear we often confuse information that is attainable through other areas as apart of our own understanding There was some areas of politics on how people made political decisions but these studies were context dependent For example when you ask someone to explain how this position would work they become open to an introspective position and become likely to change as opposed to when you ask them “give reasons for this position” this did not work in political topics like abortion When asked to explain there position they were likely to defend their view points rigorously Now the parts where I thought were puzzling The author brings up the analogy of the luddites rebelling against the machines in the early 19th century which would have taken there jobs to being opposed to technology today If I was for instance to protest against the fast food services cashiers and drivers being replaced I am being against technology? Think about the amount of income ineuality the algorithm and automation revolution are generating think about the disparity in political power between owners of these technologies vs the early average citizen how are the people who lost these jobs going to find new ones? I remember that when NAFTA destroyed the jobs in the Midwest we were told that these jobs would be replaced? Look at the Midwest and now there is a public health emergency of heroine and pills What fostered the conditions for those pills to be used? You don’t think mass amounts of unemployment impacted these areas disproportionately do you?BUT WAIT THERES MORE 90’s infomercial voice he compares being against the automation and evaporation of the American workforce towards being against climate change as well? Wait let me get this straight if I am against the growing power of economic and political concentration held by the owners of the companies who will benefit from mass automation I am also against climate change because I don’t believe in science? My impression of this book was that it tried to be a book that saw through illusions and issues plaguing societies but often times fell flat and benign You know when you shake a coke bottle and it starts fizzing to the top and you open the cap and it explodes out? This book felt like it was a coke bottle that was shaken up but when opened nothing happened I would say somewhere between 3 34 stars probably a 32 but I’d be okay if you gave it a 34 If this book was lying around your house I’d say yeah give it a try but if it was something you actively had to pursue I would table it for better books

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