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The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone Hardcover – March 14, 2017
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“In The Knowledge Illusion, the cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach hammer another nail into the coffin of the rational individual... positing that not just rationality but the very idea of individual thinking is a myth.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Sloman and Fernbach offer clever demonstrations of how much we take for granted, and how little we actually understand... The book is stimulating, and any explanation of our current malaise that attributes it to cognitive failures—rather than putting it down to the moral wickedness of one group or another—is most welcome. Sloman and Fernbach are working to uproot a very important problem... [The Knowledge Illusion is] written with vigour and humanity.” —Financial Times
“The Knowledge Illusion is at once both obvious and profound: the limitations of the mind are no surprise, but the problem is that people so rarely think about them... In the context of partisan bubbles and fake news, the authors bring a necessary shot of humility: be sceptical of your own knowledge, and the wisdom of your crowd.” —The Economist
“A breezy guide to the mechanisms of human intelligence.” —Psychology Today
“In an increasingly polarized culture where certainty reigns supreme, a book advocating intellectual humility and recognition of the limits of understanding feels both revolutionary and necessary. The fact that it’s a fun and engaging page-turner is a bonus benefit for the reader.” —Publishers Weekly
“An utterly fascinating and unsettling book, The Knowledge Illusion shows us how everything we know is bound together with knowledge of others. Sloman and Fernbach break down many of our assumptions about science, how we think and how we know anything at all about the world in which we live. Despite the wide-scale deconstruction, the authors are upbeat... Anyone engaged in the work of nurturing healthy and flourishing communities will ultimately have to wrestle with the questions posed in this book. Sloman and Fernbach help us to do so gracefully, acknowledging the truth of how little we know, and finding hope in this precarious situation.” —Relevant Magazine
“The message at the heart of this book is simultaneously humbling and inspiring: We don’t know very much individually, but what we know collectively is astounding.” —Mindful Magazine
“Between Sloman and Fernbach they have provided an insightful and thought-provoking read on how much the individual knows in relation to the community of knowledge.” —NPJ Journal
“We all know less than we think we do, including how much we know about how much we know. There’s no cure for this condition, but there is a treatment: this fascinating book. The Knowledge Illusion is filled with insights on how we should deal with our individual ignorance and collective wisdom.” —Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Stuff of Thought
“I love this book. A brilliant, eye-opening treatment of how little each of us knows, and how much all of us know. It's magnificent, and it's also a lot of fun. Read it!” —Cass R. Sunstein, coauthor of Nudge and founder and director, Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy, Harvard Law School
“Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach are experts on ignorance. Their absorbing book reveals all the ways we delude ourselves into thinking we know more than we do.” —Jonah Berger, author of Contagious and Invisible Influence
“Cognitive science attempts to understand the workings of the individual mind. In this brilliant book, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach show us that what cognitive science has learned is how much the individual mind depends on the minds of others. No matter how smart we are, as individuals we know (almost) nothing. Reading this book will inspire you to cultivate your own expertise, but even more, it will inspire you to seek out and appreciate the expertise of others. This book is a blueprint for an enlightened society.” —Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, Practical Wisdom, and Why We Work
“We radically overestimate how much we know. In this fascinating book, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach examine the origin and consequences of this knowledge illusion, exploring both the extent of our ignorance and the clever ways in which we overcome it. This is an exceptionally clear and well-reasoned book, and it has some important and radical things to say about everything from the allure of stories to how iPhones make us smarter to the pros and cons of democracy. This is psychology at its best.” —Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University, and author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
About the Author
Steven Sloman is a professor of cognitive, linguistic, and psychological sciences at Brown University. He is the editor in chief of the journal Cognition. He lives with his wife in Providence, Rhode Island. His two children have flown the coop.
Philip Fernbach is a cognitive scientist and professor of marketing at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two children.
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The only thing that tempted me to give it 4 stars was what I thought was a lack of advice on how to deal with these problems. Many pages were spent explaining how human thinking is fragile and how this results in bad effects. But there was very little discussion about how to proceed with this understanding. What are some practical ways to improve the knowledge system so individual ignorance has less of an impact? How does this apply to bosses/managers? Community leaders? Parents? Social Media?
I would welcome a second book about that topic specifically - now that you know all the problems with how we think and where knowledge is actually stored, here are some practical strategies for making the most of it!
It is a really easy-to-read book explaining the issues with human reasoning and our overestimation of our knowledge. I love the way they have broken down these amazing psychology/cognitive science topics and presented them in a format that the layperson can enjoy. At the same time, as a cognitive psychology student, it did not come off boring or over-simplified. They really found the perfect balance, here.
I have loved Steven Sloman's work on dual-process theories of reasoning, as well as reasoning, broadly. I was not as familiar with Philip Fernbach, but have since looked at some of his work and am equally impressed. I am very glad that they have produced this plain-English book on some topics which fascinate me (e.g., the illusion of explanatory depth). Definitely worth the read!!!
P.S. You will also learn how toilets function in the introduction, so there is something for everyone here.
If you answered "yes" to the previous question, take a a second and try to draw a bicycle on a piece of paper. How do the wheels, seat, and handle bars connect to the frame? Where are the gears, chain, and pedals?
I've seen thousands of bicycles in my life, have been riding one for almost 30 years, and have even done simple repairs and maintenance. Yet I failed this seemingly easy task. (See p. 24 for some amusing attempts at drawing a bike.)
This book illuminates how gaps like this can exist, undetected, in our knowledge: We often treat information stored outside our heads as knowledge without even realizing that it doesn't exist in our heads. This book, through compelling anecdotes and clearly described research, explores some of the benefits and pitfalls of our communal system of knowledge.
The Knowledge Illusion is a book that's easy to read and full of great information. Professors Sloman and Fernbach are highly respected and careful researchers with a particular knack for communicating their research and the research of their colleagues. I've read a lot of popular psychology books over the years and can confidently say this is one of the very best. It's a joy to read cover-to-cover (unlike some pop-psych books that feel like an essay stretched to fill 200 pages). I cannot recommend this book more highly.