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The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,165 ratings  ·  153 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 ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 14th 2017 by Riverhead Books
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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
...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.
...more
Nilesh
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
...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 ...more
Tiago Faleiro
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology
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
...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
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
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 ...more
Peter Mcloughlin
We have biases and shortcomings in our cognition. Our brains were designed by nature for social calculation and some causal prediction, not all the things we need to use them for these days like calculating probabilities, remembering vast amounts of data or doing science. However, our individual limitations are made up for by collective knowledge. We are like honeybees in some way. I have heard it quipped that we are 90% primate and 10% social insect. We use collective knowledge and technology ...more
Nikhil
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
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
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
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
...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 ...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.
Amine
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you enjoy arguing with people on the internet about topics varying from your field of expertise to politics, soccer and climate change, you should read this.
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
...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
...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
...more
Karla Osorno
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2018
I have a lot to say about this book - much of which I cannot now tell you - which in some ways proves its point. As the authors made their case through historical and current examples plus experiments and results, it made complete sense. Yet to articulate the points to you now is impossible for me (not because the authors failed, purely my own choice to read and not study the content).

The information is shared in a way that communicates without condescending. Humbled by this book and highly
...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
...more
Anne Janzer
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In a world of growing complexity, we are all more interdependent than we think, and our intelligence isn’t stored within our own brains. Sloman and Fernbach show us the humbling limits of our individual knowledge, as well as the power of the community of knowledge.

The book is both relevant and important.
Josh Balascak
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
meh, i agree with the point. Intelligence is spread across the community. part of the reason we've progressed so much over the past few decades. knowledge isn't a monopoly anymore in the hands of a few elite institutions/church. The book just makes that point over and over. To long.
St Fu
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

This question appears on Yale Marketing Professor Shane Frederick's CRT--"Cognitive Reflection Test." He found it in a book of riddles. (Collaborating!--he needn't create his own questions from scratch!) Those getting it and two other similar questions right are, we're told, in the minority. The CRT distinguishes people who like to reflect before they answer from those who just answer with the
...more
Sunrise (Brit)
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
115% = 6 Stars?

This book is one of my favorites for this year. I LOVED it.

This is the argument against Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy on intelligence. One says to be alone is the great strength, while the other argues for collaborative enterprise, and this one wins.

I really don't know where to begin. This book blew my mind and taught me a lot. I was full of curiosity and wonder while reading. I already want to reread it actually.

Whoever this author is, Steven Sloman, you are brilliant. Great
...more
Harini Dedhia
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The more you read this book the more you realize how little you know. The author does a great job of exposing us to our own illusions of explanatory depth making us realize how we feign understanding without actually attaining it. However it is isn't in vain. Drawing upon a community of knowledge is possibly the more efficient way of going about life as it is extremely difficult for anyone to be an expert at one topic let alone everything. And while a certain dose of illusion gives one the self ...more
Darnell
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I felt like this book had a potentially very strong idea that it diluted through various applications. The opening suggests that the way we fundamentally think about knowledge and thinking is flawed, which is a lot more than I'd expect from a pop science book. But much of the elaboration of that theme was the same few ideas, and I felt the chapters on AI and IQ were pretty shallow attempts to tie in their main theme.
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“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.” 6 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.” 4 likes
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