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The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,040 ratings  ·  249 reviews
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 intelli ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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BlackOxford
Jun 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Challenging Power

The Knowledge Illusion is a demonstration of the thesis it articulates: "Our intelligence resides not in individual brains but in the collective mind...the 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 understand
...more
Satyajeet
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
It all begins with toilets.
Everyone (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. The
...more
Michael Perkins
So what does a fact look like?

https://thebaffler.com/latest/what-do...

===============

“I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don't like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credibl
...more
Nilesh Jasani
May 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
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 disappointed.

An individual knows precious little on her own.
...more
Dan Graser
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Emily
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
"Our point is not that people are ignorant. It's that people are more 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. (8)

**********

"It's remarkable how easy it is to disabuse people of their illusion; you merely have to ask them for an explanation...We have also found that people experience the illusion not only with everyday objects but wit
...more
Kotryna
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A book about ignorance, focusing on a lack of personal mindfulness in making everyday decisions and the appraisal of hive-mentality (trusting communal knowledge). The main concept of the book is based on all of us thinking we know more than we do and an importance of trusting expertise of a wider community instead of trying to solve every problem individually.

In my opinion, the book is a bit too descriptive; it presents a case study after a case study of the same ideas without a deeper analysis
...more
Kay
Apr 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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 in ...more
Tiago Faleiro
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, owned
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 more than they ac
...more
Jason Furman
May 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
A convincing, enjoyable and insightful account of the "illusion of knowledge" by two of the researchers that developed the idea. Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that knowledge is social, that humans have unparalleled ability to learn from each other, cooperate, and take advantage of the division of labor (an argument that was fleshed out in somewhat more detail and different directions in the outstanding The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our ...more
Hans
Jul 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
Best part of illusions is how few of us ever recognize that we live in them. We all have an over-inflated confidence in our understanding. Our grasp of reality is extremely superficial, but this isn't entirely a bad thing, despite how much social commentators lament the ignorance of the average person the reality is that the human mind was never designed to act in isolation. Instead the true genius of the human brain is how it is optimally designed to work in concert with other minds which in tu ...more
Asif
Sep 20, 2022 rated it really liked it
Cognitive science is the study of human intelligence, the search for the magic ingredients that allow people to perceive. Steven Sloman focuses on the impact of community, and society in the creation or enforcement of knowledge or illusion of knowledge. Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth”: People believe that they know way more than they actually do. Best exemplified by how little we understand everyday devices, like toilets, zippers, and cyli ...more
Maukan
Nov 19, 2018 rated it liked it
.

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 dec
...more
Daniel
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
We think we know much more than we do. In fact, most of us do not know much about even how every day things work. The authors gave 2 simple examples: the zip and the toilet bowl. First they asked how much people understood them. Then they asked them to actually explain it, and most of them have great difficulties doing so. When finally asked again how much they understood them, the professed lower understanding.

So how can we do this? We can do this because our knowledge lies in the totality of
...more
Nikhil Iyengar
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A reasonably good read, even though it deliberately focusses on one premise (We don't know as much as we do by ourselves) above all else. While I agree with all the points made, I think that it could have been better paced out and written in a more compelling way. The essence of it is solid, it deserves that much praise. ...more
Melissa
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
One takeaway to remember: getting people to write out a causal explanation of a topic they have strong feelings about often leads to them moderating the extremity of their position on the matter because it forces them to recognize how little they really understand about a topic. This could be useful in the future as a person who is EXTREMELY interested in reducing political extremity! (Ha! I kill me!). But seriously, let's do whatever is necessary to reduce extremist political positioning.

I noti
...more
Laurent Franckx
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
In the concluding chapter of "The knowledge illusion", the authors argue that really novel ideas often seem obvious once they are accepted. Without false modesty, they try to convince the reader that the central idea of their book indeed falls into this category.
As far as I am concerned, they may well be right. And the reader is thus warned that he may find everything that follows trivial.
The key message is that people are not just incredible ignorant (even when they are very smart), but that th
...more
Sarah Gibson
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, I'm taking a class that gave us a number of books to choose from to write an essay on how it connects to the subject matter we're discussing (i.e. Information Communities). I decided to go with The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. I won't post my boring essay, but I'll just give a basic description of the book and a short rundown of my thoughts.

