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The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone Hardcover – March 14, 2017
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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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
“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
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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Top customer reviews
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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!
1. We don't know much at all.
2. We think we do.
3. Problems result.
Oh, a few other things:
1. There's a community of knowledge.
2. By being a member of that community, we have access, in some ways to that knowledge, but access does not equal possession. However, we think it does.
3. Problems result.
1. People don't like lengthy explanations.
2. People like stories, false though they may be, and put great credence in them.
3. People seek causal explanations, but can use only those cause motivators with which they're familiar (hence gravity doesn't exist, but a rock thrown up loves the earth and seeks to return to it)
4. Experts opine on areas over which they have little expertise (like me, perhaps, here)
5. Ignorance = illusion = bliss until ... too late! And even then, who to blame?
There's more, here and there, but really, the authors have provided us with a book replete with lengthy examples that are repetitive, and hide the fact that there is little original research, and less original thought here. It is just a rehashing of (largely well publicized already) behavioral science work from the last two decades. And not much of it - we have death by story/example. Of far greater interest might be such works as:
Thaler's Nudge (which is referred to by the authors)
Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves (about the adaptive unconscious)
Ariely's Predictably Irrational (about mistakes we make, and make again)
Surowiecki The Wisdom of Crowds (how groups are smart ... if not always smart!)
These, but for the last, are about individual, not group decisions and behavior. And not about the fact that we don't know what we think we know. But they cover more material per page, and will result in a better "illusion of explanatory depth" for some of the ways we behave.
The authors start out by giving examples of incredibly smart people doing foolish things as well as asking the reader to go through several exercises to test their understanding of their own knowledge. They are good prompts to familiarize the reader with their own ignorance that they were perhaps ignorant of themselves. The author discusses some neuroscience and gives some arguments for the benefits of a mind able to construct a causal framework in which events can be predicted. The author then discusses how this our views of causal relationships can be very wrong and the mind's intuition which we default do doesn't serve us when solving problems with unique basis of assumptions. The author's also touch upon AI and how it has evolved in the last 70 years, where it has not developed as people thought and where it is going now. I wouldn't give that much credit to this part of the book as there is much better material out there. The author discusses how collaborative thinking can be a good mechanism for people to see how differentiated expertise can lead to improved research abilities and that often if not always great human achievements are dependent on groups rather than individuals. The authors remind us that deifying the achievements of the individual are often due to our belief that in the mind of one person there can be so much whereas we are all constrained and dependent on both collaboration as well as idea copying. The authors discuss how technology is impacting our ability to be honest about our own knowledge and how our ability to experience is changing with technology. The author also brings up our weak understanding of science and the failings of initiatives to improve scientific reasoning and how even those with good scientific knowledge actually rest their understanding on the expertise of others rather than deep intrinsic knowledge of the subject matter. The authors also discuss the political sphere and the extremely weak ability for people to work through the causal implications of what their voter preferences would imply. As a consequence politics becomes dependent on what the group neighborhood thinks rather than based off individual thoughtfulness. This the author's note is part of the reason for voter divisiveness today and in particular its not as though value systems are so far apart its rather that people talk in big principles rather than policy repercussions and so debates are heated by framing and group thinking. The author's discuss how we need to view intelligence and human capacity and that our biases are innate so policies which have some paternalism can be beneficial. The author's bring up some ideas from behavioral economics like nudging people's preferences to better outcomes for society.
The knowledge illusion discusses a lot of concepts around how the mind functions, what its limitations are and how we can be blind to our ignorance. I think most thoughtful people recognize that their knowledge is limited and that the more complex the world is the more it is difficult to create a comprehensive view of causality. Nonetheless the book communicates its ideas well and gives some good examples highlighting how our own understanding of our ignorance is usually ignored, potentially to our peril. Worthwhile read, no really new ideas but good mix of psychology, technology, politics and social policy.
Most recent customer reviews
But before I finish this book, I would like to point out a factual mistake.Read more
Informative look at humans and how we process information and perceive knowledge.Read more