The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone – Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach

I grew up with a lot of people who had for more confidence than was merited to them. Frankly, I never got it.

I never got the confidence, that is. I believed that those people in my life were knowledgeable where they were not, but I could never transfer that on to myself. I believed them for a very long time, and when I broke free of the spell I became somewhat resentful. The world is a much more complicated place than we give it credit for.

It would be easy to dismiss this book as some researchers all calling us stupid. But I don’t think it is as simple as all that. The book is a lot more about that false confidence I had previously mentioned. We ride a bike and we assume we know how it works. Then someone asks us to explain how a bike works, and we begin to stumble. We don’t actually have knowledge of how the bike works. We have misplaced confidence that we know how the bike works. And sometimes, this lack of knowledge can be brought to our attention.

Knowledge, it would appear, does not work as we think it does. One of the more interesting points that this book brings up is that knowledge is communal and contextual. You tend to know things about the niche things that pertain to the groups you belong to. Most bikers know a little bit more about how the bicycle works than the rest of us. Those other people that we interact with are a part of our knowledge base, and in a respect this is where some of our knowledge is stored. Another place we store knowledge is in the world around us.

I get why we have the false confidence. It is truly scary to look at the world around us and admit to the ignorance of the mechanics behind it all. It is so much easier to just say that you get how it works, and not look to closely at what is really going on.

Personally, I have become very comfortable with saying that I do not know things. I wish more people would be, as I think this would make the world a better place.

This is at the end of the day a pop science book. Every review in this genre should contain the caveat that if you are already familiar with the subject matter here in you are likely going to find this book dull, superficial, and maybe even filled with tiny flaws. All of that is possible. But for us lay-people, the book is certainly interesting.

And it may actually help with something.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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