In the Knowledge Illusion the authors are making the point that since human brains evolved to filter out most information, much of what
...more
Amber
2.5 stars

There 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 quotes from the book that really stood out to me,

"Our point is not that people are ignorant. It’s that people are more 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
...more
Aunfav
Dec 08, 2019 added it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joe
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Should be required reading. One of my favorite excerpts:

"Most people just want the best health care for the most people at the most affordable price. The national conversation should be about how to achieve that.

But such a conversation would be technical and boring. So politicians and interest groups make it about sacred values. One side asks whether the government should be making decisions about our health care, prompting their audience to think about the importance of limited government. The
...more
Michelle Arredondo
Jan 08, 2017 rated it liked it
A book I did not read at once. Instead I read a little...put it down...went back to it from time to time. Enlightening and somewhat enjoyable. I did not love the book but I did not hate it. I enjoy that I have it on my self because it is a book I can go back and reference, or take a few lines from, etc.

Again..enlightening...entertaining...a bit of food for thought.. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman is an interesting book and one that can def spark an intelligent
...more
Mandy
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Funny and smart, I loved the combination of science and philosophy and cognitive psychology. It was easy to read and I found it incredibly interesting and particularly relevant to where my thoughts have been lately. I loved the little puzzles and questions and the specific examples broken down by the authors. I appreciated the layout of the chapters and how they set the reader up knowing what to expect from the next, and constantly referring to how they all fit together and why the contextual kn ...more
Jorge
Oct 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Sloman and Fernbach are professors with a background in cognitive science. In this book, they explain why we know less than we think we know; we fill in the gaps by leveraging the knowledge of others.

This seems obvious, and it is — I didn't find much in the book surprising. (In its conclusion, the authors admit that the ideas they discuss have been around for a long time.) However, Sloman and Fernbach use simple, real-world examples that make it easy to relate to the issues.

I would recommend t
...more
Emma Sea
The information in here is important, but it's kind of a dry read, and it didn't start getting good until over halfway. It's the literary equivalent of a wheat grass shot. 5 stars for content, but 2 for my actual enjoyment of it. ...more
Pat Wilson
Mar 17, 2021 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amirmansour  Khanmohammad
May 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“Poor performers overestimate how well they’ve done; strong performers often underestimate their performance.”
Aly
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Reading this book felt like reading a series of blog posts by some authors that I have read in the past.

The first big idea presented in the book is that we are fallible and that our individual knowledge is limited. Furthermore, we are often not cognizant of these limitations, which leads to what the authors call the 'knowledge illusion'. We don't really know the things that we think we know.

The key to humanity's success has been our sharing of knowledge with each other, which also led to humans
...more
Emanuel Blaga
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most brilliant book I've read this year so far.

Here is a book that addresses the knowledge process and mechanisms operated by human brain drawing beautiful parallels with computer knowledge and how machine accumulates and operates knowledge versus human brain and why we cannot really compare the two just yet.

It explains beautifully what intuition is, a complex, fast and efficient decision making system but not fully accurate and compares this with deliberation system where the decision m
...more
Bev
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
An Audible listen, this book was very interesting. Starting with studies on how little detailed understanding we have of things like toilets, zippers and other every day objects. it then moved to the fascinating observation that, despite this, we rate ourselves "experts" on most things. When asked to explain, few can, and when asked to explain in a "cause and effect" manner, we usually realise our deficiency.

There were many studies and anecdotes punctuating such observations. Most of them jaw dr
...more
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  The glint of fangs in the dark, the sound of tap-tap-tapping at your window, the howling of wind (or is it just wind?) in the trees...that's...
319 likes · 59 comments
“We typically don’t know enough individually to form knowledgeable, nuanced views about new technologies and scientific developments. We simply have no choice but to adopt the positions of those we trust. Our attitudes and those of the people around us thus become mutually reinforcing. And the fact that we have a strong opinion makes us think that there must be a firm basis for our opinion, so we think we know a lot, more than in fact we do.” 9 likes
“I really do believe that our attitudes are shaped much more by our social groups than they are by facts on the ground. We are not great reasoners. Most people don't like to think at all, or like to think as little as possible. And by most, I mean roughly 70 percent of the population. Even the rest seem to devote a lot of their resources to justifying beliefs that they want to hold, as opposed to forming credible beliefs based only on fact.” 6 likes
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