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Why do people pretend to know something? Why confidence is so often proportional to the ignorance? Steven has Broken, a Professor of cognitive science at brown University, has some interesting answers.
"We tend to maintain a sense of self-righteousness, simply no other way", he said. In the book "The Illusion of Knowledge: Why We Never Think Alone" Broken focused his research on judgment, decision-making processes and reasoning. He is particularly interested in what is called "the illusion of profound knowledge" — so cognitivity call our tendency to overestimate the level of understanding of the world.
According to Broken, we do it because they rely on other mental abilities.
"the Decisions we make, opinions are formed, judgments that we make — it all very much depends on what other people think"
If people around us do something wrong, we will likely divide their error. In the same way is formed the notion of loyalty to something.
In this interview, the Professor talking about the problem of unfounded confidence. I questioned him about the political importance of the research, about whether he considers that the surge of "fake news" and "alternative facts" reinforced our cognitive distortions.
This conversation has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Sean Illing: How do people form opinions?
Steven Broken: I believe that our attitudes are formed social groups to a much greater extent than facts. We're not very good reasoning. Most people do not like to think or like to think as little as possible. And for most, I mean somewhere in the 70 percent of the population. Even the rest tend to devote most of its resources to the justification of beliefs, which they want to adhere to, and not on the formation of accurate opinions, based only on facts. Think about what would happen if you pointed out a fact that would contradict the opinion of the majority of your social group. For this you would have to pay. If I told you that voted for trump, most of my colleagues would think I was crazy. They wouldn't talk to me. So, social pressure, and often unnoticed influences on our epistemological commitments.
Sean Illing: in Other words, we live in a knowledge society.
Steven Broken: Right. I think every thought we think is dependent on what other people think. When I turn the road, my actions depend on what the driver thinks. If I sit in the bus, the success of the enterprise will depend on the thoughts of the bus driver.
When I speak on immigration, what am I doing, really? What I really know about immigration? I live in a very limited universe, so I have to rely on the knowledge of others. I know what I read; I know what I heard from the experts. I have not experienced its consequences; I have not been on the border and have not studied the issue of immigration alone.
In this sense, our solutions, the formation of attitudes and judgments are very dependent on what others think.
Illing: this obviously has risk, right?
Broken: One of the dangers is that I think that I understand, because people around me think that they understand, and all around think that you know, because everyone around them feel that you understand, and it turns out that we all have a strong sense of understanding, although no one really knows what was going on.
Illing: I'm trying to think about all this, trying to our political circumstances. Most of us know not so much as think, but nevertheless firmly believe about many issues. So when we argue about politics, what are we arguing about really? We argue in order to reach the truth or to keep our sense of rightness?
Broken: Not sure there's a clear distinction between the desire to reach the truth and the desire to maintain the sense of rightness. In the political sphere, as in most others, where we can't just see or hear the truth, we rely on social consensus. So the essence of the dispute is to try to convince others, trying to convince himself. In fact, the victory in the dispute determines our belief in anything.
of Course, we strive to maintain a sense of self-righteousness, but on the other can not be. If it were otherwise, we would have to start again every time there is a problem — the previous disputes, we would never come in handy. However, in this people differ. Everyone has the need to be right, and it means that we want that people thought that we are right, and this is easily achieved by saying the same what others say. And capable people are usually better than others know how to interpret new facts in accordance with pre-determined opinions of their environment.
But some people try to rise above the crowd: independently evaluate assertions, check on the fairness of the approval of others and following the facts where they actually lead. Indeed, many people are trained to do just that: scientists, judges, investigators, criminologists, doctors, and so on. This does not mean that they always do so (and they do not always), but it is expected that they will try.
I like to live in communities where first and foremost goal is to achieve truths, even if they are contrary to social norms. It means to live in constant tension, but it's worth it.
Illing: This phenomenon the "illusion of deep knowledge", and applies same to the left and to the right. This is not a party issue; it is a human problem.
Broken: Exactly, and our data clearly show it.
Illing: how do you collect these data? What experiments have you set to "out" our inclination?
Broken and I do experiments in the laboratory and through the Internet. My colleagues and I try to highlight a representative group of Americans, and after asking them questions, mostly abstract. In the case of political concepts, we offer people to evaluate their relationship and understanding of one approach or another, then please explain this concept (what it is and what consequences may result), and then the subjects re-estimate their attitude and understanding. We found that attempts to explain weaken the sense of understanding, and, on average, make less radical.
Illing: Is it necessarily bad that our knowledge relies mostly on the knowledge of others? Isn't that the answer to the problem of our bandwidth? We can learn and only learn a certain thing, so it looks like we have no choice but to act this way.
Broken: I think it's necessary. We have no other choice. Can't be that one person coped with everything, so we have to rely on other people. In our case it is absolutely rational decision. However, we do not have to live in the illusion. If we don't understand something, we must not think that we understand. But I feel that some people need to believe in their own understanding in order to survive. The problem is that our beliefs are too often support totally unfair ideas and installation.
Illing: In my opinion, here we enter problem territory. Ignorance and confidence — a dangerous mix. If the confidence is equated with their ignorance, there is no way to overcome them.
Broken: Absolutely. This is a very dangerous kind of arrogance. And our President is the best example. However, we should think about the community that made the existence of this administration possible. I hate listening to the lies of trump, but I'm more annoyed by the fact that 44 percent of the U.S. population trust his words more than the major media. It drives me crazy because that is what gives him strength. (author's note: according to the latest Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent of Americans trust trump more than media)
, Elling: well, that's why the prevalence of "false news" and "alternative facts" is so destructive.
Broken: of Course. And disturb me not just "right", as you suggested, but "left".
Hilling: are There any indications that the situation is improving with the argument? If we manage to gradually overcome our cognitive biases?
Broken: My answer is quite different from what I would have said eight months ago.
Illing: Suppose you believe that the Internet and the collapse of our media-environment only worsens the situation?
Broken: it is Obvious that we are never confined in their environment so much as it is now. I was shocked with how little I know about half of the population. I am quite unable to understand their way of thinking. And in this respect nothing has changed.
Despite the fact that I make the effort, the problem is that everyone around me have views that coincide with my own, but I'm sure that, for example, people from the city of Grand rapids, Michigan see things differently. But I don't deal with these people. The Internet only worsens the situation in the sense that we can unite in online communities of like-minded people. And the fact that the news agenda is becoming more individualized greatly worsens the situation. Thus, even if I want to understand that sees the other side, Google is constantly fed me because I want to see myself. And it's bad for everyone.
Hilling: do you have any idea of the practical resolution to this problem? How can we develop self-awareness and to deal with the bias of thinking? How to search for a more intelligent community?
Broken: Thinking people are less prone to illusions. There are some simple questions that you can check. For example: How many animals of each kind Moses took on the ark? Most will say that every creature on the pair, but a thinking person would say that does. (After all, the ark was built by Noah, not Moses.)
the fact that we must not only come to a kind of conclusion, but to confirm it. Many communities support this approach (e.g., academic, judicial, medical and other). Need to one asked the question "are You sure?", and others worried about the explanation. Every society ought to accept such norms. The problem, however, is that there is a desire to please people, telling them what they want to hear to ensure that all were in agreement. This is one of the most important reasons for the perception of themselves as individuals. That's the problem.
My colleagues and I studied, if attempts to change the essence of the conversations that people appreciate the consequences of their actions, to make the discourse more open. When it comes to consequences, we have to talk about what is really going on. And that immediately distracts people from the usual focus on their own feelings and thoughts.
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