About Knowledge & illusion: Ignorance and Knowledge
Understanding the mind in this way can offer us improved ways of approaching our most complex problems. Recognizing the limits of our understanding should make us more humble, opening our minds to other people’s ideas and ways of thinking. It offers lessons about how to avoid things like bad financial decisions. It can enable us to improve our political system and help us assess how much reliance we should have on experts versus how much decision-making power should be given to individual voters.
Instead of appreciating complexity, people tend to affiliate with one or another social dogma. Because our knowledge is enmeshed with that of others, the community shapes our beliefs and attitudes. It is so hard to reject an opinion shared by our peers that too often we don’t even try to evaluate claims based on their merits. We let our group do our thinking for us. Appreciating the communal nature of knowledge should make us more realistic about what’s determining our beliefs and values.
The knowledge illusion also has important implications for the evolution of society and the future of technology. As technological systems become more and more complex, no individual fully understands them. Modern airplanes are a good example. Flying is now a collaborative effort between the pilot and the automated systems in control most of the time. Knowledge about how to operate a plane is distributed across the pilots, the instruments, and the system designers. The knowledge is shared so seamlessly that pilots may not realize the gaps in their understanding. This can make it hard to see catastrophe coming, and we have seen the unfortunate consequences. Understanding ourselves better may help to create better safeguards. The knowledge illusion also affects how we should think about the most transformative technology of our age, the Internet. As the Internet becomes ever more integrated into our lives, the community of knowledge has never been richer, as vast, or as easily accessible.
There are other implications too. Because we think communally, we tend to operate in teams. This means that the contributions we make as individuals depend more on our ability to work with others than on our individual mental horsepower. Individual intelligence is overrated. It also means that we learn best when we’re thinking with others. Some of the best teaching techniques at every level of education have students learning as a team. This isn’t news to education researchers, but the insight is not implemented in the classroom as widely as it could be.
We hope that this app will leave you with a richer understanding of the mind, one in which you have a greater appreciation for how much of your own knowledge and thought depends on the things and people around you. What goes on between our ears is extraordinary, but it intimately depends on what goes on elsewhere.
INTRODUCTION: Ignorance and the Community of Knowledge
ONE What We Know
TWO Why We Think
THREE How We Think
FOUR Why We Think What Isn’t So
FIVE Thinking with Our Bodies and the World
SIX Thinking with Other People
SEVEN Thinking with Technology
EIGHT Thinking About Science
NINE Thinking About Politics
TEN The New Definition of Smart
ELEVEN Making People Smart
TWELVE Making Smarter Decisions
CONCLUSION: Appraising Ignorance and Illusion
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