THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION by Steven Sloman

THE KNOWLEDGE ILLUSION

Why We Never Think Alone
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A tour of the many honeycombs of the hive mind, courtesy of cognitive scientists Sloman (Brown Univ.) and Fernbach (Univ. of Colorado).

You know more than I do, and you know next to nothing yourself. That’s not just a Socratic proposition, but also a finding of recent generations of neuroscientific researchers, who, as Cognition editor Sloman notes, are given to addressing a large question: “How is thinking possible?” One answer is that much of our thinking relies on the thinking of others—and, increasingly, on machine others. As the authors note, flying a plane is a collaboration among pilots, designers, engineers, flight controllers, and automated systems, the collective mastery or even understanding of all of which is beyond the capacity of all but a very few humans. One thought experiment the authors propose is to produce from your mind everything you can say about how zippers work, a sobering exercise that quickly reveals the superficiality of much of what we carry inside our heads. We think we know, and then we don’t. Therein lies a small key to wisdom, and this leads to a larger purpose, which is that traditional assessments of intelligence and performance are off-point: what matters is what the individual mind contributes to the collectivity. If that sounds vaguely collectivist, so be it. All the same, the authors maintain, “intelligence is no longer a person’s ability to reason and solve problems; it’s how much the person contributes to a group’s reasoning and problem-solving process.” This contribution, they add, may not just lie in creativity, but also in doing the grunt work necessary to move a project along. After all, even with better, more effectively distributed thinking, “ignorance is inevitable.”

Some of the book seems self-evident, some seems to be mere padding, and little of it moves with the sparkling aha intelligence of Daniel Dennett. Still, it’s sturdy enough, with interesting insights, especially for team building.

Pub Date: March 14th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-399-18435-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2017




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