The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Hardcover)

Staff Pick Logo
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone Cover Image
On Our Shelves Now
1 on hand, as of Mar 20 9:45am

Staff Reviews

The authors detail how, until directly questioned, we believe we understand a great many things about the world. They stress that the world is simply too complex and full of too many details for one mind to master, so we often rely on intuition instead of deliberation. We operate under this "knowledge illusion" in part because we rely on the thoughts and expertise of others while rarely explicitly acknowledging this. As such, intelligence is best conceived as being spread over a community. We're always working in teams and always relying on an unspoken "division of cognitive labor" while attempting to achieve our goals. The knowledge illusion results in a host of problems when we attempt to deal with complex issues (e.g., climate change, the economy, politics). The book shines when the authors remain in the areas of their expertise. When they venture into philosophy and physics, their examples are scant and the issues they bring in become oversimplified. This criticism (or compliment), of course, is a good example of the main thesis of the book.

— Andy


"The Knowledge Illusion is filled with insights on how we should deal with our individual ignorance and collective wisdom." --Steven Pinker

We all think we know more than we actually do.

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 intelligence lies in the people and things around us. We're constantly drawing on information and expertise stored outside our heads: in our bodies, our environment, our possessions, and the community with which we interact--and usually we don't even realize we're doing it.

The human mind is both brilliant and pathetic. We have mastered fire, created democratic institutions, stood on the moon, and sequenced our genome. And yet each of us is error prone, sometimes irrational, and often ignorant. The fundamentally communal nature of intelligence and knowledge explains why we often assume we know more than we really do, why political opinions and false beliefs are so hard to change, and why individual-oriented approaches to education and management frequently fail. But our collaborative minds also enable us to do amazing things. The Knowledge Illusion contends that true genius can be found in the ways we create intelligence using the community around us.

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.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780399184352
ISBN-10: 039918435X
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication Date: March 14th, 2017
Pages: 304
Language: English