The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone


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Why We Never Think Alone

Sloman and Fernbach break down many of our assumptions about science, how we think and how we know anything at all about the world in which we live.

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Despite the wide-scale deconstruction, the authors are upbeat… Anyone engaged in the work of nurturing healthy and flourishing communities will ultimately have to wrestle with the questions posed in this book. Sloman and Fernbach help us to do so gracefully, acknowledging the truth of how little we know, and finding hope in this precarious situation. The Knowledge Illusion is filled with insights on how we should deal with our individual ignorance and collective wisdom.


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A brilliant, eye-opening treatment of how little each of us knows, and how much all of us know. Read it! Read An Excerpt. Paperback —. Add to Cart. Product Details. Inspired by Your Browsing History. Related Articles. Sometimes communities get the science wrong, usually in ways supported by our causal models. This is a recipe for antiscientific thinking. We are cooperative cognitive scavengers, which is to say, we live in communal shallow cognitive ecologies.

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone – Science Book a Day

The cognitive reports of ingroup members, in other words, are themselves powerful tells , correlations allowing us to predict what will happen next absent deep environmental access or understanding. And this brings us back to the well-dressed man in The War of the Worlds , left stranded with his useless bills, dumbfounded by the sudden impotence of what had so reliably commanded the actions of others in the past. Paper currency requires vast systems of regularities to produce the local effects we all know and love and loathe.

Since these local, or shallow, effects occur whether or not we possess any inkling of the superordinate, deep, systems responsible, we can get along quite well simply supposing, like the well-dressed man, that money possesses this power on its own, or intrinsically. Pressed to explain this intrinsic power, to explain why this paper commands such extraordinary effects, we posit a special kind of property, value.

What the well-dressed man illustrates, in other words, is the way shallow cognitive ecologies generate illusions of local sufficiency.

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We have no access to the enormous amount of evolutionary, historical, social, and personal stage-setting involved when our doctor diagnoses us with depression, so we chalk it up to her knowledge , not because any such thing exists in nature, but because it provides us a way to communicate and troubleshoot an otherwise incomprehensible local effect. How did your doctor make you better? Obviously, she knows her stuff! Given our shallow metacognitive ecology, we presume that the heuristic systems applicable to troubleshooting practical cognitive problems can solve the theoretical problem of cognition as well.

But since we remain committed to our fetishization of knowledge, we conclude that knowledge, whatever it is, simply cannot be in the head. Knowledge, we insist, must be nonlocal , reliant on natural and social environments. But of course, this cuts against the very intuition of local sufficiency underwriting the attribution of knowledge in the first place.

You Do Not Think Alone

And so, cognitivism and post-cognitivism find themselves at perpetual war, disputing theoretical vocabularies possessing local operational efficacy in everyday or specialized experimental contexts, but perpetually deferring the possibility of any global, genuinely naturalistic understanding of human cognition.

The time has come to leave both cognitivism and post-cognitivism behind, and to embrace genuinely post-intentional approaches, such as the ecological eliminativism espoused here. The Knowledge Illusion , in this sense, provides a wonderful example of crash space , the way in which the introduction of deep, scientific information into our shallow cognitive ecologies is prone to disrupt or delude or simply fall flat altogether. Intentional cognition provides a way for us to understand ourselves and each other while remaining oblivious to any of the deep machinations actually responsible.

For all the conceits Sloman and Fernbach reveal, they overlook and so run afoul perhaps greatest, most astonishing conceit of them all: the notion that we should have evolved the basic capacity to intuit our own deepest nature, that hunches belonging to our shallow ecological past could show us the way into our deep nature, rather than lead us, on pain of systematic misapplication, into perplexity. The time has come to dismantle the glamour we have raised around traditional philosophical and psychological speculation, to stop spinning abject ignorance into evidence of glorious exception, and to see our millennial dumbfounding as a symptom , an artifact of a species that has stumbled into the trap of interrogating its heuristic predicament using shallow heuristic tools that have no hope of generating deep theoretical solutions.

The knowledge illusion illusion. In the same way that money is though to have intrinsic value some of us think that words have intrinsic meaning. In that sense the illusion that words have intrinsic meaning makes philosophy possible in the same way that the illusion that money has intrinsic value makes modern economies possible. One way I try to understand Crash Space is in Kellhus terms. In the same way that most of us can use money to command the labor-power of others, Kellhus could use mere words to exact any sacrifice. We can all do that, to a greater or lesser extent.

We can all have it done to us, to a greater or lesser extent. Language can exact sacrifice or command labor power because it can convey meaning. If everything you hear is likely to be a lie you have to be on your guard constantly, but as anybody who has ever served any prison time knows, being on your guard constantly is exhausting.


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We either collapse by collapsing or we collapse by picking someone and trusting him or her unconditionally. Modern advertising has been training us to suspect lies for the last several decades. Cognitive technology will likely make some of us even more cynical and mistrustful and some of us more gullible and foolish as it destroys the ability of words to convey meaning. I think part of that is an inability to back words with actual goods like money used to be backed by gold. Money strangles the ability to extend community goodwill, letting it decide who is friends with whom.

Grow part of your own food supplies, guys — and share it as well. Yeah, a bit of a banal message! Want some rhubarb? The fact that the value of gold fluctuates shows that the value of gold is not intrinsic.

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In the same way, the meanings of words are not intrinsic. Is it possible that the ecology which makes possible the illusion that words and other symbols have intrinsic meanings can break down?

Is it possible that in the same way modern economies degenerate into barter economies absent a medium of exchange that can convey economic value, modern societies will degenerate as language loses the ability to convey meaning? If so, what will societies degenerate into? Yeah, but gold is genuinely rare — and like a bower bird collects blue, we have a fascination for it.

Kinda like a dragon. It takes the former to beget the latter. Like the bower birds fascination with blue, gold really is ecological. Now we seem to not just have fetishes derived from ecological fetishes, but fetishes derived from fetishes derived from e. Good points, all—especially regarding philosophy. I guess the question is whether vigilance, which can be seen as a kind of subpersonal, system 1 type suspicion is capable of doing the trick.

Is the issue that this truth is sort of being taken as survival enabling? Or is it neither of them? Nice distinction on the causal and correlative cognition.

But what of talk of ourselves living off correlative cognition — even as we recognise it as correlative but living off that anyway — actually bringing it home to personal real life example? Where are the personal examples of fool living? The technicality of the writing makes it all sound so concise instead. Ie, demonstrable ability to produce things or if you want to be anal about the wording, to reconfigure the environment to match a goal. The time has come to dismantle the glamour we have raised around traditional philosophical and psychological speculation, to stop spinning abject ignorance into evidence of glorious exception.

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone

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